Blueprint for Republican Reform: Ideology

When dissident Democrats decided to work together, outside the official structure of their party, to launch an energetic, modern response to Reagan’s sweeping victories their first step was to build a statement of beliefs. Although that statement was starkly at odds with many elements of contemporary Democratic politics, it was firmly rooted the party’s older traditions. A few years later, those reformers who had been pushed to the fringes of their party found themselves staffing the White House.

A previous post made the claim that the GOP as presently constituted is becoming a victim of entropy. Over the next eight years it will either be reorganized or replaced. Most Republicans would still regard that prediction as ludicrous, but by the end of next year consensus is likely to shift. Regardless, this is an ideal moment for a party trapped inside an ideological template shaped by the Cold War to begin imagining policy positions more relevant to the nation’s future.

For the small but increasingly worried segment of the Republican polity that recognizes the party’s straits, disaster offers opportunity. A fresh, relevant policy template in tune with reality and with the party’s powerful history would give us the initiative in painful debates that will follow the 2016 election.

The bad news is the good news – almost no one in the party is working on this question in a serious manner. To put it another way, we face no internal competition in the race to construct a 21st century Republican agenda. Build it, and they will come.

The Politics of Crazy outlines a wide range of fairly detailed policies that could form the center of a new Republican coalition. This could be helpful as Republicans begin the effort to imagine new approaches to problem solving, but what is needed most at this point is something less specific and more fundamental.

Step one should be an effort to recall the party’s roots. A new model should be constructed on the party’s foundations, which are well-worth preserving. This statement of the party’s origins, expressed in a previous post, could offer a useful guide:

Republicans were the traders, innovators, investors, and industrialists who built our urban landscapes and brought us our modern economy. Republicans were Progressives, Conservatives and Moderates united by their faith in the power of well-maintained markets to fuel prosperity, innovation, and freedom. Republicans understood that, for better or worse, business is the engine that powers everything else we value.

The Republican Party was not so much about less government or more government. The Republican Party was about making things work.

That commercial, largely urban history could provide a vital pivot point as we confront a sparklingly diverse culture and ever more rooted in cities. Only fifteen years ago half of America’s ten largest cities were governed by Republicans. Now we serve just two of the top twenty.

Based on those foundations, we can turn our attention to the largest challenges facing our society. Half a century ago our politics were defined by a dangerous and seemingly endless rivalry with Communism. Now our challenge is to build the most prosperous, humane and free culture possible in a world of global capitalism. It is a privilege to face this challenge, a privilege delivered to us by great sacrifices from our forebears. Now we must prove worthy of their efforts.

That starts by recognizing the new problems spawned from our victory. Capitalism is not perfect. While far better than any alternative ever initiated, this new global order presents us with troubling challenges. Again, from a previous post:

The creative power of Capitalism hinges on the freedom to visit wholesale destruction on anything which fails to compete in this race toward efficiency. Capitalism is an agent of what economists call “creative destruction.”

Creative destruction is not limited to businesses. Markets will tend over time to destroy aristocracies, racial preferences, tradition-based values, religious assumptions, and shared or public resources. It does not matter how valuable something may be in collective or intangible terms. If it cannot hold its own in a commercial transaction between a free, self-interested buyer and seller, it will be devalued, weakened and eventually swept away.

This is where Capitalism finds itself at tension with Conservatism. It is also where Capitalism faces its own internal inconsistencies. This problem has a name: Externalities.

Republicans are uniquely positioned, should we rise to the challenge, of forming an economic order that could contain the dangerous externalities of capitalism without killing the ‘golden goose.’ From climate change to inequality to racial injustice to international chaos, our society remains burdened by problems that could tarnish our global victory. Recognizing the nature of the difficulties we face, Republicans could form a coherent response rooted in reality and inspired by optimism.

Our first obstacle is the systematic denial that has gripped Republicans. Any new policy template must be founded on a commitment to squarely face facts. Coming to terms with the Four Inescapable Realities will be essential to any new appeal.

