For weeks after the 2008 election, Republicans argued about what they should believe in, what they do believe in, or what they could agree to believe in for the sake of getting elected again. President Obama has made it easy — conservatives believe in Not Obama.
And that encompasses quite a lot.
In foreign and national security policy, they believe in not equivocating between a despotic regime and citizens peacefully rallying to protest a rigged election and repudiate a repressive regime. They believe in not lying about the history and the relative moral claims of the Israelis and Palestinians. They believe in not lauding “engagement” with despots as an end unto itself, without regard for how that engagement bestows legitimacy on venal regimes. They believe in not leaving out human rights from the foreign policy agenda because it might give offense. They believe in not sitting through anti-American rants and making light of it afterwards. They believe in not apologizing for dropping the atomic bomb on Japan.
They believe in not curtailing missile defense at a time when rogue states are acquiring their own nuclear arsenals. They believe in not forcing the Defense Department to make “hard choices” while domestic spending goes through the roof. They believe in not moving terrorists out of a safe and secure facility for the sake of making Europeans (who won’t take the terrorists into their countries) think better of us. They believe in not punishing officials of prior administrations for protecting us from terror attacks.
In domestic policy, they believe in not passing a $1 trillion stimulus plan (including interest) only to later fess up that the promised employment is never going to materialize. They believe in not passing an omnibus spending bill with 9,000 earmarks and calling it “old business.” They believe in not taking away the secret ballot from workers and not imposing labor contracts through government arbitrators. They believe in not micromanaging the economy by controlling the emissions of thousands of businesses and not raising $800B in taxes in the name of controlling greenhouse gases, which China and India refuse to limit. They believe in not instituting a “public option” for health care. They believe in not rationing health care. They believe in not spending over a trillion dollars so healthcare can be delivered as poorly as the U.S. mail. They believe in not taking over failing car companies. They believe in not racking up trillions and trillions in debt. They believe in not vilifying business and the investor class which create wealth and jobs.
In the legal realm, they believe in not adhering to identity politics and the endless pursuit of equality of outcomes. They believe in not converting the rule of law into a social welfare experiment in which “empathy” rather than textual interpretation reigns supreme. They believe in not trampling the property rights of those who invested in companies and are entitled to have their rights protected in bankruptcy court.
In governance, they believe in not attacking media figures from the White House. They believe in not politicizing the Census Bureau. They believe in not politicizing the Justice Department. They believe in not concealing what is in multi-billion dollar bills so votes can be rushed through before opposition mounts. They believe in not hiring tax cheats and not exempting oodles of advisors from ethics rules.
You get the idea. We are told repeatedly by pundits and media scolds that political parties must be positive and creative. That is true. But when a party is out of power it must also know what to oppose and what ideas and policy positions separate it from the ruling party. A minority party must be able to recognize bad policy and have the nerve to resist it.
It is easy to forget how much of Ronald Reagan’s message in 1980 was “Not Carter.” Re-read Reagan’s 1980 acceptance speech at the 1980 GOP Convention and it will remind you that the Reagan Revolution was in large measure a reaction against the failed and misguided policies of Jimmy Carter.
By focusing today on Not Obama, Republicans avoid the temptation to begin throwing one another outside an already shriveling tent. For Republicans, with so many (including some of their own) urging them to form a circular firing squad and declare the other guys not “real Republicans,” it is critical to remember what unites them. Watching Obama methodically dismantle free markets and substitute group therapy for a realistic and robust foreign policy, Republicans are once again reminded of the numerous issues on which 90 percent of them — and many Independents and even moderate and conservative Democrats — can agree.
There is still plenty of time before the 2010 elections to expand and elaborate on what policies Republicans might pursue if they were returned to power. But Not Obama is a start. And the best kept secret in Washington is that Not Obama policies poll very well. (Well, the secret is not so well kept anymore.)