According to Politico, the RNC will hold an "extraordinary meeting" next week, during which it will officially decide to rebrand the Democratic Party as the "Democrat Socialist Party." The move strikes me as a stupid and futile strategy. RNC Chair Michael Steele agrees.
The Politico article, authored by Roger Simon, reports that Steele has condemned the move in a memorandum, which states that calling the Democrats socialists "will accomplish little [more] than to give the media and our opponents the opportunity to mischaracterize Republicans." But the anonymous RNC source for the article dismissed Steele's objection by asking: "Who cares?"
As one should suspect, conservatives in the party voted to hold the special session, which Steele also opposed. They had also planned to present a proposal publicly criticizing Olympia Snow, Arlen Specter, and Susan Collins, the only Republicans who voted for the stimulus package (Specter recently became a Democrat). But they decided to withdraw that proposal.
GOP's Directional Battle
Simon's article also blasts Steele's performance as RNC Chair. He has also written several other essays that criticize Steel. Furthermore, many conservatives within the Republican Party believe Steele is a bad choice and do not trust him.
Perhaps I favor underdogs, but I think that conservative criticism of Steele is misplaced. I suspect that Steele smartly understands that the RNC needs to modify its image by embracing more moderate stances on social and economic issues. Conservatives in the party vehemently oppose such a move.
But instead of rebranding the Democrats, the Republican Party needs to remake its own image. Many political opportunities exist for linking a more moderate agenda with conservative values. A conservative belief in limited government, for example, is perfectly consistent with support for gay rights, which include freedom from governmental discrimination and invasion of privacy. Indeed, when conservatives oppose affirmative action and welfare, they do so by invoking the rhetoric of "equality," "individualism," and the "free market." But they abandon these supposedly vital principles in order to justify discrimination against GLBT people. This is not a winning strategy in today's political climate.
In addition, fiscal conservatism should not necessarily lead to callousness. The RNC could actually beat the Democrats at their own game if they truly pushed the notion of equal educational opportunity for all children, including poor whites and persons of color. In the longterm the country will save money and have greater opportunities for innovation and efficiency if it has an educated population. Sending children of any race to decaying and underperforming schools is an American tragedy. Using vouchers and reforming public schools reflect conservative values because these policies prepare private citizens to exercise greater autonomy over their own lives and to contribute to society.
Center Versus Right
Steele has faced resistance when he takes moderate positions or criticizes the conservative base (a move which, admittedly, seems to require a healthy amount of political savvy). When Steele stated that having an abortion was an individual choice (which it is), the Right blasted him. When he seemed to advocate a neutral state regarding gay and lesbian relationships, the Right complained again. When Steele made the reasonable analysis that Mitt Romney's political flip-flopping and his religion might have cost him votes among conservatives, they screamed again.
Steele's plight as RNC Chair is symbolic of a larger directional struggle within the party. Many GOP members are demanding that the party create a more moderate image, while others believe the route to greater national power involves lurching even farther to the right.
Apparently, many Republicans fail to understand that political currents come, go and return. The "Party of Lincoln" freed the slaves and was, therefore, virtually nonexistent in the South after the end of Reconstruction. Following the 1960s civil rights and antipoverty reforms, the South gradually moved to the Republican Party, and the party moved increasingly to the right in national politics in order to secure the loyalty of heartland and southern conservatives.
Although I do not believe that social conservatism is dead, in terms of national politics, hard line conservatism is not a winning formula at the moment. The GOP can either sink or swim. Charlie Crist's run for Senate in the exceedingly purple state of Florida can serve as a model for GOP change. But early reports suggest that conservatives want to blast Crist as well. By engaging in a petty strategy to rename the Democrats as a socialist party and caging Steele and opposing all efforts to modify the party's platform, Republicans might have effectively made the choice to sink.
PS: I am a nonpartisan progressive. Thus, this is essay is not an anti-GOP hate piece. What do you think?
Update: After an exchange with a couple of readers, I have deleted references to Simon's ideology. Although I think he sits on the right, he also appears to be somewhat of an ideological opportunist (Translation: His views reflect the popularly held opinions of the moment).