Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Message to My Party


As the dust begins to settle on another mini-crisis, one that shut down our government for two weeks and took our country very close to a perilous place, I wanted to sit down and write a few words to those people who, in the end, will bear the cross for the whole ordeal. Yes, this message is addressed to my fellow Republicans and, particularly, to the members of the Tea Party. And let me just assure you now: many of you will not like what I have to say, but I do hope that you will heed these words, nonetheless.

I have been a Kemp-fashioned Republican for as long as I can remember. My upbringing and professional background have helped to galvanize my belief in Holy Trinity, in capitalism, in this great republic, in personal independence, and in the pursuit of one's own dreams; and from these ideals I do not believe I will ever waver. Like many of you, my beliefs have served as the core of my moral compass, and they help to guide my political views. And also like many of you, I share a deep love and a litany of concerns for this nation. As an informed American, I am weary of the unchecked spending by many of our governments, and especially our federal government, and I sound off continuously about the magnitude and impact of our indebtedness.

In recent days, however, I have been dumbstruck by the behavior of the political party to which I belong, as it has succumbed a hijacking by a fringe contingency of its base. Yes, I did use the word “hijacking”—but with good reason. You see, what has happened over the past few days, beginning with the filibuster by Ted Cruz and followed by the recalcitrance of Congressional House Republicans, is tantamount to a coup. It was a rebellion by a faction of Republicans who felt that moderates were not doing as good as job as needed, and so, they, these determined conservatives, waited for the right opportunity to demonstrate influence.

By not passing a continuing resolution to fund a government devoid of a real budget since President Obama first came to power, the Tea Party caucus showed that the silent minority has the ability to roar loudly, and that roar shut down the government. Their goal, of course, was to force the Democrats, on the eve of enacting a $2 Trillion train wreck, to stand down and to deal with real fiscal issues. Unfortunately, as we are learning now, the Tea Party caucus did not get anything close to that. Instead, they have badly damaged the Republican brand, and they have taking the country closer than ever to the brink of insolvency.

People would be remiss to discount the fringe conservatives known as the Tea Party, because they are an incipient component of the party’s base. What’s more, the followers of this sect subscribe to a political theology that is not wrong at its core. They are right to oppose Obamacare, because it is a colossal train wreck being shoved down the throats of every American alive today or born tomorrow. They are right to rail about the national debt, because it stands at more than $16.7 TRILLION, and because we are adding to that daily with $3.8 BILLION in new borrowing. And they are right to point out that our lack of pro-growth policies have led to a recovery that only banks, big businesses, and high net-worth individuals have been able to enjoy. Nevertheless, for all the correct statistics that the Tea Party can point to, it is still a construct bedeviled by its own self.

Perhaps better than anything else, the government shutdown and the debt crisis have shown us that dogma cannot substitute message and strategy. The Tea Party caucus and many voters who elected them would do well to take that under consideration. When too much of your message is consistently flanked by elements of overt bigotry and outright naivety, when you commingle hard facts with questionable solutions or talk of civil disobedience, you cannot expect the public take you seriously. And when your lack of a strategy upends your ability to legislate, let alone govern, or when you willfully bring your party and your country to a dangerous place, you cannot expect anyone to trust you ever again.

And so, with that, I will flatly contend that this day not only marks an end to the government shutdown, but also an end to the radical antics of a fringe element that should have never been afforded any influence in the first place. History will judge these people not as fiscal visionaries bent on saving the republic, but as modern-day Luddites who, without anything to offer, came closest than any other group since the Confederates to mortally wounding this nation.

Beyond this, though, it is important to note that the Republican Party is not dead, and in fact, with such a fantastic failure on the part of fringe conservatives, we should recognize this as a big and almost unprecedented moment for our party to live gloriously again. Recent years have seen the GOP cower and pander to the fringe conservatives like Sarah Palin and her “Real Americans” or to Tea Party followers, while, much to the party’s own detriment, alienating large and significant groups of people with whom we otherwise share so much. At the hands of these radicals, the party has famously taken positions on issues that have left Hispanics, gays, blacks, and other minorities distrusting of its overarching intentions. Now, in the aftermath of this latest mini-crisis, the GOP has to take a moment for vast introspection.

The time is upon us to rebrand this great party and fashion it as a nexus of thought leadership in this bold, new century. The age of ignorance and acrimony should have ended today, and we must now jettison those who have aligned our party with sociopolitical immaturity and short-sightedness. In the place of the old, we must craft a new message, and soon—one that harkening back to the days when we proudly called our party a “big tent”, and welcomed all who would came to learn more about what we stood for, understanding that they too cared about many of the same issues. And we also must devise policy strategies that make sense and take into account how real people live their lives. From this, what we will find, rather unsurprisingly, is that so many of us, liberals and conservatives, have so much in common, as we all would want to live happy and productive lives free from institutional impediments, or as we all would prefer to carefully unwind the culture of dependency and replace it with real opportunities for self-improvement, or as we all would want to see a reduction in the spending by this nation but still be able to afford sensible safety nets for those most in need, or we all would advocate for investments in the world-class infrastructure of tomorrow that also respects the natural treasures of today, or as we all would want to educate and empower our citizenry first but still protect our nation’s interests around the world. Yes, we still share these common aspirations, but what we have lacked is a common vehicle for their fulfillment. This can be a pivotal moment for the Republican Party to become that vehicle and grow to represent the populace of this nation in a way it could never do before.

I would hope that we have all learned much from the last sixteen days. Yes, our country is at the precipice, but we cannot threat to take it and the world into the abyss in some suicidal fit. We must become serious about how  we approach the very real problems that affect our nation going forward, lest we risk more of these unnerving mini-crises in the future, with each becoming worse than the one preceding it.

As an American, I am optimistic about our nation’s prospects in the long term. We will get it right, ultimately. History has proven that. And as a longtime Republican, I am also optimistic that my party can right its own course. We too can be made to see the light, and history also bears proof of that. In both cases, however, the near-term prospects are not as promising.  It would appear that hardship awaits both party and country. That does not have to be. We simply must find in ourselves the humility, foresight, and courage to take necessary action today and save ourselves from problematic destinies. In fact, I will always believe that, in order to save this country from fiscal and monetary bedlam, we will need a leader who understands the importance of pro-growth policies, of tax breaks and incentives, and of a production-driven economy out-innovating the rest of the world, and that such a person now can only rise up from this party.

So, today,my fellow Republicans, we have a choice: we can cling to the aimless and increasingly irrelevant conservative fringe of our party’s base, and watch helplessly as our party fades into political extinction—or we can admit that theirs is a failed approach, and move quickly in a way that enlarges and enlivens our base. I personally think the choice is clear. We need a future,and that won’t happen with the Tea Party, not ever. Silence them now, and let’s get to work.

-Gary C.Harrell

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