Now that the official unemployment rate has crested to 10.2%, its highest rate in more than a quarter-century, and now that the “effective unemployment rate” is an astounding 19.2%, what are Republican lawmakers going to do? Who knows?
One thing Republicans should not do is follow conventional conservative opinion into the political abyss. National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, for instance, urges the GOP to be the proud party of “No!” and to oppose any new stimulus package.
“A second (really a third, if you count Bush’s) stimulus won’t have any more effect than Obama’s first one,” Goldberg argues. Moreover, he adds, “the additional debt-fueled spending will only further enrage the independents and moderates who fueled GOP victories in Virginia and New Jersey.”
The Heritage Foundation, meanwhile, forthrightly acknowledges (on its website) that unemployment is a real problem, but doesn’t offer much in the way of corrective policy proposals. In fact, Heritage doesn’t even list unemployment (or employment or jobs) as one of its key issues or research areas.
“Fortunately, the economy’s natural recuperative powers may be ending the recession,” writes Heritage blogger Conn Carroll. If this recovery is going to include job growth along with GDP growth,” he notes, “then job killing initiatives like Obamacare and cap and trade will have to be abandoned.”
Agreed, but crying “No!” isn’t an effective governing strategy. That’s what the GOP did for nearly half-a-century after the New Deal and it consigned them to permanent minority status.
Indeed, it wasn’t until Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan came along (in the late 1970s) that the GOP emerged from its self-imposed minority cocoon. Reagan and Kemp offered up a positive reform agenda — marginal rate tax cuts, military rearmament, cultural conservation et al. — which enabled the GOP to take the reins of power from an intellectually inert and brain-dead Democratic Party.
The GOP needs a similar intellectual and policy renaissance today: to break through its current political impasse and attract new voters eager for thoughtful solutions to vexing problems. This November’s gubernatorial wins in Virginia and New Jersey marked a promising start for Republicans; however, conservatives still have much intellectual and policy spadework left to do.
Contra Goldberg and other status-quo conservatives, the American people are not opposed to spending money — whether on stimulus packages, healthcare, or on other things. The American people are opposed, though, to wasting money. And that’s why they are so thoroughly disgusted with the profligate stimulus package (a pork package really) that was pushed through by Obama, Reid, Pelosi, and the Democratic Party. The American people know full well that most of stimulus money has been directed to wasteful boondoggles which will do no good for the economy while running up a huge mountain of debt.
This doesn’t mean, though, that voters are enthused with the GOP; they’re not. It also doesn’t mean voters are opposed to an economic stimulus package; they’re not. The American people, in fact, want their elected representatives to do something tangible to promote economic growth and job creation.
That’s why, as a practical political matter, a second economic stimulus package — which congressional Democrats already are cooking up — likely will be enacted into law. Thus, it behooves Republicans to be practical and to consider how a second economic stimulus package, properly crafted and designed, might help to advance conservative and free-market policy objectives.
One idea, which I have proposed, is a defense stimulus. President Obama, after all, has made much political hay out of canceling so-called Cold War-era weapon systems. This has caused him to enact some of the most significant weapon systems cuts since Jimmy Carter was president more than 30 years ago.
This is unconscionable at a time of war. This is unconscionable at a time when our soldiers and marines are fighting and dying overseas. This is unconscionable at a time when our enemies are acquiring new capabilities through which to stymie and defeat us militarily and kill our troops. That’s why the Army has been trying to develop an advanced electronic network for soldiers and new combat vehicles that can accommodate this network.
“Information [-- i.e., battlefield intelligence --] is power,” explains Army Vice Chief of Staff General Peter W. Chiarelli. “We need to make sure we are pushing power down to the lowest levels on the battlefield, where it is most needed.
“It is no longer realistic,” Chiarelli points out “to assume [that] all or even the majority of game-changing decisions will be made at senior levels of command. To the contrary,” says Chiarelli, “those decisions are more often made by the individual Soldier on the ground. [That’s why] we are committed to the network and to networking every Soldier.”
This is long overdue. With his cell phone, digital camera, iPod, and global positioning system (GPS), the typical civilian teenager has more technology at his disposal than a young soldier or Marine.
For these reasons, the GOP would do well to push an economic stimulus package that includes increased defense spending — and specifically increased defense spending to accelerate the networking of U.S. ground forces and the development of new combat vehicles.
This would help our troops in the field while strengthening the U.S. economy. High-tech weapon systems, after all, play to the central strength of America’s economy in the 21st Century: our ability to harness computer processing power and other information technologies to create new and unprecedented opportunities for individuals, even individual soldiers.
Spending more money on modern weapon systems for our troops is the right thing to do as a matter of public policy. Politically too, it could send a message to a young generation: The young soldiers and Marines who need new equipment and more modern capabilities will learn again which party supports them and which does not.
Republicans need to develop a more politically competitive attitude. They must do more than simply wait for the other team to lose; they must actively seek to win. Winning politically, as in sports, means putting points on the board. Right now, though, the GOP acts more like an over-confident sports team which all too often snatches defeat from the jaws of victory through sloppy play and mental errors.
The Republicans need more self-discipline, more innovative and sophisticated play calling, a more aggressive and opportunistic defense, and a more open and venturesome offense. Virginia’s newly elected governor, Republican Bob McDonnell, certainly seems to understand this. That’s why he didn’t panic when the Left blitzed him for a thesis he had written as a graduate student at Regent University. McDonnell instead stayed calm in the pocket and looked for open receivers — i.e., legitimate issues — downfield.
And, in so doing, McDonnell connected with the voters. And in the end, he buried his Democratic opponent, Creigh Deeds, in a landslide. Indeed, McDonnell captured nearly 60% of the overall vote and a healthy majority of young voters under age thirty.
By contrast, the “just say no” conservatives hope instead to be handed a victory through Democratic default. It could happen; but it’s unwise to count on it.