02 May 2009
A Republican "Listening Tour"
Jeb Bush gave voice to a Republican party in panic mode this weekend when he said, comparing his party to the Democrats, that "you can't beat something with nothing." He's part of a group of party leaders hitting the road on a self-described "listening tour" in search of ideas from the common people. That's not a bad idea in theory, but the usefulness of the venture depends on whom you listen to. Of course, if we accept the premise that Republicans stand for something specific, then there's an inherent limit to how much they can listen to everyone and still retain their distinctive position. The challenge in that case is to listen to people presumably demanding what Republicans have in recent history refused to deliver and to find a way to accommodate them without completely compromising the party's professed principles. A pragmatic party would listen, explain how President Obama and the Democrats can't give the people what they want, and propose their own way how. The question now is whether the Republicans are so paralyzed by ideology or so terrified of the radio talkers that pragmatism becomes impossible for them. An assertion that "we've got nothing" signals that Jeb, at least, may think that Reaganism is played out. Whether people like him can gather enough forces or donations to take the party over may decide whether the GOP spends another long period in the wilderness, at least as far as Congress is concerned, as they did for most of the time from the 1950s through 1994. That's a more realistic prospect than the death of the party itself, as some people have predicted since Senator Specter's defection. As long as the Republican party exists as a fundraising institution that can finance local campaigns across the country, it will remain a major party. Whether enough disaffected people, moderate or conservative, will break away to create a new fundraising apparatus for a would-be third party is another story.