Jewish World ReviewDec. 7, 1999 /28 Kislev, 5760
Why Republicans Lose
MAYBE REPUBLICANS should be given a federally funded handicap to
help make electoral contests equal. This is a reform idea no one has
proposed, but not for lack of evidence that Republicans need the help. The
most recent example was their budget surrender, which not only broke the
spending caps but also eliminated the tax cut that was supposed to be the
centerpiece of their campaign in 2000 to maintain control of the House.
A recent New York Times/CBS poll showed that "Democrats enjoy public
confidence on most critical election issues, from health care to education to
Social Security." This cannot be because Democrats have done such a good
job managing health, education, and welfare, because according to the
Democrats themselves, every one of these systems is in crisis and needs
billions of dollars to repair.
In Washington, of course, evading responsibility is an art form, so it is not
always easy to tell who's responsible for which mess. But with some issues,
like education policy, it's pretty clear who is the fibber and who is the goat.
To begin with, education is not principally a federal issue. More than 90
percent of each education dollar is raised and spent at the local level.
Democrats, liberals, and not a few Marxists have controlled most of the
big-city school systems in America for the last 70 years.
When you add the 40 years of continuous Democratic rule of Congress
before Republicans took the House in '94, it's easy to see that Democrats are
responsible for everything that's wrong with public schools—at least
everything that can be fixed by public policies.
Yet according to the poll, Democrats have the public's confidence on
education. Education is even perceived as a "Democratic issue." How can
Is it because the Democratic slander—that Republicans don't care about
education—has some bite to it? Or that Republicans do care but don't have
an answer to the failures that Democrats have fostered? Or is it that
Republicans don't have programs to rescue poor and minority children from
the fate to which Democrats have consigned them?
Actually, it's none of the above. Republicans have the programs, but what
they don't have is the foggiest idea of how to present them to the American
electorate in a way that would win its confidence. They seem clueless about
how to fight this political battle.
Politics is, of course, a war conducted by other means, but Republicans
shrink from having to fire a shot in the education debate. Instead, they have
mentally withdrawn from the battle and allowed Democrats to position
themselves as the education party. In the maneuvering over the education
budget, what you hear from Democrats is that Republicans are Scrooges. All
they want is tax breaks for the wealthy on the backs of the poor.
The Republican answer is a whine that says: "OK, we'll concede a little
money to show we're not as hard-hearted as you say. We'll let the President
have the funding he wants for 100,000 new teachers. But we have our doubts
this will do the job. What we really think is that he's just paying off the unions."
What the public outside the Beltway hears from these exchanges is this:
Republicans have doubts about funding education. (Any more complicated
explanation is lost in the static.) Republicans may care about education, but
they don't care as much as Democrats. And without the leadership of the
Democrats, they wouldn't care at all.
Of course, if the education crisis could be solved by adding more teachers,
who would oppose that? The problem is that Democrats have been adding
teachers and dollars for decades, while the education crisis has only gotten
Republicans have an explanation: You can add all the teachers and dollars
you want, but if there is no connection between teachers' performances and
their rewards, there is no way the result will significantly improve.
One may disagree whether "vouchers" or "opportunity scholarships" or a
drastic weakening of the union lobby is the way to connect educational
performance and reward so that students actually learn. But there can be no
doubt that the Democratic Party, tied as it is to bankrupt policies and
reactionary special interests, is the party least likely to deliver better results.
Of course, many parents are already not listening to the Republicans
because the Democrats have convinced them that all Republicans care
about are tax breaks for the rich. What tag have the Republicans pinned on
their Democratic opponents in return? Nothing.
How can Republicans get their message through to the electorate? Only by
doing what Democrats do. Only by attacking their opponents and their
credibility. So here's a strategy: During 50 years of mismanagement,
Democrats have crippled the public-education system. In major cities like Los
Angeles and New York, nearly 50 percent of the minority students are not
completing high school. Democrats have taken away the bottom rungs of the
ladder of success for minorities and the poor. Given these facts you can
choose your rhetoric. But where is the Republican who will use it?
Because Republicans generally are so inept at political combat, Democrats
escape the disasters they have created and the public debate looks like this:
Democrats want more money for education; Republicans want less. Framed
this way, Republicans will always lose.
In politics, as in football, if you are always playing defense, you are probably
getting beaten. If Republicans have not identified Democrats as the cause of
the education crisis going into the policy debate, they have already tied one
hand behind their back, cupped the other over their mouth, and put a
100-pound weight around their legs.
This non-strategy is so pervasive that it even affects Republicans' ability to
hold their ground in territory that is traditionally theirs. Consider the
"Republican issue" of national defense. For the last 50 years, American
voters have (correctly) trusted Republicans to defend the national interest
more than Democrats. Democrats have appeared "soft" on America's
adversaries in international conflicts, and unwilling to spend the dollars
necessary for effective defense. But look at what happened recently in the
debate on the Clinton-sponsored Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
The congressional debate pitted the philosophies of the parties against each
other. Democrats argued for the treaty, Republicans were opposed. The
Democrats favored an arms-control agreement because they believe in the
fundamental good intentions of most human beings and their ability to use
reason in their own interest (survival). Republicans opposed it because they
are skeptical of arms-control strategies and suspicious of intentions while
retaining a healthy respect for human beings' (demonstrated) record of bad
Democrats defended the nuclear-test ban as a moment of truth for American
leadership. Ratification, they argued, would set an example to other nations to
pursue a path of sanity and restraint. Rejecting the treaty would be to
abandon America's leadership role, leaving the world to its own devices.