With those realities in mind we might recognize the central challenge facing government in an era of accelerating economic dynamism: An older, people-heavy bureaucratic model cannot keep pace with emerging demands. To remain relevant and effective, government must be smarter, smaller, and more nimble.

Informed by its heritage in commerce and by an ideology rooted in individual rights and duties, it seems clear that Republicans should build a response to modern challenges rooted in markets. To make such an appeal work, we need to develop a smarter understanding of what a market is and how to use it. Today, when a Republican speaks of “markets” they are describing the delusion that almost any problem will resolve itself so long as government does nothing.

Effective markets are based on rules. Building markets that address our problems means writing rules that will price-in externalities. Carefully constructed markets can, for example, incorporate the cost of carbon pollution into the price of oil, thereby leveraging the creative power of individuals and business to address climate change.

We can build markets that will price-in the costs of gun violence, illegal immigration, and pollution. Markets will not solve every problem, but a new emphasis on the challenges that they can address would provide an opportunity. Armed with relevant, credible responses to problems that matter to a wide spectrum of Americans, Republicans could a construct a brighter, more optimistic platform, independent of the fear-based appeals that have driven us into a ditch.

Defining a central challenge of our world, the challenge posed to 20th bureaucracy by rising economic dynamism, and establishing a template for our response, carefully constructed markets, we could accomplish three critical goals. We could unmoor the Republican Party from fifty years of focus on white cultural fears, deliver an attractive, optimistic vision for the future rooted in the party’s traditions, and still retain flexibility to pivot on specific policy planks.

Nothing in that formulation dictates particular legislation on abortion or terrorism or tax reform. It merely provides a launching point for more intelligent, more constructive debate – A debate capable of involving a far broader slice of the electorate than the Republican Party attracts today.

A simple, coherent, reality-based policy statement can be the pole around which Republican reformers begin to organize. Like the Democrats who organized the Democratic Leadership Council in the 1980’s, Republicans can respond to the unique conditions we face today with a hopeful vision for the future. This may be a long journey, but it starts with a small group of people identifying, in policy terms, the place we want to go.

Chris Ladd is a Texan living in the Chicago area. He has been involved in grassroots Republican politics for most of his life. He was a Republican precinct committeeman in suburban Chicago until he resigned from the party and his position after the 2016 Republican Convention. He can be reached at gopliferchicago at gmail dot com.

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Posted in blue wall, Blueprint for Republican Reform, Election 2016
23 comments on “Blueprint for Republican Reform: Ideology
  1. […] worked through several of the other steps described in prior posts. First, we need to build a simple statement of beliefs that can form the core of a hyphenated-Republican appeal. Then we need to assemble donors and think […]

  2. […] is no path back to relevance that does not include some uncomfortable conversations. As outlined in the first post on this subject, a reform effort will have to center on a clear statement of beliefs that breaks with current […]

  3. […] first post in this series described the need to develop a simple template of ideas around which a reform movement can coalesce. The second piece described the need to recruit and […]

  4. Ed K says:

    As I continue to read these essays and posts, this one and the ones that came after, I have the following thoughts: 1) Chris is essentially the one man think tank he writes about that needs to form to help save the GOP, 2) Why aren’t I reading about anyone else in addition to Chris who sees these conditions with similar clarity, i.e., why does it seem like Chris is a lone voice on a critical situation facing the GOP? Yes, I read some of the thoughtful comments on here, but why aren’t these issues being debated more publicly? Given the current state of the party, it seems like these provocative ideas fall on deaf ears to the party at large. I’m a proud Dem, but in another day and age, I would be a proud Rockefeller Repub.

  5. […] a level of coordination with leaders in other areas, like donors and think tanks, organized and motivated by a new policy template. That template, as explained in a previous piece, will probably have to emerge from outside the […]

  6. […] Ideology – Democrats have demonstrated for decades that a political party can succeed without a unified ideological basis. Republicans have been more rigidly focused on ideology than is probably healthy. That said, there must be some general philosophical lodestar around which a coalition can coalesce. Republicans are operating under a policy template that was growing dated thirty years ago. An update will be critical. This is one of the areas that The Politics of Crazy was written to address. […]

  7. Creigh says:

    Two things need to happen before the Republican Party can “reform.” One thing is to dump the George Wallace wing, and the other is to reform campaign finance. The first will restore sanity and the second will restore control.

