The hypocrisy of the White House is breathtaking. Obama gives a Labor Day speech to the greatest special-interest group of all time, organized labor, and together they blame—you guessed it—the kettle, err, “special interests!” for threatening to sink his health-care plan.
Republicans can recapture the independents who went Democratic last fall—providing they remember they’re vulnerable to hypocrisy charges themselves, especially after years of big spending and business as usual in Washington while promising smaller government and meaningful reform.
The duplicity is impressive. And it’s far from the only example at hand. Conservative speakers have for decades been shouted down, had bomb scares clear their lecture halls—even had eggs, fake blood, and worse thrown on them. And not a peep from the left about the importance of hearing all sides of the debate—until constituents showed up at the Democrats’ town-hall meetings on health care. Meanwhile, only a fraction of the stimulus program has been spent, and Vice President Joe Biden admits the administration underestimated how hard it would be to spend the money (once again demonstrating the famous saying that the most humorous quotes in Washington come when someone accidently tells the truth). Yet Obama and the Democrats blithely credit the stimulus with the budding recovery and some even recommend another one. Never mind that what little has been spent is generally funding things that have nothing to do with jobs or recovery.
The Democrats are indeed vulnerable, and the president’s poll numbers are dropping. But Republicans won’t be able to capitalize on the situation by developing talking points for conservative radio. The GOP needs to keep its eye on the prize—and the prize is independent voters.
They bought what the Democrats were selling last fall, but lately, they’re up for grabs again. Republicans can recapture them—providing they remember they’re vulnerable to hypocrisy charges themselves, especially after years of big spending and business as usual in Washington while promising smaller government and meaningful reform.
At stake is a potential gain of as many as 30 seats in Congress—not the 40 the GOP would need to reclaim a majority, but enough to send a shockwave through the system and set up 2012 as the year to retake the U.S. House, and perhaps even the White House. This kind of strong interim rebuke to Democrats would also dramatically change the policy conversation in Washington pre-2012. So what is the game plan?
Have Real Policy Alternatives: Obama is almost right about one thing: The GOP has not had a real alternative to socialized medicine on the table for many, many years. In fact the same can be said for a host of other issues. Independent voters always want to evaluate two different approaches. If they are judging between a flawed solution and no solution, people will tend to pick the flawed solution. Something beats nothing almost every time. The GOP must put as much effort behind selling their approach and contrasting it with Obama’s as they do trashing the president’s proposals, no matter how well-deserved.
Push Your Own Agenda: Though Obamacare has (thankfully) run into trouble, the White House has successfully hypnotized the Republicans so that they are only talking about the issues he is talking about, unless there is a one-off scandal somewhere (ACORN, Van Jones, etc.). Agenda control is most of the battle, and he is winning, hands down. There is a world of other policies that can be promoted successfully. For example, tax reform and tort reform would both have huge economic and job-creation benefits without incurring a dime of debt—a far better stimulus plan than throwing piles of money at Democratic special-interest groups while running up a huge tab for our kids to pay. Or how about enforcing strong spending controls on Congress? Is there a proposal that voters are more in the mood for now than this one? Education, terrorism, and public corporation reform are all opportunities waiting for a champion. Again, voters respond to choices, not just within policy debate but among policy debates.
Stop Worrying About the Brand: It is true that the Republican brand has been a negative in the eyes of many voters, including some Republicans, for the last few years. But just as people can dislike Congress but like their own congressman, they can dislike the Republican brand but be just fine electing their own local version—so long as their version acts differently than all the others they see as sellouts on Capitol Hill. To the independent voter, the Republican candidates in 2010, not those of the past, will define what it means to be a Republican.
Wha t Will You Do With a Majority? Besides an issue-by-issue approach, what’s the big picture? Can you describe a fundamental difference between yourselves and the Democrats on how you want your country, and your Congress, to operate in the future? Independent voters increasingly see both parties as captives of corrupt, self-serving and self-perpetuating political machinery. They are suspicious of big government, big business, and too much power concentrated in any institution. Can you break out of that cycle and provide a vision for making a real difference?
Denis Calabrese is a consultant working to advance a free-market agenda in business and politics.