Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Now Do Republicans Get It?

Quick, look, bipartisan agreement—Republicans lost Congress and the presidency because they were not Republicans. Democrats loved to talk about the big spending and deficits approved by President Bush and the Republican Congress. They welcomed several chances to turn greedy and licentious behavior into examples of a general Republican failure to live up to their own moral righteousness. They could get away with this because Republicans were often too slow in distancing themselves from self-disgraced colleagues.

Under Bush the Republican Party, like the Soviet Union, always had a few brave and vocal dissidents who said the Party had lost its way. Fortunately, they were not treated as badly as Soviet dissidents (or even as badly as Democrat dissenters like Joe Lieberman). Today it is fashionable among Republicans to say Sorry, we screwed up. We didn’t act like true Republicans. That’s how the new head of the Republican Party began his reform campaign: “Republicans did not listen, spent like out of control liberals and voters made them pay for their mistakes in 2006 and 2008.”

There we have bipartisan harmony—Republicans were not Republicans. They deserved to lose.

Whether from sincerity, to win public approval, or to keep up with the Democrats, the Republicans chose as their new Party chair a black man, former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele. Perhaps Republicans chose him from all three motives, but judging motives is the kind of thing over which Democrats spend an inordinate amount of time and political capital.

Republicans chose well. Joe Biden once said President Obama was successful because he was "the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." Steel’s kind of average looking but bright and articulate and conservative with broad appeal among black voters. He looks like a Republican four star general.

He walked into office and declared, “Your Party’s OPEN for business and I am cleaning house.” Sounds like he gets it. Not if his recent invitation to an Oregon fundraiser and party renewal event indicate what he gets.

Who are the honorary guests at this “renewing and rebuilding" event? Same Republican Senator who’s been in Washington throughout the Bush term without much dissent. He is accompanied by rich and well established Republicans. Nothing against these folks, but how does their dominance demonstrate a commitment to finding new voices and talent?

Oh, and did I mention it’s a talking heads event? That’s the way to encourage participation and demonstrate new thinking.

“OPEN for business”? For a price. $40 to hear the speech. $1,000 for a VIP reception. If you want to eat, please write a check for $10,000. And no matter what you pay, please wear a business suit.

As a kickoff to fulfill a promise to widen and rebuild the Republican Party this event says Michael Steele or the Party planners just don’t get it. The Party of the $10,000 meal is a party of limited appeal. Sure, both parties resort to such exclusionary events to raise the political war chests, but Democrats can get away with it because they never hesitate to flay those who pay. In fact, some of the most prominent Democrats who pay to play often indulge in self-flagellation. Republicans, perceived to be the party of the fat cat, are held to a higher standard. If they want to prove they are different, they should hold themselves to a higher standard.

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