Does the G.O.P. Wear a Thinking Cap or a Dunce Cap?

It’s easy to see why conservatives are frustrated. Maybe that’s why they threw tea bags at the White House instead of discussing a platform on taxation. But this kind of erratic, pundit-driven development simply doesn’t work. Over the next five weeks, Congress stands poised to tackle climate change, health care, and a Supreme Court nomination. The minority won’t technically win any of these fights, so they really only have one viable option: go back to the drafting table and start working. (Either that or start a betting ring on who’ll go crazy next.)

Actually, what the party needs are fewer spotlights and more desk lamps

By Kelsey Stapler

There are some who believe those in high office should be held to a higher standard. Given recent events, however, Republican voters might just settle for officials to stay within the margins of polite society. Conservatives’ resignation (or worse, denial) in the face of political falling stars threatens to become the GOP’s next biggest problem.

Of course, politicians are human. They screw up, have affairs, quit their jobs early, and fly to Argentina just like the rest of us. But the bizarre antics of Ensign, Sanford, Palin, and others are also vintage examples of image trumping intelligence. The Republican Party has been so starved for leadership that they’ve offered the cover shoot to anybody with a good smile. It would be depressingly redundant to say exactly how much this strategy has crashed and burned. These favorites have stood sweating under the bright lights more than working for solutions at their desks.   

On the plus side, the GOP finally has the opportunity to make some revisions. Abandon the presumed heirs, and you can make room for newer and better qualified candidates. A recent Pew Research Center study showed that 39 percent of Americans now identify themselves as independents. Democrats earned only 33 percent, and Republicans earned a new post-Watergate low of 22 percent.  Nearly half the country is in play, and most of them are not listening to Rush Limbaugh.

But independents are generally a pragmatic bunch. They want solutions and cold, hard facts. If conservatives actually believe that limited government and personal freedom is the best route to prosperity, then the platform will sell itself. Get the numbers, get the facts, and show the American public why the majority is wrong. Otherwise, it’s just another attempt to out-charm the competition – not an easy thing to do at this point.

Even conservative policy wonks fell into the trap. In an attempt to be just as hip as the majority, congressional caucuses have alternativized everything from budgets to health care to Twitter. The work of some excellent thinkers (Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, and Tom Price, to name a few) has been overshadowed by the GOP’s lust for shiny new “alternatives.” These ideas were rough drafts at best. When national media advertises your tea parties or three-page budget outline, they’re not exactly laughing with you.

In their new leadership vacuum, the Republicans don’t need more cover models or an assortment of rough draft ideas. The GOP needs editors. Sharp, smart minds who will take a red pencil both to the majority’s proposals and their own party platform. Editors understand there’s no silver bullet to make all their problems go away. They dismantle a project, flaw by flaw. Then they start rewriting.

It’s easy to see why conservatives are frustrated. Maybe that’s why they threw tea bags at the White House instead of discussing a platform on taxation. But this kind of erratic, pundit-driven development simply doesn’t work. Over the next five weeks, Congress stands poised to tackle climate change, health care, and a Supreme Court nomination. The minority won’t technically win any of these fights, so they really only have one viable option: go back to the drafting table and start working. (Either that or start a betting ring on who’ll go crazy next.)

Today’s tabloid climate hurts the Republicans only if they continue to reach for political pin-ups. In reality, the party could rise to the top of its game in this climate – think of 1984’s Reagan or 1994’s Contract with America. Both recoveries started with principled critique and then attracted star power. If the GOP wishes to start the rewriting, it will need to recruit those who have already learned to edit.

Kelsey Stapler is a second year law student currently writing from the beach in Southern California. Her columns have also appeared in Patrol Magazine.  E-mail her at: kestapler@gmail.com.   By submitting an e-mail to the author, you submit to your e-mailed comments being posted on the site, with your first name attributed to your comments. E-mail addresses will be redacted.

2 thoughts on “Does the G.O.P. Wear a Thinking Cap or a Dunce Cap?”

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