Watching the two national conventions, I’ve tried as a thought experiment to imagine what it’s like to be a Republican. Not a snarling right-wing Limbaugh type, but a moderate, libertarian conservative who believes in small government and dignity for all – the kind of Republican that once defined the GOP. Like some of my Republican friends, many of whom voted for Obama in 2008. And in so doing, I find myself confronted by two doomsday fears.
First, time is running out on the right from a demographic perspective. This may explain some of the hysteria in the far-right attacks on President Obama. The handwriting is on the wall. How’s your Spanish?
Virginia and North Carolina have been in play since 2008, a GOP nightmare in itself; and the southwest is gradually turning blue. We’ve lost Nevada and New Mexico, Colorado is slipping away, and Arizona will be next to go. If Texas turns blue, f perhaps eight years from now, the game is over – unless the Republican Party radically reconfigures itself. Meanwhile, what previously reliable blue states (since the Democrats’ loss of the “Solid South” after the Civil Rights movement) can we Republicans now claim as red? West Virginia and not much else. This doesn’t make me happy as a (hypothetical) conservative.
Second, and just as terrifying: time is running out on a central idea of ours: the idea that market orthodoxy (even when coupled with liberal social views) is a coherent recipe for national prosperity. The contrarian notion that prosperity, and capitalism itself, require a little goosing now and then from government, is inimical to what we’ve stood for. History is getting in the way of our values. Secretly, I agree with my Democratic friends that the 2009 stimulus was barely adequate to stave off a depression, and that a much larger stimulus (as many economists with Nobel prizes argued) would have brought the economy back much faster.
This was the powerful subtext of many of the Democratic speeches in Charlotte, and most of all of Bill Clinton’s peroration. Policies aimed at helping Wall Street don’t work in the long run. They cause the economic machine to crash. Policies that open up the middle class, and get more people educated and healthy and working are what power the economy. Prosperity isn’t the antithesis of regulation – it requires regulation. Life just isn’t as simple as the radical free-enterprise types (like myself) suppose.
As a (pseudo) Republican, I’m scared to think that my values – simple opportunity and laissez-faire – are somehow wrong or don’t work. Yet the Democrats seem to be right that investing in jobs, education and healthcare is good for the economy, not bad; that providing opportunity to all (and not just removing legal roadblocks) is the road to national prosperity. We need to find conservative ways to do that.
If I’m a Republican these days, I’m not thinking of switching parties. But I am thinking about how to redefine conservatism and pull my party back to the part of the ideological spectrum that comports with reality. We may squeak out a victory this year, but Romney would only prove again that market orthodoxy is a train wreck – and he might well be the last Republican president for a generation. A deeper, Romney-style recession would be the final death knell for the laissez-faire ideal.
I’m also hoping that I’ll wake up realizing it was all a bad dream and I’m still a die-hard Democrat.