Growth through dismemberment doesn’t work

posted at 10:15 am on November 14, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

If someone said that the best way to restore health would be to cut off an arm and a leg to make the torso more pure, would you sign up for that surgery?  Or would you send that adviser off to either medical school or a therapist?  Christine Todd Whitman and Robert Bostock try to make that argument to the Republican Party, giving the reverse of the “kill the RINOs” arguments heard elsewhere:

Four years ago, in the week after the 2004 presidential election, we were working furiously to put the finishing touches on the book we co-authored, “It’s My Party Too: The Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America.”

Our central thesis was simple: The Republican Party had been taken hostage by “social fundamentalists,” the people who base their votes on such social issues as abortion, gay rights and stem cell research. Unless the GOP freed itself from their grip, we argued, it would so alienate itself from the broad center of the American electorate that it would become increasingly marginalized and find itself out of power.

At the time, this idea was roundly attacked by many who were convinced that holding on to the “base” at all costs was the way to go. A former speechwriter for President Bush, Matthew Scully, who went on to work for the McCain campaign this year, called the book “airy blather” and said its argument fell somewhere between “insufferable snobbery” and “complete cluelessness.” Gary Bauer suggested that the book sounded as if it came from a “Michael Moore radical.” National Review said its warnings were, “at best, counterintuitive,” and Ann Coulter said the book was “based on conventional wisdom that is now known to be false.”

What a difference four years makes — and the data show it.

Bollocks.  The data shows that moderates moved to Barack Obama, which comes as no surprise after eight years of Republican control of the White House.  Unless Whitman shows that Bush’s position on embryonic stem-cell research was the leading issue on voters’ minds, her extrapolation that the shift in moderates came from a sudden allergy to social conservatism is the worst kind of statistical manipulation.  It’s correlation without causation.

What were the issues foremost on the minds of voters?  The failing economy, ethics, and national security.  In Rasmussen’s polling on issues, abortion didn’t even make the top five:

  • Economy
  • Ethics & corruption
  • National security
  • Education
  • Health care
  • Taxes
  • Iraq
  • Social Security
  • Abortion
  • Immigration

Only the last two have anything to do with social conservatism, and they hardly drove the election.  Rightly or not, voters saw the outgoing Bush administration as inept, and wanted a change.  In fact, two years after Whitman and Bostock wrote their book, a majority of Americans saw abortion as morally wrong in most instances by a wide margin (55%-32%), and only a small minority favors the kind of unfettered abortions Obama proposes to allow with the Freedom of Choice act (24%, according to Gallup’s poll earlier this year).

Beyond the statistical sleight-of-hand, though, Whitman gives yet another voice for the destruction of the Republican Party as a coalition of interests centered on shared principles.  She wants dismemberment as a purity drive, much the same as Ted Nugent’s call for open season on RINOs.  Neither will help create a national party able to govern as a majority.

In order to regain the majority, we need to stop attacking each other and start focusing on those issues that unite us.  The only way to achieve real change is to combine our strengths and put ourselves back in position to change policy.  It may feel good to stand alone with our ideological purity, but in the end, it will never afford us the leverage to make real changes.  Only by agreeing to pursue what unites us can we forge an alliance that can achieve any positive change for America.

What unites us, then?  We need to get back to those First Principles of fiscal responsibility (which we blew when we had the opportunity), smaller government (which we betrayed with the K Street Project and other lobbyist pandering), national security, free market economics, federalism, and lower taxes.  If we can agree to pursue those as priorities, and if we can rebuild our credibility on those goals, then we can convince moderates to once again support Republicans, especially if the Democrats run off the rails in the next two years.

Dismemberment doesn’t bring strength.  It almost always creates a corpse.


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