Alex Massie

Why waiting for Obama to fail is not enough

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Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, says everyone should calm down and have a cup of tea:

Barack Obama and the Democrats have the initiative. Until such time as their policies are perceived to have failed, it doesn't matter too much what Republicans do. Yes, they obviously should endeavor to be sober and creative—replenishing their policy arsenal for the day when the public is seriously paying attention to them again—but the big question in American politics right now is how Obama handles the financial crisis and the economy. In the grand scheme of things, everything else is commentary.

Aside from the fact that the Republican party is neither sober nor creative right now, there's something to this. But the elevation of Rush Limbaugh from Movement Entertainer to, apparently, Party Standard Bearer is part of the problem. The public would quite appreciate a period of reflective silence on the part of the GOP right now, but it isn't getting that, is it? Instead Republicans are, if anything, turning up the volume. Far from judiciously reconsidering their options, the party seems determined to mount a mad cavalry charge at the enemy guns, regardless of the wisdom or consequences of this move. It is almost as if the party feels liberated by the freedom of opposition and is determined to prolong the experience for as long as possible.

Clearly much depends upon the success or failure of the new administration's policies. Equally clearly, the GOP needs to be patient and wait for the shine to come off the Obama administration. Events will take their toll in due course. When that happens, however, the Republican party needs to be in a position to present realistic, viable, sensible alternatives. The development of those alternatives is hindered, not helped, by the party's current behaviour which seems to place a much greater emphasis on throwing red-meat to the base than on wondering what sort of Republicanism will be needed - and can be successful - in the future. A quiet internal debate would be useful; instead the party seems determined to excommunicate those it feels are insufficiently loyal. The message seems to be that If you think we have a problem, we think you're part of the problem.

Voters send messages at election-time. They tell the losers that their efforts weren't good or convincing enough. They tell the losers that we want you to go away and think and come back to us when you've changed. It's understandable that true believers, with their aversion to trimming and compromise, like to cling to the notion that the party lost because it betrayed its core principles, but how often is this actually the case? When was the last time a governing party lost because voters thought it was insufficiently extreme? I'm sure readers can think of an example of this, but off the top of my head, I can't.

It's true that the GOP faced a remarkable opponent last November, but it also ought to be recalled that the Republicans nominated the most likeable, least extreme candidate available to them. Does anyone think a more conservative, less likeable candidate than John McCain would have done better than the Arizona Senator? They shouldn't and that should be a warning to conervatives.

Finally, unless an incumbent proves a catastrophic disaster, then the burden of proof in elections always lies with the opposition. It's not enough to point out the incumbent's failures, you have to demonstrate that you can deal with future problems more effectively. You have to be able to answer the "What would you do?" question. And when voters become disgusted with a given party, they want to see evidence that the party has listened to the electorate and retruend to the fray refreshed and reinvigorated, not just peddling a louder version of the same old tunes we've heard before and long since grown tired of.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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