The GOP Needs an Ideas Czar

Matt Moon asks whether we need a Shadow Cabinet a la the Brits? I think it's a splendid idea, but the key differences between the U.S. and British systems make it unlikely without some sort of formal party reform. To make it possible, we need a formal opposition party policy apparatus independent of the Hill and comprised of Governors, Hill leadership, and think tanks.

It's important to appreciate the differences between the U.S. and Great Britain. The British Opposition is better equipped to provide symbolic leadership and positive policy alternatives because they have few legislative responsibilities and the Government is essentially unitary, consisting primarily of the House of Commons.

Britain effectively has an elected dictatorship. Party discipline in Commons votes is very strict and there is no written Constitution or meaningful judicial check. Parties have very little power in Opposition under the British model, but near total power in Government.

This means the opposition Conservatives are freed from any real responsibility for legislating. Opposing Government bills is nowhere near the task it is here (the filibusters, the lobbying, the ad campaigns, etc.). The British also anoint their election standardbearers in the months after the defeat. This is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that they set the party's direction very early on and have 4-5 years to flesh it out before a new election. A curse in that new leadership is foisted on the party while it's still in shellshock and they have to essentially ride out the duds until the next election. The Conservatives have gone through four leaders since losing power in 1997: William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Howard, and now David Cameron (who looks like he will become Prime Minister).

Contrast to the American model: the opposition has a chance to stop or amend the majority's legislation, especially in the Senate -- though usually not to see bills of our own passed into law. That makes the role of the American opposition inherently negative -- filibustering bad legislation -- in contrast to the largely symbolic Parliamentary theatrics of Great Britain -- where the Leader of the Opposition (and his Shadow Cabinet) appears on national television each week for Prime Minister's Questions and is free to act as a pseudo-executive.

A lot of the criticism post-election has focused on the notion that nobody knows what the Republican Party is for. Without reform, that problem is likely to get worse before it gets better as our primary role (quite legitimately) is to stop bad bills from becoming law before we can lay out an agenda of our own (which traditionally comes with the next Presidential nominee, and very rarely, in the midterms as with the Contract with America).

Part of the problem lies in the separation of powers. There is no shadow to the President or the cabinet. Members of Congress actually have real jobs, but they're generally apt to express a policy vision in unintelligble gobbledygook.

What we need is a policy arm independent of the existing policy infrastructure on the Hill that incorporates the best of what's happening in the states, on the Hill, and in the think tanks. A Republican National Policy Committee would be tasked with crafting a larger message that's bigger than just House Republicans or Senate Republicans, but that includes both and Governors as well. An RNPC would have de-facto last word on the elusive question of what the Republican Party is for, would appoint "shadow cabinet" spokespeople to directly respond to what's happening at the departments and agencies, and have point on crafting a Contract-like Republican platform for the midterm elections. Part think tank, part messaging engine, a Republican policy committee would keep the ideas flame alive until a Presidential nominee emerged.

The RNC can't do this because it's a campaign institution not a policy institution. The RNC Chairman is more like the chief strategist or top surrogate for a campaign than he or she is the overarching leader of the party. House and Senate Republicans can't usually rise above the din of opposition to craft an overarching alternative platform. Very few people on Main Street care about what the Senate Conference or the RSC says.

I could think of worse people for the role of Republican policy czar than Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana, the policy-innovating, budget-slashing former OMB director just re-elected by 18 points while Obama was carrying the Hoosier state. Daniels may run for President in four years -- and in that case, that job should go to someone without Presidential ambitions, but the ideal chairman of the RNPC would be someone like Daniels who understands both the policy and the politics.

This is a fairly dramatic break from the structure of opposition parties. But if you take seriously the idea that we need to be advancing a more coherent policy platform, as well as directly bracketing what's happening in the White House and the regulatory agencies, not just in Congress, then it's an idea worth examining.

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Comments

Oddly Sounds Like Status Quo

This post is either entirely due to well intentioned naivete, or Patrick has really started to think that the current party structure can be changed top-down from the inside out. The truth is that it simply cannot be done that way. Establishing an "Ideas Czar" is the exact same method that has given us the problems we have now. Our current party already has the problem of attempting to implement/enforce on candidates and local parties ideas that come from a small group of individuals running the national party. The party needs to start changing first at the local level and then work its way up. The same thing with ideas, they need to come from the grassroots, not D.C.  I say this post could be well intentioned, because I could see why some people would think that our losses in the past few elections were due to a lack of ideas. However, I can't help but think that establishing a "group" of policy makers with a policy Czar will inevitably devolve into the same top-down litmus tests that we have seen over the past 8 years.

I like the idea, sort of

I actually like the concept of a RNPC, provided that it could be effective in establishing and promoting broad themes upon which public policy can be built. If it gets preoccupied with minutiae, though, it could be as irrelevant as a national convention platform committee.

Don't think that's the right solution

I agree that we need to do a much better job of  being for various solutions to problems facing the country, but I don't think that a "czar" is the way to go about it.

