Sarah Palin is not the answer for the GOP (AP Photo/Chrs Miller)
That the Republican Party is at a crossroads is neither breaking news nor penetrating analysis. After two disappointing election cycles where they lost control of both houses of Congress and the White House, the need for fresh competent leadership has never been more urgent. With record deficits as far as the eye can see and faltering poll numbers, however, President Obama and the Democrats in Congress have left the door wide open for the GOP to make gains in 2010. The only question that remains is whether they will make the changes necessary to compete in the long run.
The Republican Party was founded on the idea of freedom: freedom from government intrusion, personal responsibility, and the idea that government closest to the people governs best. These first principles are not inconsistent with with the general political climate in America today. The new generation of Americans is left of center on social issues and right of center on economic and fiscal issues. The GOP has simply lost its way and is suffering from a vacuum of leadership. The abysmal record of Republicans during the Bush administration is, in part, responsible for this country's current economic predicament. Additionally, the GOP's overreaction to the threat of terrorism with the Patriot Act and its uncomfortable alliance with the religious right has destroyed its credibility on personal responsibility and civil liberties.
The Party is, in many ways, at odds with itself. They tried to have it both ways. Eventually, claiming to be the party of limited government rings hollow when your administration records huge deficits year after year. And Congressional Republicans can't selectively cry federal overreaching (on health care, education, and the stimulus) while demanding that Congress legislatively protect marriage. Given the recent moral and ethical challenges that Senators David Vitter and John Ensign as well as Governor Mark Sanford have experienced, the most effective way to be strong on values is to lead by example. Encourage volunteerism and civic activism. Using the clenced fist of government to compel the survival of the "traditional" family is not effecitve and further undercuts the GOP's credibility.
The lack of transparency and reckless spending contained in every major piece of Democratic legislation so far this session has offered the Republicans an opportunity. Republicans should take a page out of Obama's book and be agents of positive change. Find strong, charismatic leaders who can articulate a message of limited government, fiscal restraint, and personal responsibility -- and who will know how to walk the walk. The public might forgive the fiscal disasters of the Bush Administration if Republicans can find a way to moderate Obama. Building a lasting majority is not just about bringing moderates into the fold. It's about fighting for the principles around which the Republican Party was created. It's about being the party that will actually stand up for civil rights rather than pandering. It's about the government only getting involved in people's lives when its involvement is beneficial to everyone and there are no other options. If Republicans are unwilling to untether their legislative agenda from the religious right and return to their libertarian origins on civil liberties and social issues, they will find themselves out of power for many years to come.