    • 1mime says:

      Restore control – for whom? If campaign finance control is achieved for the benefit of the people, i.e., one man one vote vs super pak or mega-donor control, that would be a good thing, but until re-districting becomes more representative of actual population make-up, that alone won’t improve the process. It could have the value of greater transparency, which would be welcome, however, with the C.U. decision, I am not sure if that is possible. Montana voted for state campaign finance control which SCOTUS over-ruled in accord with their C.U. decision. So much for states’ rights.

      I am convinced that redistricting needs to be taken out of the hands of the Legislatures who have a very poor record of drawing districts that are balanced, which, of course, is by design, not accidental. This sullies the fairness aspect of elections and fundamentally disenfranchises voters. That defeats the whole premise of Democracy. A few states have formed independent commissions to draw electoral districts. The goal is to better represent all of the people. No guarantee for either party. I’m game for that, however the chips fall. Individual votes would be meaningful and elections more Democratic. I’d like to see this concept expand across the U.S. Surprisingly, SCOTUS ruled in favor of such commissions if Democratically set up, so the only impediment is leadership and the will of the people within each state.

      Lifer talks about changes to make government more nimble. Independent commissions could further that objective by empowering people rather than parties or elected officials. One would hope that the Democratic process would be enhanced as a result and the two party system along with campaign funding would be more fairly balanced. That would encourage dialogue between party representatives and maybe get Americans to be more interested in other viewpoints. Technology coupled with the 2020 census present an opportunity – soon.

      Here’s a current story on the subject, fyi.

  8. Griffin says:

    As far as I can tell there are two groups in the Republican Party that need to be dealt with before they can move on to reality: the ones promoting economic crankiness and the ones promoting social crackpottery. While GOP politicans and pundits usually overlap in the two they are actually representing two different factions that don’t even like each other.

    First the economic crankiness is largely a result of a handful of enormously wealthy cranks (Kochs, John M. Olin Foundation, William Regnery Jr, etc) essentially subsidizing right-wing think tanks, blogs, pundits, politicians, etc. who would have a much more difficult time surviving without them, and many right-wing sites would probably go under without their support. These guys tend to be indifferent to social issues but they expect for these investments to support their economic “plans” which seems to be quasi-Austrian school nonsense around deregulation, taxes, unions, global warming, social security, and so on and they only support government intervention if they’re the ones being subsidized. These policies even poll poorly among much of the GOP base and because money only goes so far I think they are vulnerable to a revolt whether it be populist or out of frustration that the money they are giving still isn’t going to get the GOP to the White House if they keep supporting those policies.

    The social crackpottery instead comes from more populist religious conservatives, namely Southern baptists and some Northern Catholics. It would be much more difficult to deal with this group. The fundies of today come from a long heritage of an insular Southern culture promoting white identity politics and an opposition to Yankees with their liberal reforms and ivory towers. On economics they are flexible but on social issues they seem unwilling to compromise. As the South becomes better integrated with the rest of the world I think we’re going to see a breakdown in their one-party system/ideology but until then they’ll have to be appeased by Republicans who would then all but disqualify themselves in the rest of the country, and unlike the economic crackpots they aren’t against the base, they practically ARE the base.

  9. Hi Chris
    I am going to challenge your basic point

    “An older, people-heavy bureaucratic model cannot keep pace with emerging demands. To remain relevant and effective, government must be smarter, smaller, and more nimble.”

    The main problem that you specify is that the rules/regulations that govern the “market” are no longer fit for purpose and that they need to be updated to cope with changing conditions and that they will continue to need to be updated in the future

    I agree with your diagnosis – the rules need to be updated

    BUT as a “leftie” I find that I am very “conservative” about those changes

    The current system does change has changed but mostly in the wrong direction

    I am not at all sure that we need to change faster and more “nimbly”
    I would rather that we changed more sensibly and more in line with benefiting
    “The General Welfare”

    A smaller more nimble organisation changing the rules more often will just give more occasions where the rich and well connected can milk more from the system

    • goplifer says:

      I dream of the day when heated arguments between your perspective and mine on these issues are at the center of global politics. If only our disagreement could be relevant. One of these days maybe.

