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Why We Lost: The Big Picture
5 years ago

By Jay Haug

Critics of the Republican loss in the presidential election, which returned the status quo to Washington for another four years, have spent a number of weeks analyzing the reasons for the debacle. Pundits have put forth demographics, messaging, the Obama turnout machine, and a whole host of other assertions to show why Republicans must go back to the drawing board and reinvent themselves. No doubt this sifting process will continue for months to come. Though John F. Kennedy's oft-quoted dictum that "victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan" still holds true, it appears the orphans are having a national convention asking themselves, "Who's your daddy?" Now that Mitt Romney appears to be fading from the scene, Republicans have not quite decided either who will come off their fairly strong bench to lead the party, or what the Republican message for the future will be.

In light of this much needed self-criticism, we must remember that elections are almost always about big ideas. At least that was what Ronald Reagan and Republicans told themselves. If so, we have a problem. The big Republican ideas of the last forty years have been exactly two: peace through strength abroad and free enterprise at home. These were the twin themes of the Reagan Revolution reiterated again and again by Republican candidates to win elections. But now, these ideas not only do not work for us. They have turned against us and are actually working to defeat us. How did this happen and what can be done about it?

But first we must understand how the two big Republican ideas came to the forefront. In 1980, the U.S. economy was stagnating. The misery index, a depressing combination of unemployment and inflation statistics created economic problems, 20% interest rates, American "malaise," a word Jimmy Carter never actually used, and a sense that America was adrift. Abroad, the Soviet Union rolled into Afghanistan without firing a shot. Jimmy Carter inexplicably responded by punishing U.S. Olympians, exiting the 1980 Moscow games. Iranian radicals held Americans hostage for 454 days, while OPEC created long gas lines which frustrated America's sense of energy entitlement. Carter nattered away about America's "inordinate fear of communism." When the attempted rescue of the hostages failed in the desert due to faulty equipment and planning, it seemed as if the epitaph for the Carter administration had already been written.

Into this breach stepped Ronald Reagan with a twofold message. First, at home, "Government is not the solution. Government is the problem." Reagan thundered that the "federal government is spending money like a drunken sailor. The only difference is the drunken sailor is spending his money. The federal government is spending yours." The message was simple. Free the American economy from high taxes, waste, and government spending and it will take off. With the lowering of secular interest rates providing a tailwind over the next decade, it did. Reagan was the new Calvin Coolidge. "The business of America was business," once again and America thrived. Patriotism surged and employers hired millions of workers. When Reagan survived an assassin's bullet with humor and aplomb, it appeared that America, in the words of Thomas Paine at Valley Forge, "had it in our power to begin the world over again."

Now critics of Reagan will say he was unserious about economic conservatism because deficits grew under his administration. But the question was why? In Reagan's view, there was a much more important long-range goal than immediate deficit reduction, namely the defeat of Soviet communism and its eventual demise worldwide. Besides, according to supply-side economics, a robust economy would eventually either greatly reduce or eliminate deficits. It eventually did under the Clinton administration. Moreover, the opening of Eastern European markets to American goods created a once-in-a century "peace dividend" that accrued under Clinton. Reagan believed the Soviet economy was on the verge of collapse and with removal to the "ash heap of history" its hegemony over Eastern Europe would end. This was one reason Reagan refused the deal on disarmament offered by Gorbachev at Reykjavik in 1986. To do so would have let the Soviets off the hook and cushioned their fall, something Reagan was loath to do. But not even Reagan could have imagined how soon he would be proved right about Soviet communism.



5 years ago

The Reagan doctrine "peace through strength" was the second big idea. The notion was if the U.S. had by far the strongest military in the world, we would rarely have to prove it. In fact, Reagan never got us into a war of any significance. He bombed Gaddafi's compound and met the takeover of Grenada by communist forces with a decisive reversal. But the big war was a one that was never fought, the "Cold War." When the British fought a hot war over the Falklands, Reagan at first remained infuriatingly neutral before supporting the British side. What are we to learn? Very simply that the hoped-for result is "peace through strength" not "war through strength." The goal was peace, not endless conflict. Why is this important?

