There will be no third party, anti-Obama campaign this election cycle in the image of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth who exposed some of John Kerry’s dirty laundry in 2004. McCain shouldn’t be surprised – the campaign finance legislation that he’s so proud of made independent speech more difficult, and his campaign has worked to subdue potential independent, non-party election speech.
Ultimately, though, it’s tough for a Republican to be excited to be a Republican anymore. What does the GOP stand for?
In 1980, 1994, and 2000 it was simple: Less government. Keep more of your money. Elections in 2002 and 2004 were a question of which party was in touch with the American public.
In 2008, Democrats have been campaigning on their plans for America: healthcare for everybody; a steeply graduated income tax that forces higher earners to pay more; and government programs to generate environmentally friendly technology.
Try to sum up John McCain’s campaign in three sentences that don’t include “war hero.” Go ahead.
And the election outlook isn’t pretty for McCain or any other Republican. And it will go downhill from there. Republican pundits and politicos will be cannibalizing each other like they’re stranded in the Andes.
The theme I hope the GOP rallies around – and a major theme I’ll be using in my efforts to promote conservatism and freedom over the next few years – is one that the President-turned-pariah George W. Bush coined 2003: the “Ownership Society.” He talked about letting us manage our own retirement, rather than flushing money down the toilet with Social Security. It meant us taking control of our own health care and driving costs down. It meant more options for savings and home ownership. And in internal discussions, Bush intended these proposals to help Americans assume more personal responsibility. It was the best summation of conservative thought since Ronald Reagan.
This never came to fruition. Democrats successfully scared the American public away from any meaningful Social Security reform. Bush passed the biggest entitlement package since the Great Depression, gave out free money when the economy started to slide, and gave handouts to people who were foolish with their (and other people’s) money.
It’s only a start, but resurrecting the idea of an ownership society would excite the GOP base: those rank-and-file voters, volunteers, and activists who fueled their rise to power. And when excited, it will be “the base” who makes the case for Republican candidates – something they are not doing in 2008, as McCain is becoming painfully aware.