Asymmetrical Information - Megan McArdle

11.09.12

How Can the Republicans Take Back the Majority?

I happen to have a few little ideas right here . . .

It was a crushing defeat.  Despite an economy as underpowered as a cheap flourescent light, Mitt Romney somehow failed to unseat Barack Obama.  And now it is time for the Republicans to rethink their platform in order to attract new voters--or doom themselves to permanent minority status.  

I think the obvious place to start is with immigration reform.  Increase the number of visas available.  Explore guest-worker programs.  Establish a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who were brought here as children and have never known any other home.  This not only gives the GOP a shot at the Latino vote, but also softens their image in the eyes of the professional class, who might be willing to give the party another look if it didn't seem so committed to deporting poorer, darker skinned people who just want a shot at picking fruit, trimming lawns, and cleaning houses.  

The GOP would also help itself with those people by embracing gay marriage.  To be sure, this might cause them some problems with the evangelical base whose organizing support is crucial to Republican get-out-the-vote efforts.  But the GOP could assuage that tension by promulgating a hard-core, Republican version of gay and straight marriage.  That's why they should pair it with making marriage mandatory, and eliminating no-fault divorce.  The message should be that if everyone can get married, then there's no really excuse not to be.   Oh, I know, the divorce changes might cause friction with the kind of Republicans who go through wives the way other men go through undershirts, but this seems like a small price to pay for a shot at the 1-3% of the electorate that is eligible for gay marriage.  

Of course, change wll be wrenching.  But this is the reality.  After the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression--a financial crisis that American voters blame on George Bush--Barack Obama took at least 303 electoral votes.  That's 20 more than Bush got in 2004, even though he is a black man running against a tough economy.  Sure you can argue that he was also running against a member of the group that most people blame for that tough economy, but think it's hard to make a case that Romney's background in finance, or his personal tax rate, were really at issue in the campaign.  No, it's pretty clear that Tuesday's results mean that the GOP is doomed.  That's why I've put together this little list of things that the GOP can do to turn themselves back into the kind of coalition that used to go out there and win one for the Gipper.

For example, they need to stop the demented focus on tax cuts, and start putting their energy into closing the budget deficit.  Their first step should be a revenue-raising tax simplification.  Polls show that Americans care about the deficit, and of course, so will markets if we don't do anything about it.  So eliminate the corporate income tax, and tax capital gains and dividends as ordinary income.  Get rid of all the tax deductions: charitable donations, mortgage interest, child tax credit, subsidies for buying Priuses and installing insulation in your house.  Add in a hefty carbon tax to curb the negative externalities of our out-of-control carbon emissions.

Sure, a few constituencies may squawk, like homeowners, parents, rich people, non-profits, manufacturers, environmentalists, drivers, and users of electricity.  But the GOP will gain the critical economist vote.  50% of economists now vote Democratic.  Republicans can take back that half by campaigning for economic efficiency over narrow special interests. Use the money gained to lower tax rates on everyone: a top tax bracket of 30% for the wealthy, 20% for the middle class, 10% for the working class, and -10% for the working poor.  

This is also the time that Republicans need to really rethink Social Security: means testing benefits for the very richest recipients, like Warren Buffett; reducing the discincentives to work, like the fact that benefits are taxed at a higher rate if you have other income; raising the retirement age for everyone.  This may encounter some resistance from the AARP, but the GOP should counter the way Paul Ryan did with his innovative Medicare plan, saying that this is not about cutting benefits, but about ensuring that the program is still there for future generations.  

Paul Ryan's Medicare program should also get a more prominent place in the GOP platform.  Right now Obama has the youth vote locked up.  The GOP has a unique opportunity to court those voters by pointing out that unlike Democrats, Republicans are willing to be the stewards of their future, making sure that old age entitlements do not bankrupt the state and impoverish all the non-elderly voters.  

And they can seal the deal by embracing drug legalization.  This country's drug laws are a moral outrage, an economic disaster for poor neighborhoods, and a major factor in the very expensive growth of the mass incarceration state. The passage of marijuana legalization initiatives in two states shows that this can be a winning issue if it's handled right.  The GOP should be leading, not following.  Tell the youth of America that at last, there's someone willing to support their constitutional right to get high.  It's no longer neccessary to fight for your right to party.  The Party will do it for you.  

