Still Not the Party of Ideas

The battle for control of the Republican Party continues. Earlier this week, 10 Republican National Committee members circulated a resolution aimed at making sure that every Republican supports "conservative principles and public policies" and opposes "Obama's socialist agenda." Any Republican who broke with the party platform on three or more issues—either through a vote or a public statement—would no longer be endorsed or financially supported by the party.

The resolution recalls something Ronald Reagan supposedly told his aides, that anyone who agreed with him 8 times out of 10 was his friend, not his opponent. Jim Bopp, the author of the resolution, explained that the point was to reclaim "the Republican Party's conservative bona fides," adding that while he wanted to show that the Party was open to diverse viewpoints, "you have to agree with us most of the time."

As First Read notes, if Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME)—who has also broken with the Republican party line on immigration and economic stimulus—ends up voting for the current health care package, this ideological "purity test" would require her to be ostracized from the Republican Party. Hotline likewise points out that on the basis of their past positions it would also disqualify a number of other key Republicans, including Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) who is running for Vice President Biden's old seat in the Senate, and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) who is hoping to fill President's Obama's vacated seat. And on Countdown Keith Olbermann argues that even Ronald Reagan only adhered to four of its ten planks, adding "Welcome back to the Democratic Party, sir."

As I've suggested, it is understandable that Republicans should want to fight over the direction the party is taking, especially now when they're down. And conservatives within the party seem to be looking for someone to blame for its recent defeats. But with the party struggling to appeal to independent swing voters, it is hard to imagine that limiting the flexibility of Republican candidates to appeal to moderate voters is going to help. Kathleen Parker goes so far as to say that the resolution amounts to a suicide pact among Republicans. The problem is, as Parker suggests, that real issues are too complex to be addressed by a set of simple dogmatic principles. There is no room on a checklist for nuanced political positions.

What the Republican Party needs now is a compelling conservative vision. But the current faces of the party don't seem to offer any such vision. Sarah Palin—right now the party's most prominent star—seems simply to repeat trite conservative sound bites. She comes off sounding, as Jon Stewart says, like "a conservative, boiler-plate mad-lib." As Peter Wehner writes, if you believe that the party needs to once again become "the party of ideas," then someone like Sarah Palin is "not the solution to what ails it." But if the Republicans demand rigid adherence to a set of ideological bullet points, someone like Sarah Palin is exactly what they are likely to get.

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