      • duncancairncross says:

        Hi Cris
        To belabour the point
        A “control system” needs to reflect the needs of the system
        My home heating system involves heating the floor slab with a heat pump, 3Kw input keeps the whole house toasty
        Because it has a vast thermal inertia (40 tonnes of concrete) the control system can be very simple
        An “error” of an hour or two in switching on of off the heater will make no difference

        Some systems are more like balancing a ruler,
        The controller for my car “balances” the actual current against my “requested” current 12,000 times a second

        Something complex like a market place will definitely benefit from better rules – but the process of changing those rules should be very slow – with one hand on the “back switch”

        Once the market has digested the change and and the results have been analysed then further changes could be made – but not until then

        Changing the control parameters on my car is something to be done very warily – and could easily prove expensive

        The house? difficult to see how I could screw that up I could always resort to simply switching the thing on and off by hand

      • 1mime says:

        Manual switching works in the ballot box, too, Duncan (-:

        I do have a question for you about the Affordable Care Act. IYO, with complex, highly controversial issues like this, is gradual switching possible of an proposal like this given of your hypothesis and knowing what you do about American politics?

      • duncancairncross says:

        About the ACA
        You guys have painted yourselves into a corner with employer paid for and controlled healthcare
        IMHO employer controlled healthcare gives the employer way too much power over his/her employees and should have been banned at the same time as the “Company Store”

        Probably not possible – you are in that corner
        The ACA is probably the best possible deal
        Hopefully you can work from there into a more sensible system

        Now the ACA is in place (which was NOT really a huge step despite the fuss) small steps can be made to control the insurance
        Hopefully ending up like some European countries that have a “National Health System”
        delivered by well regulated private insurance companies

      • 1mime says:

        NZ has a combination public/private health care system utilizing a mixed public/private approach. (WIKI) How is this working?

      • duncancairncross says:

        “NZ has a combination public/private health care system utilizing a mixed public/private approach. (WIKI) How is this working?”

        We have a very good public health service – works very well
        We also have a private health system on top of this,
        Everybody can use the public health system
        BUT if you are willing to pay you can get minor treatments faster
        Anything major goes though the public system

        Our National health system is not completely free at point of use,
        A doctors visit will cost about $40 for the normal guy
        – poor people, children and chronically sick people don’t pay this

        A lot of people do pay into private health insurance BUT a lot of them don’t seem to understand the concept of “insurance”
        We have adverts on the TV showing people with health insurance getting paid the doctor’s fee not understanding that they have simply paid that fee ahead of time

        Personal experiences are not data but my experiences
        (1) Doctor’s appointments
        Never had to wait more than one day
        The first time I saw a doctor in NZ I dropped into a surgery – the receptionist asked me to wait – I thought I was waiting to get an appointment – then – The Doctor will see you now!

        (2) Finding something nasty
        My son had headaches – his doctor didn’t think it was serious but I paid for a CAT scan ($400)
        The scan showed a cancer, by the time I had driven back home (40 minutes) the hospital had my wife and son booked onto a flight to Christchurch the next day
        I had to see to some livestock so I followed the day after (Saturday)
        The following Tuesday he was operated on
        (Totally successfully)

        IMHO the NZ “private” system is a bit parasitical on the main system –
        If I was in charge I would add a “National Health Service” surcharge on all private operations then it would be close to ideal

      • 1mime says:

        That’s incredible that your son’s cancer was caught and successfully eradicated! Your observations about NZ’s health care program is at once encouraging and then frustrating. America has so many successful health care templates to work from and don’t. It always amazes me that our wealthy, successful country is so absurdly backward in the area of health care. It is, of course, not accidental. That is the part that makes me angry.

