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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Party of Recycled Ideas

John McCainRemember John McCain? He was that one guy who ran against Barack Obama. You know, the one who thought the moose lady would be a good pick for running mate. The one who admitted he couldn't remember how many homes he owns. The one whose big idea on dealing with the economy was to put together a 9/11 commission-style blue ribbon panel to study the problem. That panel idea struck a lot of people as an insanely and needlessly slow response to an economic crisis, so then McCain decided what the economy needed was a government spending freeze. The inevitable comparisons to Herbert Hoover followed.

You might remember that these great ideas were rejected by the voters and John McCain lost. But, as they say, if at first you don't succeed, try again -- fail better. The rudderless Republican party needs a captain -- there's noise that Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele may face a no confidence vote -- and Baghdad Johnny seems to believe that he's the man for the job. Not the official leader, mind you -- that job comes with some accountability. No, John's eyes are on Rush Limbaugh's position as the perceived leader of the GOP.

Huffington Post:

Sen. John McCain is putting together a major economic plan that will be structured, in some ways, off of Newt Gingrich's famous Contract With America.

In an email obtained by the Huffington Post, the Arizona Republican's chief of staff, Marc Buse, asked an outside adviser for help with a "ten principles" program that the senator could use as a "definitive" platform.

"We are looking for some guidance on a definitive plan (aka contract with america style) on the economy...principles," writes Buse. "Ten principles that JSM [John Sydney McCain] could point to on what MUST BE DONE to address the problems our nation faces."

Unfortunately, McCain seems to be stuck at the first bullet point. The email doesn't list any of this principles, according to the report, "save 'NO TAX INCREASES.'"

What a fresh and compelling message. You wonder why Republicans didn't think of that one decades ago.

There are a few problems with McCain's idea of a new Contract With America. First and foremost, it'll force comparisons to the original. For the most part, that document consisted of gimmicky stuff that never actually saw the light of day. The highest profile points of the contract -- congressional term limits and a balanced budget amendment -- went nowhere. Other proposals, like welfare reform, turned out to be a real bad idea.

But Republicans only say they're the "Party of Ideas" -- not that they're the party of especially good ideas. So any right wing wishlist dressed up as populism will do. Expect lots of recycled rhetoric like "freeing America's entrepreneurial spirit," when they really mean removing regulations from Wall Street. Like the original Contract with America, success will be measured by how many Republicans it gets elected, not by how effective the points in that contract are.

And this particular list of bad ideas would probably come at a particularly bad time. As early as July of 2008, Republican leadership had ruled out trying the contract strategy again. "There will be no effort to try to nationalize the elections," said House Republican leader John Boehner. "Nationalize" was the operative word. It was pretty clear that Republicans were on the outs and candidates stood a much better chance of being elected if they portrayed themselves as running against their party, rather than as a loyal GOP foot soldier -- why do you think McCain-Palin abused the word "maverick" so often? The 2008 campaign would not be a national contest of Republicans v. Democrats -- few Republicans could possibly win that fight.

And now, with Obama enjoying a 61% approval rating (Reagan had 60% at this point), McCain wants to make it Republicans v. Obama. That really doesn't seem to be the wisest way to go. Republicans are already suffering under the label of the "Party of No." Congressional Republicans have a 58% disapproval rating. But then again, the Republican rule of thumb seems to be "if something's not working, do more of it."

So John McCain can draft his new contract. He can throw in a bold new stance against tax increases. I'd be willing to bet good money he's planning on throwing in his spending freeze -- which conservative columnist David Brookes calls "insane." There will probably be some sort of top-heavy tax cut in there -- say capital gains -- because "we shouldn't be punishing investors right now." Maybe even recycle some failed catch-phrases, like "Drill baby, drill," throw a lot of money at nuclear power, and "get tough" with some scary non-threat like Iran.

But, in the end, all it'll be will be a sales pitch. There will be no solutions, no new ideas. Just a promise to return to the party's roots, to be the party of Reagan again. When a Republican says they want change, it means they want to change things back -- it's the nature of conservatism to be resistant to real change. It is, in fact, the basis of the word "conservative."

And that's McCain's and his party's biggest obstacle right now. We need real change -- forward change -- not restoration. Republicans keep going back to the same well they've poisoned, offering the same non-solutions to every new problem. The magic words don't work anymore. People don't fall into a trance at the mention of tax cuts.

We don't need a "Party of Recycled Slogans," we need some actual ideas and only one party is offering them. It's not the GOP.


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