GOP Reform: The Elephant in the Room

Rush Limbaugh is on the air. Still. And people listen to him. This might not be such a bad thing, except that the people who listen to him are the same people leading the Republican Party. Despite rousing defeats in two election cycles, a humiliating vice-presidential candidate, the elderly and infirm constitution of its voters, a disastrous eight years in power and a social policy stuck somewhere on the wrong side of 1954, the party sticks to its guns.
Yes, bigoted hate-speech and an economic policy aimed at the impoverishment of 90 percent of the population still seem like the best way forward for the top brass of the nation’s second party. And who can blame them? Changing course is difficult. There is always some glimmer of hope that things will revert back to the good ol’ days. And maybe they will; it just seems that it won’t be happening in Orange County.
The 2008 turnout of the much-hyped and sought-after youth vote (18-25-year-olds) was a disaster for the Republican Party, including our powerful local branch. Young Republican voter turnout decreased by 9 percent this last year, while at the same time Young Democrats mobilized a 55 percent increase in their turnout. This means that even in Orange County – the land of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan’s Field of Dreams and home to our own conservatively planned city and university – the Democrats won the youth vote. Even here, where for years people have decided that it is more important for the rich and the super-rich to get increased tax-breaks than for their own cities to have a modern infrastructure and social justice, the Democrats won. I hesitate to say that this election busted up the Republican Party like a high school kegger, but the similitude seems apt, as reasoned policy debate is about as likely to break out in one as in the other.
But maybe that is too harsh. Like any moment of crisis, this one represents an opportunity for the Republican Party to make some much-needed radical changes. From the numbers, Ron Paul and Libertarians seem to be more likely to garner young support than the GOP proper. Potential young Republicans tend more toward a fiscal conservatism (small government, low taxes, as little intervention by the government in social life as possible) and social liberalism (affirmative action, support for marriage rights) that fits more with the Libertarian Party than do the socially conservative (read: racist and bigoted) policies of the old-line Republican Party. More young people support gay marriage than their elders in the party. Fewer feel that immigration is such a hot-button issue. Opposition to affirmative action – sure to win favor with the old anti-civil rights conservatives – seems outdated and irrelevant to many young voters today.
Let us not forget foreign entanglements. While the Republican Party has always preached small government, the last eight years has seen the party oversee an almost unprecedented expansion of the state – the military operated on a virtually limitless budget, we started and continued two wars, taxpayers’ money went straight to favored corporations through no-bid government contracts and the state started nosing in the private lives of its citizenry through wiretapping and police surveillance. None of these things should have happened under the watch of a truly conservative party.
So what should the Republican Party do, in the eyes of this completely unbiased and detached observer? Listen to the young people of the party. It is that easy. Drop the focus on a social conservatism that is on the wrong side of history. Shamefully decry granting rights to minorities, sure, but do it in the privacy of your own home. And ensure that same privacy against the interference of an unwelcome, paranoid state. Embrace the separation of church and state and the sanctity that separation grants to religious institutions. Follow your own rhetoric about the importance of freedom and work to grant it to all individuals to act as they see fit, with the perfectly obvious exception of violating the rights of another. Go with your gut (and the Libertarians) and get the government out of our faces. And as you work to cut government spending, be comprehensive in the program you slash: we can probably do with less military spending and more with education (we’re already way ahead in the former and way behind in the latter).
Do all that, get all those old white guys out of power, work to stamp out the ignorance and bigotry that rule the national party, finally shut up the shrill whining of people like Limbaugh and hey, you might just get your county back. Until then, however, the Democrats promise to take good care of it for you.

Brock Cutler is a graduate student in the history department. He can be reached at bcutler@uci.edu.