Republicans had a different idea. They argued that arms-control programs
are proven failures and dangerous because of that.
Every schoolchild remembers the international arms-control policies that
were put in place after the First World War in the hope of avoiding another.
The Western democracies—America, England, and France—observed the
treaties, but the dictatorships—Germany and Japan—did not. Arms-control
illusions allowed the Axis powers to gain a military advantage in the inter-war
years, and thus tempted them to risk a military confrontation.
Arms-control illusions were a major cause of World War II. During the Cold
War, the United States observed, while the Soviet Union did not, the
arms-control agreements that their leaders had negotiated. Arms control tied
America's hands but not those of its adversaries. Republicans see no reason
to believe that the present treaty will be any different in practice.
The test-ban treaty was therefore a philosophical moment of truth.
Republicans had a better sense of history and a more realistic view of human
nature behind them. They opposed the treaty because present-day
technologies cannot verify whether small nuclear explosions have actually
taken place. These explosions are necessary to the development of nuclear
weapons by powers like China, Iraq, and other despotic states, and there is
no way to ensure that they would observe the treaty once they had signed it.
Naturally, China and even Iraq supported the treaty. They did so because they
knew that it would tie America's hands but not their own. The United States,
which has an open society, would be compelled to observe the treaty terms.
Closed societies like China and Iraq would not.
Republicans clearly had the better side of the argument. Both history and
realism dictated that the United States should not sign. Yet Republicans lost
the public debate.
The reason the Republicans lost the test-ban-treaty debate is that even
though Democrats lost the congressional vote, they went on the
public-relations offensive. The Senate rejection of the treaty was
accompanied by White House laments that Republicans had been seduced
by the "isolationist" fallacy: If America retreated to its continental fortress, it
could ignore what happened in the world outside. Editorials in the liberal
media supported the President's assault.
And what did Republicans do in response? Did they go on a political
offensive? No. They explained that they were misunderstood. They explained
that they were not really isolationists and it was unfair to label them so.
Unfair? Since when is politics fair?
As for the public, what it heard was that Republicans were denying the
charge that they were isolationists. It doesn't take a Dick Morris to tell you
which end of this political stick you would rather be holding as voters go into
the polling booth.
What the voting public did not hear was any charge leveled against the
Democrat opponents of the treaty. Sure there were plenty of arguments that
died inside the Beltway or on cable TV. But there was no buzzword like
"isolationist" that might stick to the other side. The label the Republicans
needed to stick on their Democratic opponents was "appeasers." The Test
Ban Treaty was about appeasing regimes like China and Iraq, despotic
regimes that have never signed an agreement they were not prepared to
break. In sum, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was designed to mollify
dictatorships and potential aggressors, and notorious violators of international
norms. Once again, Democrats had let their liberal optimisms fog their
political vision and lead them down imprudent paths.
Who would win this contest of labels at the polling booths or in the public
debate? If you have any doubt, think of which charge would you like to defend:
isolationist or appeaser?
A third issue that illuminates Republican ineptitude concerns the Democrats'
trump card—the matter of race. Republicans have been so roundly beaten on
this issue for so long that all Democrats have to do is show up to win. In
particular, all they have to do is nominate a corrupt and morally challenged
African-American for an ambassadorial position to create a political Waterloo
for the conservative opposition. If the Republicans ratify the nomination,
Democrats win. If Republicans oppose the nomination, Democrats can
insinuate they are racists. And they can count on Republicans to cooperate in
their own defeat.
As a senator, Carol Moseley-Braun was famous for brown-nosing Nigeria's
dictator—a murderer and oppressor of black Africans. In doing so,
Moseley-Braun even brought on herself the ire of the Clinton Administration
and left-wing organizations like Transafrica. Did Republicans remind
Democrats of this when the nomination came up? No. Did they say that
because of the charges against Moseley-Braun and her lack of concern for
suffering Nigerians, her nomination was insulting to all Americans and to
African-Americans in particular? No. Instead, the Republicans' senatorial
champion, Jesse Helms, made it clear that his motive in opposing her
nomination was revenge for her opposition to the Confederate flag!
The night they drove old Dixie down, all the liberals were singing. Can
Republicans be saved from themselves? If they are true to their principles of
individual responsibility and limited government, the answer is surely no. They
cannot take a government subsidy to compensate for their own ineptitude,
and they should not whine about the Democrats' unfairness or the left-wing
bias in the nation's media. If there is any saving to do, they are going to have
to do it
JWR contributor David Horowitz is editor of
Front Page Magazine and the author of several books, including, Hating Whitey, Art of Political War, Radical Son : A Generational Odyssey . Comment on this article by clicking here.
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