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Monday, November 12, 2012
Saving the Republican Party with A New Urban Conservatism
Let’s face it; the Republican Party is a mess. The residue from this
election could not be more profound; this is a Party dominated by grumpy old
men and their compliant companions. Those who voted Republican in the last
election include these aforementioned people, racists, and people still
horribly impacted by the Great Recession and lay the blame on President Obama.
Mix into this group those who ideologically oppose Big Government and those
reactionaries fearful of a changing culture and you basically describe the core
of the Party. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
I was raised as a Republican; more specifically I am one of those often
discussed Montgomery County (PA) republicans. My representative for much of my
youth was Lawrence Coughlin, the bow tied progressive that had no trouble
winning reelection for well over a decade. Representative Coughlin was a true
centrist, a group that can now only be found in fossil records.
Given this new reality, it is certainly fair to conclude that the
Republican Party is at a crossroads. If those who now seem to dominate the
party, mainly the rigid, strident, doctrinaire Tea Party republicans and their
minions, refuse to be inclusive, and refuse to leave their ideology “at the
door” as they engage in budget and other negotiations, there is a real danger
that, at least at the presidential level, they will drift into irrelevance.
Their presence also led and will lead to defeat in Senate and House races, as
more and more electable party members refuse to run; those that do run face
primary challenges by fringe candidates benefitting by the Tea Party’s ability
to mobilize supporters to vote in primaries where low voter turnout amplifies
There are four demographic groups that shepherded President Obama to
victory: African-Americans, Latinos, single women, and young people. Without
overwhelming support from these groups President Obama would not have won
reelection. The inference is obvious; if the Republican Party is to have any
chance at remaining relevant they must appeal to any or all of these groups. The
Republican Party can either embrace the new demographics or fight windmills
while Democrats grow their base and support from independents.
My hope is that the Party will choose to broaden its base. This will
require a new “variant” of conservatism, one that will appeal to those four
groups. Already today there are several variants of what is described as
conservative thought. Personally, I think that the Tea Party variant is so extreme
as to be Reactionary, the right wing version of radical. On a continuum, they
would properly be placed “to the right of right wing.” Some may see this as a
contradiction, but I believe that there can be such a thing as “progressive
conservatism,” progressive in the sense that the issues it chooses to emphasize
will oftentimes differ from other conservative thinkers. Similar to President
Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” progressive conservatism is tailored to
find appealin our urban centers, where
the issues and concerns often differ from those in the suburbs. So what does
this progressive, Urban Conservatism look like?
Eight issues form the core of Urban Conservatism. First is a push for
greater home ownership, a key to revitalizing inner city neighborhoods and a
source of equity for families to support their children’s education. Next is a
push to support, either through micro-lending or more traditional sources,
local entrepreneurs. Third is a commitment to public education, not through
vouchers and choice, but by pushing to turn existing public schools into
charter schools; the idea is to increase accountability and adopt performance
pay in exchange for greater academic and managerial freedom; parents, teachers
and school leaders essentially taking ownership of the schools.
Fourth is a pledge to reform the criminal justice system by, for
example, supporting alternatives to incarceration and supporting the idea that
drug use be rethought of as a public health rather than a criminal issue. It also
means reforming the bail process to lessen its impact on jobs and families,
especially for those accused of non-violent crimes. A fifth issue for this
Republican “brand” is the family: make a push to “market” the benefits of
traditional, two parent families: find ways to incentivize a push to have
children raised by both parents. Affordable health care is always in the minds
of citizens, and it is time for Republicans to drop its virulent opposition to
“Obamacare;” push for reform but support the principal.Job
training is another key component.Yes,
job training does necessitate government action, but the focus of conservatives
should be on the outcome, which is greater independence, moving people from
dependence on government to the personal freedom derived from self-sufficiency.
And finally, support our veterans. The
military is a major source of upward mobility among minorities; a message that
ties their quality of life to their relationship with the armed services will
resonate throughout communities.
Urban renewal has been off
the political radar for the better part of a decade. Democrats have, quite
frankly, done little, believing they have residents’ votes sewed up. It is time
for Republicans to step in and take a proactive stand on life in the cities.
They have nothing to lose, and oh so much to gain.
It is somewhat ironic that the current struggle for the heart and soul
of the Republican party coincides with release of the epic movie Lincoln, based
on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s retelling of the battle within Lincoln’s cabinet over,
among other things, passage of the 13th Amendment. Lincoln’s ability
to unify the disparate voices in his Party made them stronger, winning 9 of the
11 presidential elections leading up to World War I. Is there someone out there
able to guide today’s Republican Party now and for the near future? One can
only hope; the survival and relevance of the Party may be in the balance.