Monday, May 7, 2012

How to Make Republicans Competitive Again

I try not to read about politics too much, but when I feel overwhelmed or frustrated, I sometimes resort to reading headlines, wikipedia entries, or old abandoned textbooks until I reach a self-induced information coma. Like most forms of self-medication, however, the information coma has some damaging side-effects: the most troubling of which is that even after the numbness is gone, some dregs of insight remain.

For example: based on their levels of support among the young and Hispanics, the two demographic groups most likely to own the future, the Republican Party appears to be dying.

There was a time in my life when this would not have bothered me. I've voted almost exclusively for Democrats and still lean left on Election Day. But a functioning democracy can't afford to be all about winning on Election Day; it needs to be about the constant exchange of ideas in search of solutions that will help unite people will diverse value sets.

If one party loses its competitive edge, democracy suffers twice. First, whatever good proposals or critiques that party brought to the table are likely to go unheard. Second (and this, for me, is critical), the stronger party loses interest in understanding the positive values the weaker one built itself on. And that, my friends, would be a great shame. Because I genuinely believe the wisest leaders have always understood that liberal and conservative impulses ought to be treated as yin and yang.

I hardly ever vote for Republicans, but that doesn't mean I want my kids growing up in an elephant graveyard. 

So in the interests of making our democracy stronger, I offer two simple proposals that would help the Republicans become competitive again in key demographics:

1) Instead of opposing all income tax increases on the wealthy, Republicans should demand that for every new $1 of tax, the deductible charitable giving cap be raised by $1.50.

Big government vs. little government is an important debate to have. Community vs. greed is not.

So let's start with the obvious: among political moderates, taking a hard line against taxes for the rich has made Republicans look like total schmucks. Because even in a country founded on tax protests, it's hard to feel righteous indignation when people who earn six figures every six months are asked to pay the extra 4.6% they did before Bush II came along. And the idea that we all win if Mark Cuban trickles that 4.6% down by paying people to re-buff his fourth yacht doesn't fly well when it comes from the same mouths that are fighting the Children's Health Insurance Program. Just sounds too Scroogey.

For many libertarian economists, of course, Scroogey arguments will always fly. But for most independent voters--especially young voters--yachts vs. CHIP is an automatic forfeit for whoever's on the yachts' side. And so sinks an increasingly taxphobic Republican economic policy.

But here's the thing: deep down, I don't think most conservative idea-makers care deeply about Mark Cuban's fourth yacht. If I'm right, the whole tax fight last year wasn't really about keeping money in the hands of the wealthy--it was about keeping money out of the (admittedly rather slippery) hands of the federal government. In conservative circles, I have heard, this is sometimes called "starving the beast"-- because conservatives seem more aware than their liberal counterparts that even the most well-intentioned government programs can go all Jekyll & Hyde, tearing apart the very communities they were supposed to help.

Given that danger, who is really best equipped to solve our social problems--the government, or private groups? I honestly don't know--in my experience, private groups are rarely as efficient as conservatives expect them to be. But I'm pretty sure that if Republicans focused on raising the charitable deduction limit rather than resisting taxes on the top bracket, voters would be able to focus more on the core public vs. private issue. After all, Gates Foundation vs. CHIP is a much fairer fight than yachts vs. CHIP is. 

2) Add a plank to the Party Platform pledging to increase opportunities for legal immigration. 

Order vs. hospitality is an important debate to have. White Americans vs. Latinos is not.

By definition, Latino voters are here legally. So if they believed the immigration debate was really about rule of law and not even a little bit about mean...about a totally non-racist desire to keep foreign language speakers away from our neighborhoods....then I think they'd be a lot less antagonized by the debate. But if they grew up (like I did) in areas where kids with fervently anti-immigrant parents were liable to pick on any black-haired kids they could, then it makes some sense that they'd steer clear of anti-immigrant politicians.

But what if the Republican Party got serious about expanding legal immigration?

After all, this is something Democrats (many of whom rely on labor unions) don't seem to have done a very good job at. They talk a much better talk on understanding, compassion, and even tangible benefits for people who have made it here without the blessing of some bureaucrat's stamp in triplicate, but they don't seem eager to open the borders wide enough to let in the workers our economy actually demands.

Republicans could be all over that. They could be using their tried-and-true talk of free trade to let people trade their labor where it's needed without borders getting in the way. They could be driving out illegal immigrants the easy way--by replacing them in the marketplace with legal ones.

As it stands, assimilation into America for many young Latinos, South Asian immigrants, and others typically means initiation into liberal political circles, where sharing a language with seasonal workers or men who wear turbans isn't looked down upon. But if Republicans could make one key change on immigration in a conscious effort to open up the party's small-government, family-values message to hard-working, family-driven immigrants, then I think you'd see growing numbers of young, brown people feeling comfortable with the word "conservative."

And for the yin-yang future of our democracy, that's got to be a good thing.

So there you have it. Two simple changes that could help revitalize an aging Republican Party and bring balance to the Force without actually requiring anyone to pay another cent in taxes (so long as they're willing to step up on that private solutions bit) and without requiring any rules fanatic to treat undocumented immigration as a crime-in-name-only.

And now it's time for you, dear reader, to write your state's Republican Party leaders with this invaluable advice, which you will offer free of charge.

You probably should not mention that it comes from a registered Democrat...


  1. Both ideas make a great deal of sense to me.

    Aunt Sheila

  2. As a moderate who votes on both sides, I think these would be great ideas for either party to embrace.


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