Everyone has advice for the Republican Party these days. Even discounting the suspicious input from people who clearly don't have the Party's best interests at heart, there are still plenty of contradictory plans for the future on the table. The Republican National Committee just released a report called "The Growth & Opportunity Project," which generally advised Republicans to embrace some "Democrat Lite" positions on issues such as amnesty for illegal aliens and gay marriage. Speaking at CPAC 2013, Sarah Palin urged the exact opposite: only a clear conservative alternative to Democrat conventional wisdom can rally the GOP base and win over persuadable moderates, who have no reason to get excited about Brand X discount-coupon versions of liberal policy.
Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz urged a more libertarian approach, with an emphasis on fidelity to the Constitution. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal suggested that Republicans should forget about taking charge of the mess in Washington - who wants to ride that fiscal H-bomb all the way down to Ground Zero? - while focusing on state-level growth-oriented policies,warning that "we must become the party of growth, not austerity." Rep. Paul Ryan, in turn, emphasized the importance of fiscal restraint along with economic growth.
Senator Marco Rubio wasn't about to budge an inch from social conservatism: "Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot; just because we believe that all human life is worthy of protection at every stage in its development does not make you a chauvinist." Dr. Ben Carson spoke about the moral foundation for conservative principles, and the immoral foundations of collectivism, which deliberately creates divisions among the people in order to harvest political power.
All of these writers and speakers had interesting points to make. It's true than electoral loss such as 2012 can be over-analyzed. If everything else remained the same, but Mitt Romney ran a better and more technically accomplished campaign, could he have won? Depending on which number-crunching post-mortem you prefer, a few hundred thousand voters in key states could have swung the election to Romney by voting differently. Is wholesale deconstruction and reassembly of the Republican Party necessary to win those votes next time? (Conversely, if they don't undertake deep soul-searching, are the Republicans destined to lose every election for years to come by a few hundred thousand votes in key states?) Romney won independents but lost the election; is the problem a shortage of Republican voters, or too many of them sitting home? If that problem is not diagnosed correctly, the party could make a swerve to the Left that would only cost it further elections, particularly if center-Left voters are unimpressed by the swerve.
Some of the advice for Republicans to move to the Left sounds like anteing up for a bidding war the GOP can never win. Get behind amnesty, and the Democrats will very swiftly begin hammering Republicans for their beastly unwillingness to grant the new provisional citizens quick access to the immense American welfare state. Every limitation on these new citizens Democrats currently claim to endorse is a chip they'll be cheerfully willing to discard, daring Republicans to do the same. Are you guys REALLY going to expect these hard-working dirt-poor formerly-illegal immigrants to pay years of back taxes plus a fine?
Armed with precision-guided polls, GOP consultants debate the merits of micro-targeted Republican positions on a variety of issues... while Democrat Pat Caddell gave an illuminating CPAC speech in which he debated the merits of GOP consultants, assailing some of them as "racketeers."
I'll leave the question of whether a few more voters can be wrung out by twisting the sponge of various issues to the Right or Left in the hands of these racketeers... er, consultants. But I would advise the GOP to consider resuming its discussion with the American voter by talking about the true "path to citizenship." People that were born here need to follow this path as urgently as any immigrant. In fact, legal immigrants like the parents of Senators Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio might understand it better than many of the native-born.
The great national debates of the moment intersect in the definition of citizenship. Who receives it? What benefits does it confer? And what responsibilities does it carry? The latter is a topic no one on the Left is particularly interested in any longer, aside from their perpetual bleat that wealthy citizens should pay more taxes. They have confused the demands of the political class with the responsibilities of citizenship.
That's what the more hair-raising moments from the 2012 Democrat campaigns boiled down to, from Senator Elizabeth Warren's thoughts about the State's moral right to seize whatever private property it desires - because none of you fancy-pants "entrepreneurs" could have earned a dollar without the benevolent infrastructure of government - to Barack Obama's "You didn't build that!" outburst.
Having constructed a titanic State that already seizes and controls a horrifying amount of Americans' time and property, liberals now veer dangerously close to openly declaring that all of it rightfully belongs to the political class, acting as agents of the popular will. We're supposed to be thankful for whatever they decide to let us keep. And they grow more brazen about expressing their dismal contempt of the American people - hapless boobs who cannot hope to survive without the stern guidance and loving generosity of their mighty Uncle Sam.