It is here we begin to understand how Obama and the Democrats won in 2012. Instead of the Republican Party being the party of peace, in too many minds it has become the party of war. Electorates do not like parties of war and tend to turn them out. Once upon a time, Democrats got us into war and Republicans got us out of war. Kennedy and Johnson got us into Vietnam, Nixon got us out. Truman got us into the Korean conflict. Eisenhower presided over the truce. Carter lost the hostages. Reagan got them out. This was the recent pattern, until the war on terror. Legitimate or not, Republicans got us into both Iraq and Afghanistan, both problematic conflicts filled with ups and downs, uncertainties, loss of life, debilitating injuries, corruption, and off-budget expenditures. Republicans are supposed to believe in limited powers. Though we believe in a strong military, we are chary of too much power in any government arena. Like it or not, believing the cause was just or not, this has cost Republicans.
Iraq and Afghanistan may have been a necessary price to pay, but it did allow one great political advantage for the Democrats. It allowed them and Obama to ride in as the "solution" to those evil Republicans. Bush got us into a wrongheaded war in Iraq? Obama would get us out. Bush opened Guantanamo Bay? Obama would close it. (Even wrongheaded intentions count as actions for Democrats). Bush couldn't get bin Laden? Obama would. I didn't matter that Obama used many of the intelligence gathering techniques he formerly opposed in doing so. He would take credit for the results. Every business in America markets itself as a source of "solutions" for consumer problems. Obama's advantage was that he offered the solution of "peace" in return for war. That is a huge advantage in a war-weary country, especially one that has economic problems and deficits. Never mind that the money will not be returned to the people and will be spent in Washington. At least it is coming home. That was the sales pitch and it was successful in two campaigns. It also allowed Obama to temper his hard domestic leftism with reason and balance, further shielding him from criticism."

I mentioned that Americans do not like war. They often fire war presidents. Bush 41 came off the Gulf War with a 90% approval rating and lost to Bill Clinton in 1992. Was it only the "stealth recession" that caused Bush's defeat? This is something of a Western tradition: Churchill was fired by the British people after World War II. They chose others to install the British National Health Service. A little further back, King David was not allowed to build the temple because he was a "man of war." Solomon was praised for his wisdom and wealth, but presided over a nation put together by his father. After World War II, and the dropping of the two atomic bombs, Truman almost lost to Dewey in his only run for the presidency. At the very least, people and parties with blood on their hands, like Churchill, are deemed unworthy to oversee the mundane tasks of installing the welfare state.

The point is: a major advantage Republicans possessed, "peace through strength," demonstrated over the last generation is now gone. And until and unless the American people perceive Democrats once again as the party that gets us into trouble abroad, (we may not have to wait too long for that) the Republican advantage here is now lost. If current budget talks fail, the "strength" part of the deal may be lost as well, as the "fiscal cliff" will entail substantial cuts to the U.S.

But the domestic side is where Republicans have really come a cropper. The message of free enterprise can only stand in an economy that is producing jobs, prosperity, and upward mobility. None of these are happening right now. This is the "crisis" referred to by Democrats as something that "cannot be wasted." Why? Because it allows them to reverse Reagan's famous dictum that government is the problem. For Democrats and the unemployed, underemployed, and suffering, government becomes the solution once again. Just as the Reagan majority praised business for the blessings of the "city on a hill," so now any criticism of the "food stamp president" is met with cries of closet racism. How dare anyone criticize the golden benevolence of government that stands between so many Americans and destitution? When PBS runs the series "The Dust Bowl" praising the role of the federal government in rescuing farmers, why would anyone think government was a problem? I have heard anecdote after anecdote recently of jobs going unfilled because they cannot attract workers at $12 an hour. Has our own government disincentivized us with benefits? Has the shame of government assistance been removed?


