Last week, former White House speechwriter Michael Gerson warned his fellow conservatives in the Washington Post that, “At the national level, Republicans have a winning message for a nation that no longer exists.” He’s right. Republicans are doing reasonably well at the state level, but at the national level they represent policies that won’t deliver majorities on election day. The GOP is about to learn that lesson the hard way in the debate over budget sequestration. It’s not that the party is wrong about the need to slash federal spending, but as most political observers have long known, there’s no real constituency for deficit reduction. So once across-the-board spending cuts start impacting their districts, Republicans may find in the 2014 midterm elections they weren’t just right about spending — they were dead right.
It doesn’t have to be that way. There are other issues the party can embrace that will give it a much broader base than it seems to have today. Here are three issues with lots of public support that should be naturals for the GOP, and yet somehow are being neglected.
Corrupted culture. Last week I was shopping for shoes with my teenage daughter at a big retail chain, when I heard a song playing on the piped-in music system use the word “shit.” That was a mistake on the part of whoever programmed the music, but it’s a mistake that’s hard not to make given the tenor of popular culture today. George Will’s frequent complaint about the “coarsening” of popular culture doesn’t begin to capture how depraved some music and online fare have become. A typical adolescent will hear popular songs every day that laud the pleasures of promiscuity and drug use. Any kid with an I-Pad can easily access material on the Internet that reflects the most forbidden facets of the human behavior. President Obama has been missing in action on this issue for four years. Why aren’t Republicans working to make the “demoralization” of American culture their issue?
Merit testing. As entitlement spending continues growing by leaps and bounds, some economists have begun to talk about means testing for benefits. Well what about merit testing? The most insidious aspect of the welfare state is its propensity to reward bad behavior, for example by caring for people whose smoking has led to lung cancer by insisting that those who never smoked help cover the costs. With the ranks of Medicare and Medicaid recipients likely to expand rapidly due to the aging of baby boomers, shouldn’t there be some discussion of who deserves to be cared for, based on the kind of life they have led and the behavior they have exhibited? The basic premise of Obamacare seems to be that everyone is equal in the eyes of God and the welfare state, but that’s a prescription for fiscal insolvency. There is a broad, latent constituency waiting for Republicans to give voice to this issue.
Defending defense. Ronald Reagan began the post-Vietnam realignment of the U.S. electorate by promising to rebuild America’s defenses. For the following 30 years, support for a strong national defense was a core feature of Republicanism — one that clearly differentiated the GOP from the anti-war, anti-military Democrats. George W. Bush began the unraveling of that franchise with his occupation of Iraq, and now it is being completed by the zeal with which some conservatives are promoting sequestration of the defense budget. Nobody is going to vote for the GOP because it cut military spending, but plenty of people are going to vote against it if Republicans lead the charge in reducing readiness and modernization. By defending defense, Republicans will secure millions of pro-military votes and slow the migration of Pentagon money into welfare programs.
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