And now it’s time for change, Republican-style.
The message from Democrats is that Republican “change” means no change at all. Republicans calling for “change,” say Democrats, is simply co-option of their candidate Barack Obama’s campaign theme, a political necessity fostered by the unpopularity of the Bush administration and an admission that Republican policies have failed and left people worse off today than they were eight years ago.
In Denver, Democrats positioned their vision of change as creating the “world as it should be.” The outcome-based message of the Democrats offered no mention of reversing the trend to a larger, more intrusive government or using the same powers as the Bush administration to achieve it.
More than ‘a compromise echo’
The challenge for the Republicans this week is crafting a message of change that goes beyond simply an ideologically driven conservative vision of the “world as it should be.” In the eyes of many rank-and-file Republicans, delegates in St. Paul are more challenged to address the fundamental conservative ideas on display across the river in Minneapolis at Ron Paul supporters’ Rally for the Republic than to craft a compromise echo to the Democratic mantra of change.
Among those attending the Rally for the Republic is former eight-term Oklahoma congressman Mickey Edwards, author of “Reclaiming Conservatism: How a Great American Political Movement Got Lost – and How It Can Find Its Way Back.” Edwards minces no words in his book criticizing the Republicans’ handling of power the last eight years.
“People who call themselves ‘conservatives’ today bear very little resemblance to those limited-government advocates who had given birth to the modern conservative movement and had helped shape the modern Republican Party’s political agenda,” he writes. “The incompetence so widely noted during the years of conservative leadership was less serious a matter than was the complete abandonment of principle that marked nearly every day of the single-party Republican dominance of both Congress and the White House for six very long years.”
In essence, the idea of the Democrats standing in opposition to the Bush administration as a signal of change is, in fact, more of the same in Edwards view. Edwards notes that “much of what I see described as ‘conservatism’ today seems strikingly similar to those policies and attitudes against which the movement was directed.”
I am “unconvinced that a departure from the (fundamental principles of the American Constitution) is somehow ‘progressive,'” he writes. “In fact, centralized direction is the oldest system of governance known to man, practiced by kings, warlords, and cave dwellers. What is progressive is a system in which the main duty of the governors is to protect the rights of the people. That is the unique creation of America’s founders.”
In a telephone interview, Edwards said he’d like to see Sen. John MCcain and his vice-presidential selection, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, distancing themselves at the convention from “the Bush administration’s cavalier attitude toward the constitution.”
He continued: “I’d like to hear them say things like I’m not going to wiretap you without a warrant; I’m not going to condone torture; I’m not going to use signing statements to say I’m above the law. I would like to see a clear distinction from Bush.”
Ron Paul forces hoping to influence delegates
Minnesota GOP delegates and alternates who supported Ron Paul are well aware of that challenge and express some optimism about being able to influence other delegates. They seem less optimistic, however, that they can, at the convention, significantly move the party toward policies based on the principles of individual liberty advocated by the Texas congressman.
“After watching the Democratic convention, it crossed my mind that we may end up suspending the rules and having a vote by acclamation from the floor. Then we would not have our votes counted,” said Bill Jungbauer, a 51-year-old-carpenter from West St. Paul and deputy chair of District 39A. “I expect to influence others by my actions, as in being polite to others, not making a fuss over issues beyond my control and passing the word about wanting to return the party to our conservative roots. I have had enough of hearing lip service to Ronald Reagan and conservative values and getting candidates that compromise these very values.”
“My expectations for the convention itself are not very high,” said Steven Rogers, 37, a dental technician and business owner from North Minneapolis, who was drawn into the Republican Party by Ron Paul’s run for president. “My hope is that the GOP will allow Dr. Paul to speak. This would help in rebuilding a party divided to a certain degree. I believe that the Ron Paul delegates can have some influence on the process as a whole.”
Edwards will attend the Paul event because he shares with “Ron” a strong interest in getting the Republican Party away from being an echo of the Democratic Party (“as Goldwater might say”) and back to its conservative principles. (The word “cavalier” frequently crops up when he speaks about the attitude of the Bush administration toward the Constitution and the Democratic Party.) He notes that Paul has dropped out of the running for president and is not playing the role of a spoiler. The effort is on putting a focus on conservative principle.
Minnesota delegate Steven Miller shares a similar observation.
“Lately, I have been hearing from a number of folks that they are beginning to see where we are coming from, and are more supportive of the message of liberty,” Miller said. “Carrying on after Dr. Paul ended his campaign shows we are not after an office but standing by an ideal.”
Whether they recognize it or not, Republicans in St. Paul face a greater challenge in coming away united than did the Democrats in Denver. The policy differences between Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton were primarily cosmetic. The GOP faces the fundamental issue raised by Sen. Barry Goldwater in his 1964 presidential campaign.
The GOP can leave St. Paul offering a clear choice to the progressive policies of the Democrats or it can leave an echo, simply offering a different view of the world as it should be.