5 years ago

But the worst part of free enterprise's demise is the portrayal of it as fundamentally immoral. Mitt Romney was portrayed during the recent campaign as an economic vulture who was "not one of us." During the 2008 campaign, Michelle Obama blew her cover by telling people they should not go into business but should spend their efforts in the nonprofit world. During the Obama care debate, Nancy Pelosi articulated a world where artists, writers, and poets should be free to pursue their passions supported by federally provided healthcare. It did not matter much that Republicans argued that the financial crisis was orchestrated by Democrats in Congress overseeing Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, or that the crony capitalism of Wall Street is no longer the free enterprise bastion it once was. Democrats and Obama were able to repeat ad nauseum that the system failed, that we cannot return to the wrongheaded policies of the past and that its essence is "you are on your own." The message "you didn't build that" should have cost Obama the election. Instead most of the electorate shrugged and voted for him anyway.

Republicans are in a pickle. The unshakeable American belief in free-market economics tempered by mostly-private compassion has been shaken and displaced. We should have seen this coming under George W. Bush. When Karl Rove pointed out to him that unless he endorsed Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit, that he would lose the election, what was Bush to do? Never mind that it actually came in under budget or that its secret was competition between drug companies that drove down prices. The reality was that for the first time in our history, both parties had endorsed government as the seat of compassion. The race was on: not to ask what you can do for your country but what your country can do for you. If the electorate is going to elect a party of bigger and bigger government, they know which one is better, the Democrats. It was an argument Republicans were destined to lose, much like the me-too Republicans of the 1970's who were lost in the wilderness until Reagan woke them up.

So what do we do? First of all, have a little patience. There have been many false narratives in American history that have gone the way of the dodo bird. The Dred Scott decision, FDR spending the nation out of the Depression, communism as a viable alternative, the "Great Society," the "holiday from history" and on it goes. The world about to dawn in 2013 finds the country in as dire straits as anyone can remember, with the current administration offering no answers and digging a bigger hole. Republicans are debating whether to give Democrats the rope to hang themselves or to fight them on principle. Anyone with any intelligence knows what Democrats are proposing, namely higher taxes and more spending cannot work. Can the Democrats win the White House or control of Congress in election after election with big turnouts of "low-information" voters? When will the electorate be intelligent enough to recognize the Democrat agenda cannot work? Time will tell, if we still have it.

Here is the point. On the domestic side, we must make a dramatic case that free enterprise is in fact much more moral and successful than a government-controlled command economy. Free Americans will not only feed themselves but also each other much better than the nanny state. If Republicans can make that case and earn back the trust of the American people, they can and will lead again. They will probably not get the chance until the current regime collapses of its own weight, which it will surely do in time.

On the international scene, the Obama narrative is already collapsing. The happy talk of reset buttons and sitting down with terrorists to talk things out has produced an unstable Middle East unsure of America's resolve. Americans elected and re-elected Obama to get us out of war. Now both parties are embracing an orderly exit from Afghanistan, though with different concerns. The question now becomes what America's vision of the world and itself is to be. Obama's is a hoped-for orderly demise to a nation among many nations, complete with required reading about "Greek exceptionalism." Republicans know the world cannot be governed safely without American leadership and strength. Republicans must remember both sides of the peace through strength mantra and remember two things: there is sometimes an electoral cost on the home front to war and American weakness invites aggression from its enemies. President Obama knows the former and is the process of learning the latter. For all these reasons, the Republican Party will rise again for one simple reason: the electorate will ask us to lead again.


This post was modified from its original form on 10 Dec, 1:45
5 years ago

And this, folks, is IMO, the best answer to the big question and I really think that the message is clear.  First, we must be patient as whatever we do right now is just formality but we should maintain our position on the two main issues, "peace through strength" and "free enterprise system".  Then we need to just hang on, literally, and let the Democrats and Obama do what Democrats do best, get us into war and attempt to disrupt the free enterprise system.  They are happening and the people will, at a certain point, protest against this.  Then, once more, the Republicans will win elections as we will be called upon to get us out of the war and establish a stronger free enterprise system.  

