R.Reese, Inland Valley News, November 15, 1999, p.2.

 

POLITICAL SOUL SEARCHING: REPUBLICAN DILEMMAS

The American public has often been labeled as politically shallow and apathetic. Perhaps the public is relatively apathetic to politics. However, on November 3, Election Day, the public clearly made the statement that they could discern issue-focused candidates from scandal-focused candidates. The Republicans clearly over played their hand in narrowly focusing on the Lewinsky Scandal for the past three months. They miscalculated the public's appetite for this scandal. Republicans thought the public would be repulsed and enraged by President Clinton's improprieties. They were not.

The resignation of Newt Gingrich from the House of Representatives and the sudden change of political momentum suggests Republicans have some serious political soul searching to do. Today, they are going through a major identity crisis. Some pundits say they lost political ground because they were not conservative enough; they strayed away from the conservative playbook. Others suggest they lost ground because of their "mean white guy image." Indeed, they must deal with a number of dilemmas that will ultimately shape their identity and determine their success in the future.

Dilemma 1: How will Republicans reach out to an increasing minority population? Traditionally, Republicans have not counted on votes from minorities in their elections. However, the last election highlighted the impact this population can have on election results. Demographic shifts continue to affect the political game. Republicans can no longer afford to ignore the minority population. Republican Governor of Texas, George W. Bush, and his Republican brother, Jeb Bush, Governor-elect of Florida realized the significance of the minority vote. They both ran inclusive campaigns and were quite successful. In the near future, Republicans will not be able to rely solely on white male voters to sustain their leadership.

Dilemma 2: What will be the predominant face of the Post-Gingrich Republicans?

Social conservatives advocate pro-life, pro-family, and pro-religious initiatives. Some characterize social conservatives as anti-gay. Most moderate conservatives do not focus on these issues. Instead, they focus on the economy, tax cuts, school choice, and tough crime laws. They are more apt to compromise with the President on policy issues and reflect the voice of mainstream America. The ideologues in the core of the Republican base are staunch social conservatives. If moderate conservatives fail to appease this contingency, they run the risk of being ostracized as "sell outs." On the other hand, the voting public has rejected the platform of social conservatives. The predominant platform of Republicans must be immediately reconciled. However, a move too far in either direction can be politically devastating.

Dilemma 3: How will Republicans fill the leadership void left by Newt Gingrich?

Although Gingrich was widely unpopular among the majority of the American public, his dynamic leadership and vision for the Republican party cannot be trivialized. It will be extremely difficult for new Speaker of the House-elect (Rep.) Bob Livingston of Louisiana, or anyone else for that matter, to orchestrate and galvanize the Republican agenda as Gingrich did. Republicans must fill a substantial void in leadership. Perhaps this time Republicans should look to more than one visionary for leadership.

Dilemma 4: Should Republicans continue the push to impeach the President?

In Federalist Paper number 10, Madison advocated a Representative Democracy over a Direct Democracy. According to Madison, the common person is not capable of making public policy decisions for the common good. Given Madison's perspective, the question arises, should political representatives reflect the voice and the will of the people or should they be noble and autonomously do what they think is right? Republicans have to reconcile this difficult question. Today, the voice of the people suggest the President should not impeached. However, many Republicans still feel that it is their noble duty to uphold the integrity of the Constitution irrespective of what the American people think.

Three months ago, who would have predicted there would be no Republican gains in the Senate and five gains in the House of Representatives by Democrats? Who would have predicted that Gingrich would be the first political casualty resulting from the Lewinsky Scandal? Who would have predicted the President would be still standing, virtually unfazed by all of the events? Certainly not the experts. Perhaps politics mirrors life. We never know all the answers.

During the last elections, Republicans gambled with a weak poker hand. They ran issue-less campaigns that focused too much on the Lewinsky Scandal and the character of the President. Meanwhile, Democrats focused on issues such as Education, Health Care, and Social Security. Given the uncertainty of politics, Republicans should all sit and listen to the words of Kenny Rogers' classic song, "The Gambler." Indeed, Republicans must know when to hold'em, know when to fold'em and know when to walk away. Finally, in the context of gambling and politics, Republicans should now know never to bet against the will of the American people.