The “Bradley Effect” ended with Tom Bradley in 1982. No more excuses. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream has been fulfilled, now that a black man (OK, biracial) is poised to hold the highest office in the land. Not only did 95 percent of blacks, 67 percent of Hispanics, 62 percent of Asians and 78 percent of Jews vote for Barack Obama, according to CNN, but roughly 20 percent of self-professed conservatives voted for him, according to the Heritage Foundation. It seems that “we the people” have come full circle since “The Party of Lincoln” put an end to slavery. So what does that say about Dr. King’s color-blind dream for America and the GOP’s efforts to regain what it has lost?
Left-leaning pundits insist that Mr. Obama’s win was a mandate for a more “progressive” (code for liberal) agenda. If anything, it was a mandate for change from more of the same - a ballooning budget deficit, big government, out of control spending, lack of sensitivity, promises made, promises not kept. Not to take anything away from Mr. Obama’s charismatic and keen leadership abilities, but what this election revealed is what happens when Republicans are drunk with power and lose their focus. They pay the price at the polls.
A conservative political pow-wow meant to re-engage the party apparatus, took place on Thursday. Nothing much has come of it, yet.
Here are a few of my unsolicited suggestions: First, the Republican National Committee must find a new leader who really “gets it.” Former Chairmen like Ken Mehlman and Ed Gillespie - got it. What they started, ended when Mr. Mehlman walked out the door in 2007. Michael Steele, former Maryland lieutenant governor, Senate candidate, conservative pundit and GOPAC chairman, should receive strong consideration.
Speaking of leadership, it was Gov. Sarah Palin’s wardrobe and ads about Paris Hilton and quasi-terrorists that gave some moderate Republicans and independents rise toward the end of the campaign. Yet, in spite of their disappointment and vitriol from the left, she is a mobilizing force that the party needs. Mrs. Palin remains highly popular (with 71 percent favorability) among Republicans. Put aside the bickering and use her. Whether its chairing the Republican Governors’ Association, sliding into Ted Stevens’ seat, touring the nation and world as the “reform” and “energy” governor - there are avenues to expand her national and international portfolio while maintaining her “hockey mom” appeal. If she happens to have any inklings toward a 2012 run, she’ll be better for it.
Second, all of those Bush-Cheney-McCain operatives (one-in-the-same) need to find new jobs that have nothing to do with running a campaign - flee to the private sector and stay there. Pass the torch. The party needs new, young, sober and diverse blood who know how to work the ground game and aren’t afraid to spread the knowledge.
Third, don’t abandon GOP principles. What about the moderate vs. conservative infighting? There is room for both under the big tent, but the Party cannot abandon its core ideals. Faith, freedom, security, fiscal responsibility, et al. As Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, who is seeking chairmanship of the Republican Conference, told FOX News Sunday: “You build on those conservative solutions … the same time-honored principles of limited government, a belief in free markets, a belief in the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage.” Yet, it also needs to figure out how to strategically apply these ideals and make them pertinent to today’s most pressing issues; then use surrogates who are more engaging and less divisive (think Mike Huckabee). At the same time it should give thought to expanding its platform to include what civil rights, environmentalism and social responsibility mean for the party.
Another party up-and-comer, Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, also told FOX: “And we’re going to have to take into consideration the fact that this country has grown more diverse … but there is still yet a common element among the American people. And that is they want to see a government that works for them.” That highlights my next point.
Many Americans are relishing this moment in history, for all that it means and all that it says about the fabric of our society. And I am proud of America, but for all those who thought they would “never see this [a black man elected president] happen in our lifetime,” I never thought it wouldn’t. I was raised in a household that didn’t see color (mine or yours), only opportunity. My parents made me believe I could do anything, and as long as we lived in a free society there was nothing I could not accomplish. Yet, even in a color-blind society, both parties must recognize the obvious: minorities cannot be taken for granted or pandered to in the political process, especially when minorities (now one-third of the U.S. population) will be the majority by 2042, according to the Census Bureau. As this election taught us, they can and do make a difference. Don’t ignore them. Inclusiveness (from the very top to the bottom) is an active effort - and minorities haven’t felt included or welcomed in the GOP for quite some time.
Finally, don’t be afraid to fight. Too much passivity in a Democratic-controlled Congress has encouraged Republicans to “go along, to get along.” This is not to suggest opposition at every turn, but as Mr. Pence put it, there will be “vigorous disagreements,” yet Republicans in Congress will “cheerfully provide that loyal opposition.” Taking a stand on principle and standing firm used to be a hallmark among Republicans (think Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay).
Distinct purpose is what will set the new Republican Party apart.
Tara Wall is deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Times. twall@washington times.com.