The key to this "wait" for me is that we stop this incessant bickering among ourselves and give our support to those that are the Republicans charged with seeing us through the wait and see, realizing tha tthey can only do so much without voter support and control of Congress.  We need to stop adding to the problem, as our bickering shows nothing more than weakness when we need to be strong.  Lack of loyalty to the Party is what we are signaling to the voters and no wonder they didn't come out and vote; what did we expect.  When we have upwards of 10 or so candidates running for the nomination of the Party and they are not just coming from different positions, they are publically attacking each other, it shows the voters that we are not decisive and their confidence wanes; they do not come out and vote or they vote for an Independent, or even the opposition.  We did it to ourselves, bottom line.  

We can scream "voter fraud", MSM campaigning for Obama, and so many other things, but the bottom line is that for about the first time in years, we got the U.S. into a very unpopular war and did not get the Country out of it and as stated above, when people are out of work and facing tough financial times, free enterprise is not going to demonstrate a better solution for them.  The Democrats, even if they lied, offered more sympathy onthis and made it appear it was the Republicans fault, that we did not care about them and only about business.  We let them do this to us and unfortunately Romney/Paul were not able to dispel this.

So, my solution would be to concur with the author of this article, 1) be patient and let Obama and the Democrats produce the inevitable, get us into conflict in the Middle East as that seems to be almost a given based on their mistaken foreign policy, and 2) let them fully prove that they have no plan or idea of how to improve the economy and get people working, let alone get business growing.  The position of the Republican leadership should be to just find a means to keep the collateral damage to as little as possible and I do believe that is what I see Boehner trying to do at this point.  As much as this rubs some of you the wrong way, I do believe this is the best solution as there are not too many other choces; firing Boehner is not a solution.  It is exactly what the Democrats want; it is what Obama wants as he hates Boehner.  So, let him continue as the thorn in Obama's side.

And the answer; we did it to ourselves; bottom line, we did it to ourselves.

5 years ago

I enjoyed reading this, Linda.    Your last sentence pulled it all together that we did this to ourselves.   That's the point.    The point is that we have to continue to discuss the reasons why we did it to ourselves and how not to repeat it.    

I don't like the fact that Boehner is willing to let the Bush tax cuts expire but he's between a rock and a hard place and he is doing all he can to compromise and his position on cutting spending is a pure compromise.   The problem is that Obama wants everything is way without compromising one inch.    This is what we are up against.   Republicans want Boehner to stand firm on no tax hikes but what they fail to understand (my personal opinion) is that he is making the effort to get something accomplished.   Obama is not.

So, to those of you who are actively exploring what you feel went wrong and is now heading down a path you don't agree with, this is the place for discussion.

It is never necessary to say that we need to open our eyes to one view only.   We, as republicans, need to consider all the facts and form our own opinions and share them here.  

So, let's get going on bringing our different views here!

Again, thank you, Linda, for taking the time to share your information.   All of it is very important.

5 years ago

I think Obama's policies of Leading from Behind will blow-up in his face and disasters will erupt from this passive role.  There is NO leadership from the USA now and that is a bad message to the world powers.  It is the go signal to rougue nations who think they can do whatever they please in testing nuclear bombs, building a bigger nuclear base, etc.  while USA disarms and takes a back seat.  This is very stupid and I do believe the repercussions will hit America hard along with the free world, our allies, who do agree with us.  All of us will be affected because rogue nations like Korea, Iran cannot be trusted as they have radically immoral leaders setting the rules.


The increase in spending and more taxation will affect everyone in the long run.

Young people will wake up soon and realize their dream jobs are not in play any longer.  The medical system will experience a new government controlled healthcare system which will prove tedious and poor to patients.


I am sure of all of this because history, economics, healthcare patterns, statistics and businesses will all prove that Obama's way is the wrong way.  


