- The Washington Times - Monday, May 19, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The House Republicans are rebranding. At long last they cannot avoid the fact — obvious to everyone outside of the Beltway — that being known for hypocrisy, corruption and the occasional attention-grabbing bathroom-stall sex scandal or illegitimate child is not an asset at the ballot box. So, they’re embracing a fresh, clean new slogan: “the change you deserve.” It’s their new encapsulation of policy statements on energy, health care, the economy and other issues — all part of the “narrative” designed to appeal to whatever cutely named swing voter their latest high-dollar consultant told them to target this cycle.

It turns out, as many blogs immediately discovered with nothing more complicated than a quick Internet search, that a slogan this bland is already being used in the marketplace: for an anti-depressant, Effexor XR.

At the rate they’re going, Republicans should be putting in an advance order for plenty of doses of anti-depressants for November. They stand to lose many of the more than 25 congressional seats vacated by retiring Republicans, and challenge in none of the half-dozen seats vacated by Democrats. They’ve already lost three Republican seats in special elections in Illinois, Louisiana and Mississippi, and it’s likely to get darker before the dawn comes.

What we see in the House Republicans is a group of creatures totally disconnected from the new political dynamic of the 21st century. The old rifts between fiscal conservatives, social conservatives and libertarians are just a sideshow to the new rift: between congressional Republicans and the voters in their own party.

The mismanaged war in Iraq and the travesty of the response to Katrina were failures of the Bush administration — but they were hardly the only reasons for voter discontent. On issue after issue, Republicans showed an inability to do anything more than pass the buck. After a midterm election when voters took a two-by-four to the ineffectual congressional leadership, those Republicans who remain have never apologized to the country for what they did to deserve that ballot- box beating.

Voters are increasingly looking for leaders who they can have confidence in as problem-solvers, politicians who will ensure that government works. The rise of Bobby Jindal, the new governor of Louisiana, should provide every Republican in Congress with the apotheosis of the new breed of politician the voters seek: an upstanding, authentic, intelligent problem-solver, unafraid to apply his or her views as the situation demands it and put their own solutions for reform to the test.

As the Democrats stand ready to nominate a candidate (Sen. Barack Obama), Republicans must capitalize on the opportunity by presenting a convincing case to voters in key swing states that the Democrats are offering fool’s gold. They can reframe the old idea of an ownership society, empowering voters to make their own choices when it comes to health care, education and taxes. And they can persuade voters that government largess is a corrupting influence — Exhibit A being many former Republican members of Congress.

Republicans must do all this and more if they hope to recapture districts like Pennsylvania’s 4th, where Melissa Hart is attempting to retake a seat lost in the 2006 meltdown. They must reach out to the working class and the growing Latino middle class, and command the trust and loyalty of the traditional base of support: the entrepreneurs and social conservatives who recognize that big government is a tried and failed answer to society’s problems. These voters must be reminded that for all the hype, Mr. Obama’s solutions are no different.

The memo last week from the Republican leadership gets the overall idea right: “Washington is broken, the American people want it fixed, and Democrats in Washington have proven unable or unwilling to get the job done. Republicans will.” Of course, that last sentence is a little harder to sell when the freshest example in many voters minds of Republican accomplishments are not innovative policy solutions, but corruption and incompetence.

If they are to succeed, Republicans must be unafraid to clean house and rid themselves of corrupt membership — and they should not balk at applying their conservative, pro-market principles. They should recall the advice of Kaa, the boa constrictor from Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book” tales — not the goofy villain from the Disney canon, but a cold-blooded, calculating mentor. In one of the last stories featuring Kaa, he instructs the young boy Mowgli about how he must cast off the skin of his old life and must grow a new one to survive.

“It is hard to cast the skin,” Kaa says. It is painful, yes — but it must be done to move forward.

If the Republican Party is to survive in any legislative capacity at the federal level, it must be done. And once it’s done, House Republicans should be working on targeting the demographic most disposed to voting for them, and least likely to turn out. They might try to reach out to them at some point. They used to be called Republicans.

Ben Domenech is a co-founder of Redstate.com and editor of The City.

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