The "new" Republican Party debuted in Philadelphia, and it has a striking similarity to an "old" party - the Democrats.
Gone are the days of Reagan rhetoric - "government is the problem, not the solution" - and "compassionate conservatism," which in application seems to be the antithesis of Reagan-style conservatism, is now the clarion call of the GOP.
As far as I can tell, "compassionate conservatism" is a remake of the supposedly despised "liberalism." Gone is the GOP talk of 1996: of restoring the power of the 10th Amendment, of tax cuts of any significance, of abolishing constitutionally unauthorized agencies such as the Department of Education, the EPA, HUD, of cutting out unnecessary government spending.
Well, at least the GOP is finally being honest. Reagan rhetoric was just that, a lot of hot air that powerfully rang through the rafters at conventions, but never saw the light of day in actual policy implementation.
Platform promises were the bone tossed to the conservative faithful. In fact, the GOP controlled Congress have been bigger spenders than their Democratic predecessors. Even third-string programs with, by federal standards, tiny budgets measured in the mere millions, such as the much hated National Endowment for the Arts, have seen not the promised elimination or
even funding cutbacks, but added dollars gladly tacked on.
Gone too is the "Southern Strategy" of Reagan's days, of appealing to primarily whites with promises of making English the official language and "controlling our borders" by curtailing immigration. Not only are those issues gone, but today, the GOP front-runner is bilingual, reflecting the total failure of GOP leaders to actually codify the past promises that would have stopped the demographic changes making a bilingual candidate viable, even necessary.
Even old GOP standbys, such as eliminating the racially discriminatory "affirmative action" programs, came under fire, as the GOP faithful got a tongue lashing from Colin Powell. And standard GOP cliches such as "local government, local control" were unspoken, even suppressed, as the new GOP promised massive federal involvement, with unhidden strings attached, in the
education of our children.
"Education", like "health care" and "saving Social Security," are the mantras of the people today, and the GOP is merely doing what politicians are supposed to do, shift with the changing winds.
In truth, the GOP, outside of its past platforms, has never been against federal involvement in education. In fact, the GOP-led Congress has substantially increased the Department of Education budget, in several cases above what even the liberal Democratic Clinton Administration requested. This in spite of a platform plank calling for the abolition of the Department of Education.
With good economic times and the almost unheard of budget surpluses, the Reagan call for cutting back on government spending, tax cuts and "reining in" an out-of-control and freedom-threatening federal government simply draws no attention. People are content, and now want the government to do more, not less. Grandma having a hard time paying for her prescription medicine? Why, the government should help! Kids receiving diplomas they can't read? The schools need more money!
The GOP convention had an occasional nostalgic lapse; mentions of the Constitution and the founding fathers slipped in, but in generalities, never in substance. Gun control was not discussed, nor was the Second Amendment defended. The Clinton impeachment was not raised, nor were the "leaders" of the GOP Congress praised. Newt Gingrich was a hiss and a byword, while big Daddy Bush's whole former cabinet was resurrected.
Perhaps the brightest spot was the selection of Dick Cheney as vice president, a surprising choice. I expected Dubya to follow the old guard's advice and select a "moderate," pro-abortion running mate, such as Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania. Cheney does have strong conservative leanings, with a voting record to match. The Bush-Cheney ticket is very, very formidable.
However, Cheney also has strong ties to the Rockefeller Republicans, being a member of the elitist Council on Foreign Relations, the most powerful group of movers and shakers who are the real bosses in both parties. The internationalists pushing the rapid expansion of world government will have a close ally in Dick Cheney. Both parties are identical in this respect, and their front runners march to the same cadence.
The difference between the parties is disappearing on most fronts, as the GOP's new "compassionate conservatism" and the "New Democrats" of the Clinton era both pursue the new, younger, affluent and non-government fearing American voter, along with the all important government-entitlement supported senior citizen voter.
The new poll driven electioneering style so successfully introduced by the Clintons is the wave of the future, and both parties will become increasingly flexible in their ideology. On most issues, the reason for these shifts in position is not abandonment of core values - if they ever really had any - but an effort to bring the party into the mainstream of voter opinion. The party's changes are voter driven. A party's first goal is to win elections, and they cannot do so without majority support. Once elected, the focus shifts a bit to paying off the big contributors, but that's another story. The bottom line is, these changes reflect not so much changes within the party, but in the electorate.
Ira Hansen is a columnist for the Sparks Tribune. His radio talk show can be heard on KKOH 780 AM at 11 a.m. on Saturdays.