Obviously this is going to encounter some pushback from the current base.  But it's time for them to get serious.  Barack Obama swept this election with 50.4% of the popular vote.  That's -0.3% more than George Bush won against John Kerry.  If the base cannot embrace simple, centrist propositions like getting rid of the death penalty and dramatically reducing mass incarceration, then they cannot hope to win another election in my lifetime.  It's also pretty clear that they they need to join the widespread opposition to Obama's indiscriminate use of drone attacks on targets believed to be part of terrorist networks.  Polls show that huge majorities worldwide are against the attacks, with only one outlier--the United States--indicating widespread approval among its citizens.  The GOP should be courting those constituencies by contrasting their sane, sensible policies with the Obama administration's shameless pandering to the extremist minority that constitutes so much of the Democratic coalition.    

Republicans who object need to have the hard facts rubbed in their face: Obama won re-election on Tuesday, which is exactly what electoral models based on the economy predicted six months ago.  Even Republicans must be able to see that this means that their coalition is in a demographic free fall.   They need to revitalize that coalition by outflanking the Democrats on the left with women, gays, minority voters.  But they cannot stop there.  They also need to carefully craft policies that can appeal to niche voters.  

Tall people, for example, have had their civil rights violated for years, with no party willing to stand up against the rampant injustices that afflict us.  Women's clothes are almost never made in tall sizes, forcing us to wear dresses with waistlines pitched 5 inches too high, and pants that terminate mid-calf.  This causes social isolation and also, makes us a figure of fun to small children.

Greedy airlines cram extra seats into airplanes by shortening legroom, until we are forced to take advanced geometry classes just to figure out how to fold ourselves into our seat.  This is why 18 of the top 20 origami experts in the world are tall people.  

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.  Kitchen counters are too low for us to work comfortably, desks and tables are practically designed to make us bang our knees, basement ceilings scrape the tops of our heads.  Millions of tall Americans suffer these indignities silently, because there has been no one to give us voice.  The GOP can become that voice by making People of Height a protected category under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  

And don't forget foodies.  Our access to ingredients like black truffles and iberian ham is severely limited by the vaguaries of the market, which has made these hard-to-find foods very expensive.  The FDA should be given the authority to regulate such price gouging, enabling hard-working average foodies to produce the kinds of dishes that are now almost exclusively the province of top chefs.  Of course, we won't get very far without the kind of equipment those chefs have access to.  Unfortunately, their equipment, like their high quality ingredients, is currently unaffordable for working families.  That's why the Republicans need to get behind a $5,000 annual refundable tax credit for the purchase of high end stoves, Sub-Zero refrigerators, sous vide machines and other expensive kitchen gadgets.  

I know what the critics will say.  "Megan," they will say--the critics and I are on a first name basis--"Megan, this sounds an awful lot like your ideological wish list, with a couple of items thrown in just because they would benefit you personally."  Which is ridiculous.  

First of all, there are loads of things on my ideological wish list that I didn't even mention because I don't necessarily think they would help Republicans.  Did you see anything in this post about getting rid of zoning regulations?  I submit that you did not.  Which just goes to show that my recommendations have nothing to do with my personal ideology.  I mean, before today, I never supported mandatory marriage.  I literally just thought that up.

Second of all, just because I might support a lot of these things doesn't mean that they aren't political gold.  I mean, look at how many people agree with me about eliminating the corporate income tax and the mortgage interest tax deduction.  There's like two, just in my immediate personal social circle.  And I'm not even counting my husband, who knows better than to disagree with me in public.  

And lastly, I am beyond offended that you think I would suggest tax subsidies for kitchen gadgets, and disability status for tall people, just because those things might personally benefit me.  The reason I am so passionate for these causes is not self interest, but precisely because I have experienced first hand the deep suffering that is completely ignored by the American public policy apparatus.  Maybe if you looked beyond your own narrow self-interest--your own blind privilege--you'd understand how far we are from a truly height-blind society.  

And you know what?  I believe you can.  I believe America can.  And I believe that with new leadership and a new direction, the Republican Party can too.  If they'll just follow this commonsense, centrist policy advice, the GOP can help make America the country that I--and by extension, the rest of you--want it to be.