      • 1mime says:

        In thinking more about your son’s doctor visit to explore his headache problems, I was struck with a major difference between NZ and the US. In America, the doctor most likely would have ordered the MRI to rule out a problem he couldn’t explain in the presence of symptoms. Second, he would have chosen to protect himself from potential litigation for failing to order a test that would have diagnosed your son’s cancer and saved his life. That scenario would almost always apply if one has health insurance. It is uncertain in the event one didn’t have insurance in America – in the exact same scenario. Draw your own conclusions about that.

        In America, the major cause of personal bankruptcy is due to medical issues ( Kaiser Health Foundation) – a situation that does not exist in other countries. Obviously, if one didn’t have the $400 to personally pay for an “optional” MRI (out of an abundance of caution AND love of child), they’re taking an enormous chance. The NZ doctor is operating in a health care environment where the system didn’t encourage him to do so, or (in the US) a health care environment that may refuse tests for those who have no health insurance (and lack $400, although in the US, an MRI would cost much, much more.)

        It is a conundrum and America is replicating the divide in health care just as it is in equality of justice and other critical areas. Your thoughts?

      • duncancairncross says:

        Hi 1mime
        “In America, the doctor most likely would have ordered the MRI to rule out a problem he couldn’t explain”

        The doctor was quite sure that Thomas had standard childhood migraines so an American doctor could have assumed the same
        He “could explain” – but he was wrong

        I paid for a CAT scan not an MRI
        But the technicians doing the scan were very experienced
        The MRI he had in Christchurch was conducted by the team that had just developed an improved MRI system

        A small town in the USA would have a lot more equipment than here but the technicians using it would have much much less experience

        When we lived in the USA Thomas had to have a minor operation – ear and throat
        I am sure that he did need the operation BUT the fact that the doctor effectively got more money for recommending the op did cast doubt in my mind
        I’m sure that the doctor had Thomas’s best outcome in mind but I’m not keen on adding temptation unessesarily

        The current state of medical knowledge is patchy
        Some things the doctors can do amazing fixes for – but a lot of the time they just spin their tires
        The trouble with “more testing” is that most medical “tests” don’t give rock solid results
        A lot of tests have frightening numbers of false positive and or false negative results
        I hope/expect that in another 20 years the doctors will be able to do one hell of a lot more and actually know what they are doing almost all of the time

  10. John Pitts says:

    I’d vote vote (and fundraise) for this. Who will carry the banner?

    Date: Sat, 29 Aug 2015 18:13:19 +0000 To:

    • goplifer says:

      That isn’t clear yet. Still have five more pieces to this puzzle, the pundits, donors, think tanks, new voters, and candidates. It probably starts with conversations between donors and think tanks, but we’ll see.

      • 1mime says:

        GOP donors….Will this forever be the yin and the yang that motivates the GOP? What about your good ideas for changes in ideology, springing from a grassroots “Republican Leadership Council”? Why not start here rather than go back to the old Think Tank well? The big industrial capitalists that formed the bedrock of an earlier, more coherent GOP, enjoyed great financial and business success, but theirs was not a shared success. Labor suffered while capitalism roared on – unchecked. Things are not in great shape for workers today. In a pluralistic society, isn’t there value in shared success? Isn’t that part of today’s disconnect between management and labor, Democrats and Republicans, Millennials and Baby Boomers and Centennials, races, ethnicity, and gender?

        I am not suggesting that Democrats offer the best vision for the future, but they sure seem willing to share the future with more people of varying views. I have been appalled at the actions of The Heritage Foundation. I have a similar concern with the role of donors. With C.U., donors have unparalleled access to shape platforms and candidate positions. Never before has so much money been spent on campaigns – especially those supporting the Republican party. Are you certain that this group is capable of greater vision and less self-absorption than they presently exhibit? Why would they change when their influence has been so successful in winning elections?

        America needs two viable political parties – at least. Probably both of our major parties need major change in order to be more relevant to the needs of a changing nation and world. I have longed for a GOP that wants to make things work. The question is: who will they be working for? Themselves, their donors, the Think Tanks, or the people of America.

      • 1mime says:

        Just read this piece from the Center for Politics, Larry Sabato. There are so many interesting parts to it that I am posting the link rather than re-cap. He speaks to voter-fatigue of superficial politics, right on point.

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