Tuesday at 6am I entered the precinct to open the polls. Sealed off from radio, TV, Internet, and even my cell phone, I knew nothing of the races until I emerged 14 hours later, my judge duties fulfilled. Too exhausted to join friends at election night headquarters, I turned my car for home. Alone in my living room, I watched the results with bleak resignation and feared for the future of my country. Wednesday morning with eyes cleared by eight hours of sleep, I viewed the true toll of the election in the morning paper. With cold amusement, I relived a scene from a favorite film of my youth and imagined conservatives hiding out on a frozen planet while the Empire reasserted itself across the known universe.
What in the world happened? Republicans across the country may be asking the same question. It would be easy to blame a deeply biased press, glitzy Hollywood endorsements, billionaire contributions, fraud a la Acorn, and the sheer eloquence of Barack Obama for the outcome of the election. Truth be told, however, the seeds of defeat were sown in the late 1990's when Republicans abandoned the principles of limited government and embraced the power of big government to advance its own ends.
No longer the party of constitutional limits, federalism, and individual rights, the GOP eagerly supported federal regulation, new entitlements, expansion of earmark spending, Great Society-like programs, nation building, economic planning and historic spending increases. In doing so, they lost the support of the base and the people they were trying to court. After all, why pick Democrat-lite when you can have the real thing.
For the past decade, few Republicans have been able to articulate why limited government, free markets, and personal responsibility are necessary for the preservation of individual freedom and national prosperity. Democrats, however, have eloquently made the case that big government, new entitlements and programs, higher taxes, and economic planning are in the nation’s best interest. It is not surprising that liberals managed to sway a great many in this state and across the nation to their viewpoint.
The silver lining is that leftist ideas are not in our best interest. Ideas have consequences and the change Democrats have in mind will bring economic hardship and social injustice. Just as FDR’s New Deal intensified the depression and LBJ’s Great Society programs mired generations in poverty, Democrats’ ideas have a predicable outcome. It is only a matter of time before the hope of a government-created utopia wears thin and people feel the consequences of this election.
In the meanwhile, the GOP has an opportunity to rebuild the party to be the freedom-loving, libertarian, limited government party. We need to do a housecleaning that sweeps out bumbling Me-too Republicanism and embarrassing politicians like the pork barreling Ted Stevens and anyone claiming to have a wide stance. Republicans who say they support the Constitution but in opposition to its principles, continue to advance their own programs, entitlements, and agendas will find a more receptive place on the other team.
Equally importantly, Republicans need to learn to articulate the case for freedom and why government programs encroach on the free will of individuals. Making the case for freedom can be difficult task. Free stuff is a much easier sell than freedom especially when the American people have come to believe that the purpose of government is to make them happy not to protect their right to pursue happiness. We must show them that the free stuff that Democrats promise comes at an enormous cost – freedom itself.
The consequences of leftist policies will surely make the case for us, but Republicans must be prepared to lead when the time comes.
Krista Kafer's column appears weekly on Face the State.com. Reprinted by permission.