If voters today were given a word association test for the words "Republican Party", chances are their quick responses would include; "Tea Party"; Sarah Palin; Glenn Beck; and Rush Limbaugh. A runner up might well be "party of no". Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader John Boehner, and 2008 presidential nominee John McCain make the rounds of the Sunday news shows but are largely overshadowed by the more visible and more noisy Tea Party and the individuals mentioned above. Since losing control of Congress in 2006 and the presidency in 2008 the Republican Party in Congress has followed a strategy of simple opposition to Democrat initiatives and President Obama's few big public policy proposals. Considering the flaws in the health care plan, the energy bill ("cap and trade") and the financial reform bill, opposition is not without merit. However, current polls show that Republicans are poised to regain control of the House and have a shot at the Senate. Obama's popularity continues to slide and independents continue to be attracted towards the idea of a Republican president in 2012. Any of these outcomes would put the Republican Party in an enhanced leadership position where they would be expected to have solutions to the issues that are currently causing the voting public to lose confidence in the Democrat Party and the Obama Administration. But who are the voices and the faces of the Republican Party who will bring these ideas to the anxious public?
The Tea Party is a collective voice of discontent with a broad set of ideals i.e. lower taxes; lower federal budget deficits; and smaller government. But the Tea Party has neither an identifiable spokesman, nor a public policy agenda crafted to achieve their goals. Now, if the Republicans do achieve greater numbers in the Congress, they will face the responsibility for specific solutions and they simply cannot defer to traveling critics and talk show hosts to be the voice of the party.
Currently, Michael Steele, the Chairman of the Republic National Committee has tried to transform what has traditionally been an administrative and fund raising job into his version of spokesman for the Party. The results have not been good. In a kind of Joe Biden sound alike act, Steele compared Republicans in Congress to "drunks in need of a twelve step program." He made it worse by then comparing them to "the mentally ill". In a classic case of "lips gone wild" he promised to do a "hip hop makeover" of the Republican Party that would "even attract one armed midgets". Without explaining the importance of the one armed midget vote, he went on to get into a food fight with conservative talk guru Rush Limbaugh by allowing reporters to trap him into responding to some of Limbaugh's dumber comments. Steele made the correct observation that Limbaugh was an "entertainer", implying that he was not to be taken seriously. However, this caused a distracting debate on Limbaugh's part and resulted in an apology on Steele's part which made it seem that Limbaugh does indeed have a role as party spokesman. Since Limbaugh is motivated by ratings and controversy, he is a "loose cannon" who Democrats find a tempting "Republican" target with each "Rushism".
Limbaugh pins the target to his own chest with such comments as this on the effects of the Gulf oil spill, which are sure to endear himself, and the party by association, with the residents of the Gulf states:
"The ocean will take care of this on its own if it was left alone and (the oil)left out there. It's as natural as the ocean water is."
Always sensitive to the female vote, Limbaugh made Republican politicians wince with: "Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society." And: "I love the woman's movement, especially when walking behind it."
Of course there is always the black vote which a few black conservatives are struggling to attract in greater numbers to the GOP. Rush is there to help.
". . .the NFL all to often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons."
However "entertaining" these comments might be, it's clearly time for Republican officials to establish some distance between the party and Limbaugh.Meanwhile, Steele keeps talking. He recently contradicted the party position on Afghanistan, saying that the war was "a war of Obama's choosing" and implying that it was unwinnable. Obama himself has said the Afghanistan invasion was a war of necessity as did George Bush who initiated it. The Republican position has been that it is “winnable” given the necessary troops and the right strategy.
Then there's the Palin phenomenon. While only thirty-two percent of the public, according to recent polls, seriously consider Palin as a presidential candidate in 2012, she nonetheless travels the country giving speeches and is embraced by Republican candidates, including incumbents. Palin's public speaking style is that of a high school cheer leader:
"Gimme an S!: Gimme a P!: Gimme a $100 thousand speaker's fee"
She then goes on to recite the latest anti-Obama bumper stickers before traveling on to endorse Republican female candidates as "mama grizzlies". Clearly in need of a speech writer and a staff of researchers, this is the woman who thinks there is a "Department of Law" in the White House that would protect her from ethics violations if elected president. Here is a party "spokeswoman" who had to be told during the presidential campaign that there were two Koreas. The depth and breadth of her ignorance about the world and the political system is astounding and her rambling incoherence makes one suspect that Wasilla, Alaska high school should offer a course in "English as a second language". Devoid of policy ideas, unfortunately for the GOP, she continues to attract more media coverage than the would be policy makers in the Congress. These conservative politicians must prove that they deserve an enhanced role in solving the numerous problems the country faces and they should not have to waste time distancing themselves from the steady stream of nonsense coming from those on the periphery who have no responsibility to get things done or any accountability for failure.
It's time for the Republican Party in Congress to establish a unified voice, get together and define specific policy alternatives to the Obama agenda. The country is feeling a profound sense of disappointment after the emotional high of the 2008 election. Republican victories in November and in 2012 without a common sense agenda enumerated by common sense spokesmen, could bring about the same reaction.