Saturday, May 9, 2009

New Republican Party looks a lot like the old one

(Originally published 5/9/09)

The National Council for a New America was all over the news this week.

Haven't heard of them? Maybe you know them by their informal name: The GOP Makeover Squad.

OK, so that's just what I call them. But you get the idea.

Anyway, the group held its initial event last week in Arlington, Va. I tuned in out of curiosity: Just how extreme might this makeover be?

Let's put it this way: If this was a home project, it would be the equivalent of updating circa-1990 wallpaper with ... circa-2000 wallpaper.

After repeated beatings at the polls over the past four years, Republicans —- well, the 21 percent of Americans who now identify themselves as Republicans, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll —- are setting about the unpleasant tasks of peering into the looking-glass, assessing the problems and figuring out how to fix them.

They are wondering: Have they included too few, or have they included too many? Those who believe the former argue that the tent simply isn't big enough anymore to accommodate modern American political thought; those in the latter camp believe that even the biggest tent isn't worth much if it's full of philosophical holes.

Enter the National Council for a New America.

The effort is led by U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who also serves as the House minority whip.

Let's stop right there.

First of all, House Republicans have made pitiful showings in the last two election cycles. Why would the GOP want anyone in their leadership as the new face of the party?

Secondly, it is strange, to say the least, for a whip to be charged with ferreting out new ideas for the foundation of the remodeled party.

Whips, as you may know, are responsible for keeping their members in line, especially on difficult votes. If you're a legislator planning to break with your party on a bill or amendment that's heavily supported by the other side, expect a call -— or, more likely, a visit —- from your whip. He'll share with you in no uncertain terms that he's no fan of your independent streak.

And then there is the National Council itself.

If you visit the group's web site (, you'll see a lot of familiar faces on the leadership team —- and by familiar, I mean that almost everyone there has an established national presence.

Looking for new blood? Move along, folks; nothing to see here.

You also won't find much diversity. Out of the 20 members pictured on the site, 16 are white men, and only three are women (and, yes, that includes the governor of Alaska).

This confounds me. If national Republican leaders want innovation, energy, fresh leadership and a new direction, there are plenty of GOP leaders out there in local government —- and a few in state capitals around the country -— who have managed to govern successfully without betraying either their principles or their voters in the process.

Where are they in this effort?

Barack Obama won the presidency last year by telling Americans that it's unreasonable to keep doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.

If they want to re-establish themselves as a viable alternative to the president's policies, Republicans would do well to begin their rebuilding process by taking his argument to heart.

No comments: