Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm: The GOP's credibility gap
The Republican Party is looking for a new identity. And they’re looking, literally, everywhere.
At the Republican Governors Association in Las Vegas, former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour was the most … shall we say … direct, proclaiming, “We’ve got to give our political organizational activity a very serious proctology exam. We need to look everywhere.”
Other Republicans in Vegas echoed Barbour’s comments, though with less colorful language. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell noted that, the party needs to “figure out what we did right and what we did wrong, how we can improve our tone, our message, our technology, our turnout – all the things that are required to win elections.” Bobby Jindal, who has been all over the airwaves with his suggestions, told reporters at the conference, “We need to stop being a dumb party, and that means more than stop making dumb comments.”
I’m loath to give the Republicans advice, but I’d humbly suggest that rather than giving their organization an uncomfortable exam just to change their tone, technology and turnout, they consider changing their ideas.
And I’d suggest they start by looking at their position on freedom.
The Republican Party has a major credibility gap on that issue. Why? The Republicans are for free enterprise, but not free people. And that is their fundamental problem.
Ask any Republican about the party’s core values and they’ll list a bunch of variations of the word, “freedom.” Free enterprise, free markets, free trade, economic freedom, freedom from taxation and regulation … liberty, unchaining the private sector, “Don’t Tread On Me” flags … basically get the government out of the way so private action can flourish. Like a bunch of “Bravehearts,” they just want their “freeeeeeeeeedom!!”
But their freedom only applies to businesses, not individuals.
For Republicans, it’s businesses that ought to be free of barriers to freely pursue commerce, but citizens must be burdened with barriers to freely exercising their rights, like the right to vote. Businesses must be trusted to act in any way they wish, but women cannot be trusted to make even their own health care decisions. Businesses ought to freely cross global borders to enjoy the global free market, but the tired, poor and hungry who yearn to be free … they’re not free to cross our borders. Business must be free to make contractual agreements, but individuals are not free to contract in marriage to whomever they may love.
Businesses must be free to take risks, without regard to the size of the consequences, but individuals cannot be free to engage in personal risk-taking – like using marijuana – regardless of how small and isolated the costs may be.
The reason why the GOP will continue to lose elections is because they do not understand that you cannot be the freedom party if you want to regulate the most intimate and sacred of people’s personal lives.
Here’s how the demographic groups that the GOP lost hear this two-sided message: We trust business to be free, but we don’t trust you. But you cannot have liberty for only some, without lessening the liberty of all.
As you do your existential soul-searching, GOP, listen to the groups you have alienated, the people from whom you have tried to deprive freedom.
Minority groups and students want the freedom to vote. Women want reproductive freedom. Gays and lesbians want the freedom to marry for love. Americans with immigrant families want the opportunity for their loved ones to apply for citizenship.
You will never be the party of freedom until you embrace freedom in the personal sphere as well. What the GOP must learn is that, to 99 percent of the country, economic freedom without personal freedom is no freedom at all.
In short, it’s not how you sell your ideas, it’s the hypocrisy of the ideas themselves.