Surely the Republicans can run against that and win, can't they?
The Bill of Rights is looking a bit threadbare these days, as Senator Cruz pointed out at CPAC, noting that quite a few of those fine old amendments are under sustained attack. The Bill of Rights "grants" nothing to the true American citizen, because what the State gives, it can take away. Instead, the Constitution recognizes rights inherent to citizenship - written right into its base code, to use modern computer vernacular. Along with each of those rights come responsibilities: to express yourself, defend yourself, avoid imposing upon the equally sacred rights of your fellow citizens, and so forth.
This understanding of citizenship is increasingly difficult to reconcile with the modern super-State, which is why we suddenly find ourselves arguing in court for religious liberties that were essentially taken for granted just a few years ago. Perhaps our original sin against the Founders was to accept the notion that citizenship could be parceled out unevenly, with certain rights attenuating for some groups of people, even though they committed no crime. We never should have allowed property rights to be deemed vulgar and less worthy of defense than the right to speak or vote, either.
That's part of Dr. Carson's critique of the "progressive" income tax system and its mind-warping maze of special rules. It asks us to accept unfairness as the new definition of "fairness." And our intake of this unfairness only increases, as political ambition combines with leftist ideology, and electoral necessity, to demand more out of some, and less (or nothing) out of others.
We have been persuaded to believe that some citizens have obligations entirely different from others. And we allow the political class to assign those obligations! Meanwhile, we've almost completely abandoned the true American citizen's sacred obligation to the future. Huge, slow-grinding gears of debt - which increases "permanent" government baselines, in addition to tossing around bales of money in one-off spending sprees - are already engraving the irresistible tax increases of tomorrow. But didn't our forefathers begin the American adventure with the firm determination that taxation without representation is wrong?
"Austerity" is supposedly a dirty word for today's voters - even though they tend to tell pollsters they're deeply concerned about government spending and debt - because they really don't want to make do without those plump federal programs, or consign the less fortunate to suffer without them. And they think the money is coming from nowhere - from printing presses deep in the bowels of Washington, or the hidden treasure vaults of arrogant rich people who won't miss a few gold coins. But the unsustainable nature of this system, the pressure it's already placing on our prosperity, and the corrosive nature of dependency is not that difficult to explain. Whatever else those poll numbers might mean, I think they demonstrate that a lot of people have a nagging feeling that something is wrong in the land of red ink and rosy scenarios.
Governor Jindal advises us to forget about the financial mess in Washington and focus upon growth. A few more points of GDP growth would go a long way toward reducing the deficit and sustaining the system for a while longer, true enough. But Big Government impedes growth. One of the ways it does so is easy enough for anyone following Jindal's advice to see right now. The growth of government has rendered the sort of tax cuts and regulatory reforms necessary for increased prosperity all but unthinkable. The heavy tread of the Leviathan State has shifted the ground beneath our feet. We fight desperate rear-guard actions against tax increases and rapidly growing books of federal code. A larger, freer private sector is almost a laughable fantasy... and that financial mess in Washington will be introduced as Exhibit A in the prosecution of anyone who proposes it.
How do you fight a state-by-state battle against a federal monstrosity that lurks everywhere, all the time? You are no longer the citizen of a state that owes allegiance to the national government. You are a citizen of Washington D.C., and it has only limited patience for state leaders interfering with its plans. It also has gigantic amounts of confiscated, and illusory, money it can use to bribe those state leaders into toeing its line. Federalism is an antiquated concept, a superstition our central authorities are working to stamp out completely.
That's not the kind of citizenship Americans inherited at birth, or joyously earned upon compliance with our immigration laws. We should not be forcibly impressed into collapsing programs that leave no possibility of escape. We shouldn't surrender daily control of our lives and fortunes in exchange for a vote every few years. We should be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with all of our fellow Americans in defense of our universal and inalienable rights, not comforting ourselves with muttered justifications for tossing the latest round of unloved citizens to the wolves. No cage should be gilded enough to satisfy us. Let us rediscover the dignity, liberty, and possibility that come with universal respect for the fair and equal value of all American citizenship. If the Republican Party can't "sell" that, they have problems no team of consultants could ever solve.