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GOP hangover: How can we recover from this?

Posted: November 27, 2008 5:43 p.m.
Updated: November 28, 2008 4:30 a.m.

The morning after is never pretty. But after eight years of the George W. Bush administration and the Nov. 4 Election Day drubbing of Republicans, it is a fair question to ask: "What went wrong?"

The short answer: Republicans chose the pursuit of power over principle. What has been the result of eight years of the Bush administration? The Republicans possess neither.

The hardest vote I ever cast was for George Herbert Walker Bush's re-election in 1992. Bush 41 raised taxes, grew government and was generally adrift without any core beliefs.

In the '92 presidential race, then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton ran to the right of Bush 41 by advocating a middle-class tax cut, reforming welfare and getting tough with China regarding the trade deficit. (Out of those three issues, Clinton only accomplished welfare reform, and that was forced on him by the new Republican majority in Congress.)

In 2000, Texas Gov. George W. Bush ran for the GOP nomination for president. In an early TV interview I heard him cite Ronald Reagan as his political hero.

I thought maybe he learned from Reagan's success and his father's failures.

Clearly he did not.

In retrospect, I believe Bush's "compassionate conservativism" was a marketing tool to get conservatives to buy into his nascent candidacy.

His "compassionate conservativism" ended up being neither compassionate nor conservative.

Bush 43 led the parade in growing government by adding to entitlement programs that are already bankrupt (Medicare drug prescription), championing an unprecedented incursion into K-12 education by requiring a "one size fits all" approach in his No Child Left Behind law, as well as advocating amnesty to 12 million to 20 million illegal immigrants.

The Republicans in Congress marched lock step with the president.

One of the most important responsibilities of the Congress is to provide oversight of the administration. It is part of the "checks and balances" mechanisms our founding fathers crafted to protect the citizenry.

One of the first things Congress did was abdicate its constitutional responsibility by dismantling the oversight committees.

We are all fallible, and every administration is going to make mistakes. If the congressional Republicans had done their duty instead of letting the Bush administration run amok, I believe the country and party would be in better shape.

So what do the Republicans need to do now? Return to their core principles.

Historians Will and Ariel Durant in their book "The Lessons of History" discuss how freedom and equality are competing values.

They assert that over time, freedom will prevail because of man's inherent ability and belief in himself. They write, "The best that the amiable philosopher can hope for is an approximate equality of legal justice and educational opportunity. A society in which all potential abilities are allowed to develop and function will have a survival advantage in the competition of groups."

The path to success for the GOP and for our country is to advocate policies that foster more freedom - this as a positive contrast to the "Nanny State" Senator Barack Obama campaigned for during the presidential campaign.

Core principles the GOP needs to return to are:

Lower taxes: The most coercive power the government has is the ability to tax the citizenry. Every dollar the government takes from America's hardworking families denies them a piece of freedom to save, invest and provide opportunities for their children.

Keeping taxes low is great for families and the overall economy. Government cannot create wealth. President John F. Kennedy advocated lower taxes: "It is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low, and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut tax rates now."

The Kennedy tax cuts generated annual growth rates in excess of 5 percent from 1964 to 1967.

Conversely in 1930, President Herbert Hoover raised the marginal tax rate from 25 percent to 63 percent. President Franklin D. Roosevelt pushed them to 79 percent later in the decade.

Although these tax hikes did not cause the Great Depression, they helped lengthen it. (I recently read a report that President-elect Obama is considering raising the top marginal rate to 61 percent.)

Smaller government: While I'm a believer in "smart" government, the vast majority of the time, smaller government is the best solution.

Smaller government translates into lower taxes and a less onerous regulatory environment that fosters entrepreneurialism so small businesses can develop. Small business generates two-thirds of all jobs in America.

Traditional values: The cornerstone upon which our republic was founded is Judeo-Christian values. President John Adams said, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

The vilification of people of faith and pushing God from the public square will unravel the thread that stitches our culture together. We will crumble within if we eschew a higher moral authority.

George W. Bush destroyed the Republican brand. The party needs to re-brand itself, extolling these core principles. Also, the party needs to consistently communicate how Republican policies positively affect American families' daily lives.

Most people, when they wake up with a hangover, look in the mirror and say, "Never again." Republicans need to do the same thing and really mean it.

Scott Thomas Wilk, a Valencia resident, is a member of the California Republican Party and elected member of the Los Angeles County Republican Party. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Right About Now" appears Fridays in The Signal and rotates among local Republican writers.


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