Standing in the security line at Reagan National airport, a black-and-camo tee shirt in a souvenir stand caught my eye: "I love my country, it's the government I hate." It was ugly on a number of levels. Lately too many Republicans sound like that tee shirt, angry at the government all the time. We don't need a de facto Libertarian Party that wants to stop government at all costs—although that is understandable, given the exponential growth of federal spending and the massive debt our nation is incurring—but the GOP would be better off becoming the party of smart, efficient, compassionate, and limited government. Right now, the phrase that best defines the Republican brand is "mad as hell."
In the latest issue of Commentary magazine, Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner make a great case for a new, positive Republican agenda. Not everyone will agree with everything they propose, but the last thing they come across as is angry. They argue for new thinking on working class Americans, social mobility, education, immigration, equal opportunity, poverty, strong and safe communities, the environment, corporate welfare, cultural renewal, and social tolerance—none of which were mentioned much by Republicans in the last election. (Well, with the exception of immigration, which was discussed in the most alienating way possible to both legal and illegal immigrants.) Gerson and Wehner lay out reasonable, well-thought-out policy ideas that will help reposition the GOP as the party of hard-working, optimistic, can-do, Main Street America once again.
Gerson and Wehner call on "many hands"—governors, members of Congress, and grassroots activists to start moving on a reform agenda immediately. It's up to the younger leaders on the right such as Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, to name a few, to "refine and relaunch the Republican message, to propose policies that symbolize values and cultural understanding, to reconnect with a middle America that looks different than it once did, and to confront old attitudes, not from time to time, but every day."
But what about the rest of us? We need to give leaders on the right permission to oppose extreme ideas (like electrified fences along the border and a conspiracy theories about vaccines, as we heard during the Republican primaries) and back new ideas that allow the party to become relevant once again. Polls show less than one third of Republicans identify themselves as Tea Partyers; it's time for the other two thirds to support sensible reforms, and most importantly, vote in primary elections.
Gerson and Wehner have written a must-read for anyone who is concerned about the lack of a reasonable alternative to the big government policies of the Obama administration—and who doesn't want to buy an "I hate government" tee shirt.
With the economy slowing again, our enemies emboldened overseas, our schools failing and our national debt mounting, the stakes are too high for the status quo to continue unchallenged. It's time to get over being angry all the time and enact smart alternatives to what's not working in Washington ... which, by the way, will be rocket fuel for our economy.