5 years ago

Sheila, I agree and so I think the smart thing for us is to be patient and tighten our belts.  Spend only what we have to spend and hang on tight to the rest.  I am thinking that a hole inthe mattress is not a bad idea (LOL, kidding here or am I?).  I believe that, and here I could be wrong, that there are enough of our military leaders that will not let us be destroyed by our enemies.  I don't think, push come to shove, that Obama has the clout to stop their defending the U.S. and if he tried, it would be a huge mistake on his part.  

Sheila, there are some things that majority of the people in this country don't know and it is best that they don't.  By accident I know some things and all I can say, as I am sworn to secrecy, is that there is less to worry about regarding nuclear strength than people need to worry about.  Our Military is not foolish, nor our government, even the Democrats.  

So the issue is, I believe that Obama is going to have some things take place that even he can't change, maniplate or avoid and one is Iran/Syria/Egypt vs. Israel.  I feel that we are close to conflict in the Middle East and he will have to get us into this and if so, he will lose so much of his popularity.  Remember, the fact that we are still in Afghanistan was against him and only with a lot of posturing and promising did he get out from under that stigma; but we are not out yet, are we.  So that is not going in his favor.  Further escalated conflict int he Middle East is not going to go well for him, either and will emphasize his ultimate failure, taking the U.S. back into war.

We know that his policies for economic recover, job creation, etc. are not going to work and when people are paying more taxes they are not going to be happy.  When they find that the wealthy paying more is not going to even register significantly to the positive for the economy, that will illustrate in the best possible way that the Republicans were right all along.  Let him do his thing and that experiment will do more to convince people that any words from any Republican as to why it won't work.  People, unfortunately, need to be taught more often than not; they can't take anyone's word.

Remember, Sheila, these programs have to be funded and in that the Republicans can set drastic limits or even vote not to fund them and that will create some issues for Obama.

You are right, the President and his administration offer no leadership for the U.S., or what leadership they demonstrate is very un-American in content and direction.  I think that what troubles me most about the election is that it sends the message to other nations that the people of the U.S., by and large, support his policies.  That is not the case at all.  

And Diane, I am not ruling out that there were more reasons, some of which Sheila has shown us very well, for why Obama was re-elected.  I do believe that there need to be some sort of movement to bring about voter reform.  I do not support nor feel that mail in balloting is valid as there is too much room for fraud.  It is just making people who are lazy even more so.  If they don't care enough to get to the polls and vote, then they deserve to forfeit their right to vote.  This is another Democratic policy to try to wrangle more votes and it is one more door for fraud to creap in; it has.  Photo ID is a must and I believe that the voter ID card's should include the person's picture.  Registration should require that the person's name and SS number, after seeing a notarized copy of their birth certificate, should be checked before issuing the Voter ID card with he picture to confirm that the person is living, a real person, etc.  Look what is required to get a Passport; why would a voter's ID card be any less serious of a document?  If it takes a few weeks or month to verify a person's identity and then call them in and take their picture and issue the voter ID card, so be it.  If voting is important to a person, they will comply with the time constraints; most states require a 30-60 day registration before the election anyway, so make it 60 days and that is plenty of time to get them checked and a card to them.

Well, enough on this, but I think  you are getting the idea of where I am coming from on all of this.

