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On Republican Relevance

President Obama is benefiting from high approval ratings. This is likely a combination of several factors. He is still basking in the glow of his honeymoon, his visibility makes him seem like he is engaged in the issues, his recent trip to Europe received good reviews, and President Bush provides such a low set of expectations in many voters' minds that it makes Obama look better by comparison. Obama's popularity makes it difficult for his political rivals to challenge him directly, but if they do not distinguish themselves in any meaningful way, they risk becoming increasingly marginalized.

This marginalization is reflected in Republicans' poor approval ratings and is the result of self-inflicted wounds. These sour reviews of Republicans likely stem from three problems: 1) their reliance on tactics instead of strategy, 2) the rigidity of their platform and its disconnect from political reality, and 3) a changing demographic.

A single long term strategy beats a dozen short term tactics almost every time. John McCain and Republicans in general were unsuccessful in last year's elections because they kept switching from tactic to tactic without tying them into a coherent strategy. For example, as I argued last summer, Republicans tried to peg Obama as a covert radical Muslim, a political neophyte who wasn't ready for primetime, a typical corrupt Chicago politician, a liberal elitist, and an unpatriotic racist who has a racist Christian pastor.

Since Obama's inauguration, however, it seems that Republicans are still relying on tactics instead of strategy. Republicans are hitting Obama for being too popular (which makes no sense, especially since Republicans criticized people who didn't support President Bush as being unpatriotic), for spending too much money (even though they have no credibility on fiscal responsibility), for being too partisan (even though he has genuinely reached out to Republicans), and for being too liberal (even though being too conservative is never a problem). The problem for Republicans is that when they engage in opposition merely for opposition's sake, voters will not take them seriously. The lack of constructive ideas coming from the GOP is leading Democrats to brand them as "the party of no."

Republicans are against wasteful spending. They are against tax increases. They are against creating or expanding social programs. But what are they for? Other than more tax cuts, Republicans don't seem to stand for anything. What is their platform? Since President Obama's economic policies are unacceptable to them, why don't they propose a policy of their own and show how it can benefit average people?

There comes a time when a party platform simply has to be modified in order to keep up with a changing nation. Put another way, conservatism in its current form does not match what voters are looking for now.

I've been unemployed for 3 months.
We need more tax cuts!

The mortgage company is raising my interest rates again.
You shouldn't have moved into a house you couldn't afford!

I work on the assembly line at a General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan. Will I have a job in 6 months?
You should give up your health insurance and start making cars that people want to buy!

I lost 60% of my savings when my bank failed because it was overleveraged, but the former CEO is getting a $20M golden parachute.
We need less regulation! The government needs to get out of the way!

I'm concerned about our public schools.
Gays are getting married in Iowa! We must stop these activist judges!

Republicans were able to successfully brand Democrats as engaging in class warfare in the past. This was because Democrats often made the mistake of equating wealth with immorality. People weren't rich because they worked hard and made good decisions in life. They were rich because they were unethical corporate bigwigs who exploited the little guy.

But now Republicans are making the Democrats' mistake in reverse. People aren't poor because their wages aren't keeping up with their expenses or because they lost their jobs. They're poor because bought too much car, too much house, and too much plasma television. Granted, some of the people currently struggling did indeed live beyond their means (just as some wealthy people became wealthy by exploiting others). But there are also many more people who have tried to live responsibly, but are struggling because of deceptive practices on behalf of creditors or job losses or rising interest rates and fees. When conservatives complain about people owning two cars without understanding the circumstances involved, it makes Republicans seem both pious and out of touch with average people.

The current banking and economic crisis has proven that Wall Street cannot police itself. So "less regulation" is the last thing voters want to hear. People are now looking for government to play a greater role in protecting the public when it comes to financial affairs. Conservatives will have to reconcile "limited government" for small businesses with meaningful government regulations for huge corporations. And as long as people are concerned with where their next paycheck is coming from, complaining about gay marriage and abortion will put conservatives on a fast track to irrelevance.

Dude, what happened to my country? There have been some important demographic shifts in America over the past few years. I wrote about the Republicans' problems concerning race and age shortly after the election, but it goes beyond that.

Voters are becoming increasingly sophisticated. The 2008 election generated a lot of voter interest because people's lives were disrupted on multiple fronts. They were losing their money. They were worried about energy prices. They were still sending their sons and daughters to Iraq. People were looking for solutions instead of platitudes.

Sarah Palin complicated matters by combining platitudes with incoherence and vitriol. This was followed by Rush Limbaugh's "I hope he fails" remarks. Others have complained that Obama hasn't gone to church in X number of weeks since the inauguration. The point of these criticisms is that there is no point.

While it is customary for a politician's detractors to take potshots at him, there comes a point where the criticisms become so absurd that they say more about the people making them than they do about their target. If voters tune Republicans out when they start talking about Obama bowing to the king of Saudi Arabia and wanting to turn this nation into a communist state, they might not tune back in in when the Republicans actually have a credible argument to make. Childish Republicans are making Obama look like the grownup in the room, and therefore more presidential.

Taking all of these issues into consideration, Republicans need to grow their base, make their arguments relevant to people's lives without being patronizing, and display a bit more intellectual maturity. If Republicans continue down their current path of playing to an ever-shrinking base by engaging in the same rhetoric of tax cuts, gay hysteria, short term smokescreens, and McCarthyism, they will only reaffirm to the broader electorate that they don't deserve to be taken seriously even if they are not personally in lockstep with President Obama or his Democratic allies in Congress.

Copyright 2007-2010 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.