Dear GOP: Innovate!

Dear Republican Party,

So you lost. And it must have been especially painful, being the party of free markets and creative destruction that you are, that the forces behind your failure was your reluctance to innovate.

Conservative success up until this point has been on the basis of innovation. In the 70s great conservative thinkers put forth their sound rebukes of Nixon-style corruption and Carter-style stagflation under the pretense limited government. By the time Communism was collapsing and the failure of central planning was most obvious, your view of American Exceptionalism seemed self-evident.

But when George Bush came into power he ignored the new context of the 21st century. Instead of innovating where change was necessarily, like with Finance, Health Care or Education Reform, ill-conceived tax cuts and an all out war on terror were the path chosen. This was fundamentally a problem of nostalgia. The enemy was not as clear cut as Communism was. And globalization made American Exceptionalism unsustainable in its current form.

Then came the 2006 elections. The Democrats innovated with an anti-war message. They won. In 2008 the Democrats innovated with the promise of universal health care, ending the war, confronting climate change, and fighting corporate excess. They won.

All the while your Republican message floundered. It argued to stay the course, that the economy was fundamentally strong, that the environment didn’t much matter, and that social conservatism could survive in the 21st century.

It is no surprise that as the world secularizes social conservatism seems more and more absurd. It is no surprise that limited government loses its appeal when private fraud is rampant. The Democrats won because they stayed competitive and innovated on what were all the biggest issues. The painful thing was that Republicans weren’t out of ideas. On education alone you had dozens of innovative ideas like vouchers that could have revolutionized the quality of American public schools yet were never implement.

What’s the lesson to be learned from this? If you want to win again, Republican Party, you’re going to have to literally renew yourself — creative destruction applied to ideology. Social Conservatives will have to back off. Foreign Policy hawks will have to become more pragmatic. Science and rationality should be favored over faith and tradition. The environment must be priority. Supply Siders must align themselves with the middle class instead of Wall Street. Civil liberty must be seen as just as important as economic liberty. And a more youthful leadership must resist special interest and tackle corporate welfare.

And a note on wasteful spending: Earmark reform is going to be necessary, but it a go-no-where argument when A. Obama is for it too, B. Earmarks account for so little of what is spent, and C. you’re just as guilty in its abuse. No one is going to take your anti-spending message seriously after Bush.

These changes are going to happen eventually but if you try first to revert back to the supposed ideal of Reagan Conservatism your party will only continue to sink. I’m not asking you to move towards the center, just into the new century. It’s time to find something new.


Samuel Hammond