Republicans’ Bold Proposals — Or Desperate Campaigning?

Whoever takes the oath of office as President of the United States in January of 2013 will inherit an economy facing multiple challenges:

Undoubtedly, still-escalating federal spending will have the government bumping up against the debt ceiling again. By then, total federal debt will be larger than our GDP.

Unemployment is likely to remain high.

The supply and reliability of our power-generating infrastructure will be stressed and at risk due to President Obama’s anti-energy policies.

Social Security and Medicare will still need to be reformed significantly to address long-term fiscal imbalances.

And the economy will encounter new headwinds as the landmines of tax increases with which Obama has salted the economic landscape are detonated. These include new taxes for Obamacare, the scheduled expiration of the Bush tax cuts, and the end of Obama’s temporary reduction in Social Security withholding.

Obama has shown no indication of modifying his policies or agenda. Presumably, any of the Republican candidates would favor change on these issues (although perhaps not on Social Security and Medicare), but would he or she actually be able to solve these problems, even if there were a veto-proof Republican Congress?

The big political question for election year 2012 is: How much change would Republicans want? Would they downsize government as much as Obama upsized it? Will Republicans nominate a safe, moderate candidate (think: Ford, Bush, and Dole)—a technocratic tinkerer who accepts the entrenched paradigm of Big Government, and seeks to manage Leviathan better than Democrats would? Or will they opt for an unabashed conservative, a major reformer with a radical vision for smaller government?

That question wasn’t even conceivable a year ago, but the tectonic plates in the American political landscape may be starting to shift. Whiffs of radical reform are in the air.

On Sept. 27, Newt Gingrich unveiled his “21st Century Contract With America,” proposing to replace such venerable bureaucracies as the National Labor Relations Board and the Environmental Protection Agency. In doing so, Gingrich dared to challenge two of the most powerful Democratic special interest groups in America, environmentalists and labor unions (the strangest political bedfellows in our country, since hardcore greens would eliminate jobs in industry if they could).

It is possible that such bold proposals are just so much noise—red meat offered by dark horse candidates designed to excite passionate conservatives, but that are anathema to Republicans who believe that a more centrist nominee would be more electable?

Another possibility is that a majority of Republicans will regard the 2012 election as an existential crossroad for our country, a last chance to change direction before we end up like Greece—financially bankrupt, economically moribund, and politically convulsed. In this scenario, just as the Democrats in 2008 nominated a man of the left, Obama, rather than a more centrist candidate, so the GOP will nominate an anti-Obama, a true-blue conservative as committed to a radical swing to the right, just as Obama pushed a radical swing to the left.

If the political pendulum swings far enough to the right to produce a 2012 conservative electoral landslide, and then Republicans follow through with bold cuts in federal spending and power, the years 2013 and 2014 will be crucial. If conservative policies revive the economy quickly, then Republicans could hold on to their 2012 gains in the 2014 mid-term elections. If not, or if they step on too many toes, then there could be an anti-Republican backlash for moving too far to the right, just as voters punished Democrats in the 2010 elections for moving too far to the left.

If a sizable Republican majority were elected in 2012, would they “roll the dice” and risk political suicide by instituting major reforms? I imagine there is some serious soul-searching going on now. I wonder how many of them are grappling with the dilemma that must confront every office-seeker in a democratic electoral system: Should I do what will get me elected or re-elected, even if I know that the policies I support will weaken our country, or should I vote for what I know will help the country, even if it costs me my political career?

These next few years will be fascinating.

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  • ggroebner

    “These next few years will be fascinating.” – I agree with this, but I think Dr. Hendrickson is rather optimistic in presenting a future with much the same protocols and processes as there has been in the past. For instance, statements such as “Whoever takes the oath of office as President of the United States in January of 2013” are not really guaranteed. (Reference Pat Buchanan’s “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?”)

  • bobbydobrasil

    Hello, Doc. Hendrickson! Ggroebner’s quick analysis of your comments is spot on when he references Pat Buchanan’s piece on “Suicide of a Superpower”. Why? You exposit a cogent review of the choices before both Republican candidates and the electorate with a hint of optimism. Groebner reminds us of a more pessimistic scenario, if the voters and leaders fail to enact the measures and muster the courage needed at this time. So, despite my personal preference for Rep. Ron Paul, I would still be okay w/ Santorum, Gingrich, & others. However, as Buchanan & others have consistently pointed out, until & unless the Republican Party returns to a “Russell Kirk” style non-interventionist foreign policy, a victorious Republican Party could well lead us into a constitutionally questionable & financially disastrous new war in which we continue to drain our resources as well as to ignore the Eisenhower tradition of vigilance vs. the military-industrial-congressional alliance. Buchanan’s call for Republicans to reject the mistake made by the British Empire – to reject the War Party label – is paramount at this critical juncture. So, if warnings by Buchanan & Paul were to fall on deaf Republican ears – even with an electoral victory – the nation & Republicans may still fall victims to the misguided belief in America as the World’s Policeman. Non-interventionsim, NOT isolationism – George Washington said as much at a very different time & culture, but the wisdom of such a policy remains true for a republic. And we should be decidedly a republic, not an empire.

  • jwman

    I’m a little surprised that Newt Gingrich is the example of radical reform. First, he raked in millions recently promoting the unconstitutional Freddie Mac. Second, Ron Paul’s plan to cut a trillion in spending over 3 years is far more radical.