Republicans are doing what they usually do after losing an
election, debating the future of the party and perhaps the future of
conservatism as well. A struggle between traditional conservatives and a
younger group of reformers will be decisive. That's one theory. Another focuses
on George W. Bush. What matters is how much of Bush's brand of conservatism is
embraced by Republicans after he leaves office. Other schools of thought call
for driving neoconservatives or religious conservatives or moderates or McCain-style
mavericks to the sidelines. Take your pick. There's a lot to choose from.
It's a nice debate but not terribly relevant. Politics
doesn't wait for debates to be resolved. It operates in the short run, which
means the next year or two. And starting now, the person with the biggest role
in shaping what Republicans and conservatives say and do is President Barack
Obama. It may be counterintuitive, but Obama can help Republicans sort things
The more Obama succeeds, the better. The more of his agenda
that's enacted, the more an appealing conservative Republican alternative will
emerge. Or Obama may take off the table an issue that divides Republicans and
hurts the party.
The top priority for Obama is the economic downturn. We know
his solution because he's been talking about it for two years. It's to revive
the economy from the bottom up, cutting taxes for the middle class, sending
checks to the poor, and paying for new spending by raising taxes on the
well-off. That includes increasing the tax rate on capital gains and dividends.
Does anyone think this will work? It was tried by the
president whom Obama seems to regard as his model, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Rather than jolt the country out of the Depression, FDR prolonged the economic
slump right up to World War II. He advanced the interests of organized labor
over those of business. Obama would do roughly the same through card check, a
minimum wage increase, and protectionism.
It's quite possible Obama may not pursue all of this agenda.
He may realize recovery requires, at the very least, less hostility to business
and the wealthy than he demonstrated during his campaign. But don't bet on his
actually advocating tax cuts, especially of the across-the-board variety, aimed
at fostering investment. That would represent a total reversal by Obama of his
economic plan and cause a serious rift with his liberal followers.
But it's investment that leads to recovery. And as the
recession lingers, pro-business tax cuts are bound to be seen in a fresh new
light. They'd suddenly be more popular. And who does the public identify with
such tax cuts? Republicans and conservatives, who will gladly remind everyone
it was President Reagan's tax cuts that got us out of the 1981-82 recession.
Rejecting tax cuts, Obama may try to spend his way out of
the recession. Deficit spending can help for a while. It did for FDR. But when
he had to cut back, the economy worsened. Obama would have to cut back, too.
My point is this: Serious, economy-boosting tax cuts have a
bright future. That is unless you think the economy will quickly be restored to
health without them or that Obama might successfully blame the absence of
recovery on Wall Street or business or rich folks, as FDR did. I doubt both
those propositions. Obama is likeable and clever, but he's not a magician.
clockwork following a Republican defeat, pro-lifers are being blamed, and
churchgoing pro-lifers in particular. If only the party would abandon its
opposition to abortion, Republicans would win back Senate and House seats in
the Northeast and upper Midwest.
This argument ignores the obvious. The Republican party has
been officially pro-life since 1980 and has actively sought to limit abortions.
The same Republicans who lost their seats on November 4 had won them earlier
when the party was every bit as anti-abortion as it is today. Abortion didn't
cause their defeat this year.
Obama can help on abortion, too: by following through on his
promise to sign the Freedom of Choice Act. It would enshrine abortion on demand
as the law of the land and eliminate all restrictions, including the ban of
taxpayer funding for abortions. "The first thing I'd do as president is
sign the Freedom of Choice Act," he told Planned Parenthood in 2007.
It's true Obama was overpromising. Signing FOCA won't be his
first act as president. At the moment, it's not even a top priority for him or
congressional Democrats. But given their large majorities in Congress,
Democrats are likely to try to pass FOCA at some point and, if they succeed,
Obama surely won't veto it.
Then, the Republican stance on abortion would become the
moderate position. Democrats would have enacted, or tried to anyway, the most
extreme of pro-abortion positions. By stressing modest limits on abortion
favored overwhelmingly by the public, Republicans would have the popular
On immigration, Obama could help simply by adopting what he
and most Democrats already favor, namely granting the 12 million illegals now
in America some sort of permanent legal status. This is also the position of
John McCain and President Bush and, for what it's worth, myself.
Many Republicans oppose amnesty legislation. But they'd be
better off if it passed. On their own, Republicans have been unable to resolve
their deep and politically harmful disagreement on immigration, and there's no
compromise on the horizon. Having Obama and Democrats enact a comprehensive
immigration bill would resolve the dispute and allow the issue to fade.
Republicans could move on.
Should we really expect Obama to provide this much aid and
comfort to Republicans? Maybe not. But he's never bucked any of the liberal
special interests. In fact, his stated agenda coincides exactly with theirs.
All Republicans need is for Obama to keep his promises.