President Obama’s second term in office has begun. Will it change American politics in the short term, in the long term or even possibly for good?
In fairness, it’s a bit too early to tell. A president’s inaugural address, crafted in large part by speechwriters and senior officials, can often provide early indications of what is to come. Mr. Obama’s speech on Monday was well delivered, but it was also a mixed bag for Republicans with respect to messaging, political tone and partisan fervor.
Multiple references to “we, the people,” and rhetoric pointing out that Americans “cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate” will temporarily please some naysayers.
Yet statements like “we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play,” “a decade of war is now ending,” “we must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit,” and “we will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations” are direct statements rather than cryptic thoughts.
This isn’t to say right-leaning individuals expected to hear anything different from this president. Mr. Obama is a tax-and-spend liberal who believes government can help, rather than hinder, the American people. He is a progressive who doesn’t truly accept that free markets, freedom of speech and freedom of choice will create a great society. Moreover, he is a conciliator who would rather refrain from military conflicts and spend time and energy on the fruitless task of attempting to build relations with the enemies of democracy.
From a purely political perspective, Mr. Obama supports the concept of extensive reliance on state and government institutions far more than individual choice. While there are Americans who fall into both categories, the latter far outweighs the former.
This historic categorization could transform in a hurry, however. In theory, Mr. Obama’s liberal policies over an eight-year period could have a generational effect. Americans could start to crave more government institutions, posit greater demands for social services and social responsibility, require less personal freedom and liberty, favor a weaker military presence, voice more support for isolationist policies, and so on.
Mr. Obama is arguably the most liberal president in modern times. Yet his strength of character and powers of persuasion could enable modern liberalism — which most Americans used to regard as political anathema — to become a dominant political ideology. The longer a political theory stays in the mainstream, the greater the chances are that it will become entrenched in the political system. This has been a common occurrence in other countries, including Canada.
For conservatives, libertarians, classical liberals and others who value democracy, liberty and freedom, this could lead to a huge political shift that hurts the GOP for an extended period of time and, quite possibly, for good. It could even take away Americans’ important legacy of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and transform the country into something the Founding Fathers could never have envisioned or desired.
Republicans, therefore, need to establish a clear political vision and ensure U.S.-style conservatism stays well within the mainstream.
To accomplish this task, the GOP should promote policies like those of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. This means that fiscal conservatism, including free markets and capitalism, limited government, low taxes and economic prudence should be heavily promoted. Social conservative issues that have mainstream appeal, including traditional family values and freedom of religion, should be emphasized. A strong foreign policy strategy supporting globalism and security rather than isolationism and insecurity would also be a wise strategy.
At the same time, Republicans need to build a modern, big-tent philosophy. Greater GOP representation in the Latino and African-American communities needs to be established. Support among women voters is a must. Strong ties in the Christian, Jewish and moderate Muslim communities would break down barriers and gain new supporters.
While the GOP can’t be all things to all people, it has to be more things to more people to take back the White House. More importantly, it would put the brakes on Mr. Obama’s liberal vision for America — and get U.S. politics back on the right track.
Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a columnist with The Washington Times.