November 18, 2004,
For many of us, 1994 will always be a bright, shining moment in time, a feverish, euphoric dream. Unfortunately, that dream become the long nightmare of 1995-96, media hysteria, "Dole-Gingrich," and "Mediscare."
It took us a decade of political trench warfare, setbacks, and survival instincts to move from the promise of 1994 to the reality of 2004: control of Congress and the White House.
Now comes the big question: How do we lock it in for a generation and move our agenda?
First, we need to ignore the liberal Democrats. They have wandered into a cultural and electoral cul-de-sac and seem hell bent on staying there. We should give them their wish and their space by avoiding long, vitriolic encounters. The Democrats have chosen to be the pessimists among an optimistic people. The more conservative Republicans govern and speak to America's can-do spirit, the more pessimistic the Democrats will become. Our strongest weapons are our ideas and our smiles.
And that brings us to the agenda. The only roadblock to Bush's goals of tax reform, social-security private accounts, legal reform, and a more conservative Supreme Court are Republican timidity. This timidity is likely to manifest itself in two ways: (1) fear of big initiatives, and (2) unwillingness to play hardball with Senate Democrats. The first is understandable. The second is not.
Even if the filibuster rule and cloture vote requirements remain, the Senate Democrats are the only brake in the truck. They may choose to be the brake, but they need to consider the political repercussions carefully. There are five Democratic Senators from red states up for reelection in 2006: Bingaman (N.M.), Byrd (W. Va.), Conrad (N.D.), Nelson (Fla.), and Nelson (Neb.). These Senators and the Democratic leadership need to ponder the smoking hole in South Dakota that was once known as Tom Daschle's career. Do they feel lucky?
Getting past the filibuster is the greatest hurdle. Republicans have 55 Senate seats. Subtracting the "Northeast Four" (Chaffee, Snow, Collins, Specter), still leaves Republicans with 51 Senate seats. Add Ben Nelson of Nebraska (who I believe will switch parties) and one or two stray surviving Southern Democrats looking for job security, and Republicans should be able to push their agenda through the Senate if they play hardball on filibusters. The best way to play hardball is to squeeze these Democrats by recruiting challengers ASAP.
There are quality recruits to be had, and the sooner they enter the game, the greater the pressure is on these Democrats to let our agenda come to a vote. Former Governor Ed Shaffer should be recruited to challenge Kent Conrad in North Dakota. He said no once before, but with the Senate firmly in Republican hands, Shaffer can make the case that his red state needs at least one GOPer in Congress. Republican challengers in New Mexico, West Virginia, Florida, and Nebraska also need to be found quickly.
The agenda itself, as opposed to the process of pushing it, can be divided into high-risk, high-reward items, low-risk, low-reward items, and wildcards.
Private social-security accounts top the high-risk, high-reward column. In my view, they're a risk worth taking. The societal and political payoff of ushering millions of Americans into the investor class is immense. I have heard all of the reasons not to proceed in this area, but am convinced that the Renaissance it will create is worth the risk of failure. It is true that transitional costs will need to be dealt with, but long-term reform measures are needed. Just as importantly, the political calculus of private social-security accounts runs strongly in the conservative direction. Democrats must be terrified at the prospects of millions of young and middle-aged voters trooping to the polls owning private social-security accounts. These accounts would make social security as much about producers as consumers. Democrats would still be able to scare seniors, but Republicans would balance the equation by offering younger voters the prospects of larger private-account contributions every two years. The day may come when Republicans have their mirror image of AARP a group dedicated to young and middle-aged Americans with private social-security accounts. That day will signal the welding of the investor class to a Republican majority.
Tax reform is another high-risk, high-reward issue. A significant percentage of the square mileage of Washington, D.C., is dedicated to gaining and maintaining tax favors and tax complexity. The risk is again high, but the political and economic rewards of a postcard-sized tax form (or no form at all), is immense. Even the fall-back goal of a streamlined system holds modest political rewards.
The lower-risk, lower-reward agenda items, such as legal reform, educational reform, and intelligence reform are likely to move through at a steady pace. Senate Democrats know they need to pick their battles, and these are unlikely to be battles they want to fight to the death.
And then there are the wildcards. These are the little-discussed ideas that are worth considering. They offer minimal downside, but solid upside. They are:
1. Supermajority requirement for tax increases. A number of states already have this requirement lodged in their constitutions. We could use it at the federal level. As an issue, this is both a wedge and a magnet. It separates liberal Democrats from their more moderate voters and attracts fiscally conservative independent voters. And yes, it is certainly a base issue, one that we could use to fire up the troops in 2006. We'll need issues like this as a party, since the moralist-enterpriser divide persists among Republicans and these types of issues help us bridge that gulf. As a constitutional amendment, a two-thirds supermajority to increase taxes would require a number of Democratic votes for passage. But this is the kind of fight that we win even when we lose.
2. Beating on Hollywood. Hollywood needs to be presented as the Democrats' "big tobacco" and "big polluters." The biggest polluters in America aren't our smokestack industries; they're the people who have turned the R movies of the 1980s into the PG movies of the new century.
It's time Republican legislators rediscovered the sad state of our so-called entertainment. This isn't about adults and censorship. It's about kids and the cocoon of violence, sex, and drugs our storytellers wrap them in. There is no political risk here. Hollywood hates us already. They will always hate us. We don't need their approval, or Dan Glickman's approval, to govern. But we do need to hold onto married women and women with children in the household in order to expand our coalition.
3. Renewable energy. If we intend on drilling ANWR, we need to have an offset that demonstrates to younger voters and suburban women that we are not oil-obsessed. Large, federally funded wind and solar demonstration projects fit this bill nicely. We need to go here in the long run anyway, and these projects would have several short- and mid-range payoffs. There is the obvious political calculus and even more obvious visual for the direct-mail pieces. But, that's not all: Greater production levels would lead to lower per-unit costs and additional innovation, giving this type of American technology a push.
4. Paycheck protection. Republicans should insist on allowing union members the ability to forgo paying dues that pay for electioneering they oppose. Bush received a significant percentage of union votes. Why were these union members compelled to pay dues that were spent on defeating the candidate they supported? Democrats who love to lecture about "choice" and "fairness" need to explain why it's fair that these union members have no choice in the matter. This combined with the ULILCO scandal should put the unions on the defensive.
5. Drivers' licenses and illegal aliens. Illegal immigration is the elephant in the living room of American politics. Amazingly, it has somehow entered the realm of issues that cannot be discussed. That's nonsense, and the citizens of Arizona have made this perfectly clear with their most recent initiative on the matter. Republicans may still be squeamish about border and immigration issues, but they shouldn't be squeamish about protecting the American driver's license the only ID most Americans have.
Conservative Republicans should demand that state highway money be tied to states' rigorous adherence of (1) standard drivers' licenses being issued to citizens only, (2) special drivers' licenses being issued to those with green cards, and (3) no drivers' licenses being issued to illegal aliens. Yes, illegal aliens can have all the matricula consular cards they want, but that shouldn't entitle them to a drivers' license.
If Republicans don't want to think of this as an immigration issue, they should think of it as a homeland-security issue.
The politics here is as good as the policy. The Democrats would likely fight this measure to the end. Let them. The Minnesota governor's race was a test case for this policy. It succeeded brilliantly. Republicans should learn from it.
Republicans and conservatives are living in a rare historical inflection point. They can give history a push, or simply let events unfold. It's time to start pushing.
Robert Moran is a vice president at Republican polling firm Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates. He is an NRO contributor.