5 years ago

Linda: Interesting set of comments. OK, let's do a little analysis here. During the 20th Century it was the Dems that got us into WW1, WW2, Korea, Vietnam, and set the stage for the islamic jihad movement with Carter's idiocy. WW2 we couldn't avoid when it got started but its roots were in our involvement in WW1 and the policies from the peace agreement ending the war. Korea was a misstatement by the Dem administration and miscalculation by the other side. Vietnam was more a reaction to JFKs failures in foreign policy with Cuba, the Berlin Wall, and the Cuban missile crisis but was compounded by LBJ's escalation and concurrent inept handling of the military action much from the White House. The radical islamists are always waiting in the wings to push their global take over so when they sense weakness they strike and Carter displayed both weakness and stupidity. Then we had Bush1 and the Gulf War which we won but threw away a conclusive ending that would have ended Saddam's rule without the mess that came in the second Gulf War where they developed a counter strategy that didn't save the regime but did cause us more cost in lives and money as well as allowing the islamists to perfect their unconventional warfare tactics. That was due to Bush1 being influenced by the likes of Colin Powell and others who didn't want us to "overdue" the victory. Of course we can't ignore Bubba's idiotic involvement in the Balkans quagmire or his Somali debacle but he gets a pass as does Obumbler's involvement in Libya and other parts of the area where "peace" and "democracy" have broken out as we see in Syria, Cairo, Benghazi, sub Sahara Africa, and more turmoil in Iraq just to name some "successes" of the party of "peace". Of course that doesn't even address Iran, China's moves in the area near Japan and Vietnam, Russia's increased aggressiveness, or North Korea's continued actions. We also need to forget about the first WTC bombing, 9/11, Ft Hood, numerous plots that have been foiled and some that were not, London/Madrid/Bali bombings, attacks in India, Benghazi of course, and a whole host of actions by the radical islamists who have declared war on us and just about everyone else while we have declared peace and invited them to participate in the government here as well as making sure more radical regimes are installed where ''democracy" now "flourishes". So the GOP is the party of war and the Dems the party of "peace" and all that huge defense spending (less than 20% of the budget) can be "invested" in other more "worthwhile" programs like unemployment compensation forever since Pelosi says that "stimulates" the economy but building aircraft/ships/tanks/etc doesn't so we will put those doing that on unlimited unemployment "stimulus" along with the suppliers of the defense contractors and all those in their areas who get the business of the people working for them. Yeah, all that is "logical"??????

5 years ago

Now let's address the GOP's involvement in big government and "progressive-ism". The first declared Progressive and proponent of big government (if you ignore Linclon's concentration of power) was Teddy Roosevelt who was a Republican if I remember my history before revisionism correctly. As a matter of fact he was miffed when he lost the nod to run again to Taft that he ran as a "progressive" third party candidate and helped the first real demagogue Demagogue POTUS, Woodrow Wilson. win. That and his party's control of the Legislative Branch gave us the income tax, the Federal Reserve, and Prohibition among other "improvements" to the country. The next big "progressive" POTUS was Hoover who was part of the WWW administration and flirted as running as a Demagogue but did as the 1928 GOP candidate. We should all remember how "well" his policies of high tariffs, high taxes, and "pump priming" spending worked to "help" the economy after the '29 crash. FDR ran to the right of him in '32 and then turned around an put the same and worse policies in effect on hyper drive after being elected making matters much worse and Hoover almost look like a TEA Party member. Then we have Nixon. All the big government agencies and policies his administration put in place from the EPA on plus flirting with wage and price controls make him a real model of "conservatism". The GOP had wandered well into the weeds of big Federal government well before the Bushes came along and their contributions were really chump change if you look at the Party over the sweep of the 20th Century. As to Reagen and spending, one needs to keep in mind that defense spending had fallen in the previous decade as to real readiness, he had a Demagogue House for his entire time in office, and some of the spending on the "Great Society" and "social insurance" programs were somewhat on autopilot at the time with legislation that had automatic increases and an aging population. This is not to say that there aren't issues with past GOP fiscal actions or the careerists love of big government but it isn't a new issue and must also be evaluated in terms of divided party government through most of the 50s-90s unless the Demagogues were in total control. What I am saying is the fiscal and defense issues are not new and aren't as clear cut as the "experts" love to push. Looking at the "experts" when they appear on TV on "fair and balanced" Fox News you sort of have to wonder at times what alternative universe they live in. That is especially true of the "progressives" and Demagogues but also of the alleged "conservatives" as well. Never could figure how Bubba got credit for a good economy and "fiscal restraint" with a tech bubble drive economy, GOP pushed lower capital gains taxes, and GOP budget bills after FY1995. Same with the claim that the high tax rates of the 50s didn't damage the US economy when it was really the world economy at the time since everyone else was digging out of WW2 or in revolution and the tax structure was different anyway. It isn't only the voters and the kids coming out of school that are ignorant but many of those in DC as well.

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