This czar (oh, and I don't think that Republicans in general should be in favor of any type of "czars", so change the name) would have to be a very adept politician. If the job wound up meaning anything, there would be a great deal of pressure from all the various factions of the party, often with very contradictory demands. There's a lot of contenious issues out there.

Take immigration. I'm for strong border security, but I'm also for some type of path to citizenship. In some quarters, that gets me labeled a RINO.... but I am in good stead with both the sitting President and our last presidential candidate on the subject, and with a lot of quieter Republicans I know around the country. Certainly the business wing of the party is not terribly enamored with a crack-down on immigration. And the civil libertarians will oppose some crack-downs too, once they realize just how intrusive government would have to be to actually require all employees in the country to be approved by a government database before being allowed to work.

Certainly the czar will promote pro-life policies, but just where on the spectrum will he or she be? Will he decree that the official position of the party is no abortion, no exceptions? Or will he accept a compromise solution that drastically reduces which abortions are legal but still allows exceptions for rape and such?

If the czar is appointed by the existing party structure, well, that presents some problems. Typically, the party machinery is dominated by the hard-core of the party, the most zealous members of the "base." And while we need to return to our roots and promote the needs and desires of the base, we also need to accept that on some issues, what the base wants may not be what can get passed in this country. Odds are that a czar appointed through the party machinery will be pretty ideological.

On the other hand, a czar who is more moderate might wind up giving up too much too soon in fights with the other side. Take the abortion example above. In the end, I think the best compromise solution is to radically upgrade our border security to the south, but to also allow greater legal immigration and a path to citizenship... but only in return for English Only and some other assimilation measures. To get to that point, we probably will have to fight very hard for a harsher, no "amnesty" solution, and compromise at the end on a good policy solution... if the czar starts from a position of a sensible policy to begin with, we'd probably not get as much in return from the Democrats.

Finally, Republicans tend to be independent cusses. Some would likely oppose anything proposed by the czar, just because he would be telling them what the "official" Republican position is supposed to be.

Instead of a czar, we need to build institutions within the party which will allow us to hash things out amongst ourselves. And within those institutions, we need to speak frankly with each other and to accept that we all need each other to promote our own agendas. No one faction of the party is the most important; we need all of them to reach electoral success. We've got to all start respecting each faction, rather than taking pot shots at each other. The key to that, as is the key to all long-term political solutions, is to build strong institutions, not to impose authoritarian solutions from above.

Idea czar? Yeah, his name is Newt Gingrich

Seriously, the one GOP leader who has actually come up with new ideas and new responses/agenda items lately that address current issues is Newt Gingrich. He now has given the definitive cogent answer to Obama's phony middle class tax cut, earlier it was 'drill here, drill now', and we also had "AMerican Solutions". Again and again, Newt has a knack for channelling the '70%-favored solutions' that the GOP can agree to and run on.

That's one reason I was suggesting him for RNC chair, to make a clean break with status quo operations-only thinking (which is killing us) and lead us with a positive unifying agenda for conservative reform.

I'm not in favor of formalizing situations that are best left fluid, so 'annointing' someone is a waste of time. Instead, Let the leaders - all the GOP leaders, both Governors and in congress and even out-of-office - share their ideas and show the way. Get a stable of leaders signed up with the RNC to be advocates. We don't really want one 'ideas czar', what we do want - AND WHAT NEWT HIMSELF SUGGESTED - was to look at the 20+ GOP Governors for their innovative leadership, and share and advange them. Daniels, Huntsman, Jindhal, Barbour, Sanford, Palin,  etc. Again, not formalized, but an informal 'loyal opposition' to the Democrats in DC that shows the Republican alternatives are better.

There are a lot of good ideas out there. We lack the vision/leadership to push them from our own elected leaders. A 50-state "Promise to the People" that rolls up the best ideas from different states and proposes them to ALL the states would be a good way to go.

Couldn't agree more

Looking toward the governors and what they have done, as Newt suggested, is the best option we have right now. Taking what works from the states and using it at the Federal level. Federalism.

Althought I don't think Newt should be RNC chair. other than that, great post.

Great Comment-- but Fair Tax is reasonable idea, too

It's important to remember that Reps can agree on directions, smaller gov't, but disagree on the best tactical steps to take next.

To be successful, a Rep wanting to take a smaller gov't step will have to have power.  Rep governors need Rep blogger support, and ideas, and idea critics.

I like Huckabee's idea of a Fair Tax.

I also like Henry George's idea of Single Tax, on land value (which, had it been applied, might have reduced the housing bubble.  But maybe not.)

I hate income taxes, but they're so easy for non-rich folk to support.

 

More than an Ideas czar, we need ways of showing support for alternative ideas, and especially ways to help Rep governors who want to use some idea, to implement it.

Is British Grass Greener?

I have to believe that the British opposition system has taken that shape as a consequence of their inferior government structure.  I'm not entirely sure that you want to emulate what they do simply because they're fellow Anglicans.

Then there's the drawbacks to your plan.  The policy "czar" position or organization, if comprised of the politically-ambitious, would simply become another platform for spewing hot air (just look at the power plays to win the RNC chair).  Beyond that, how would the GOP presidential nominee feel to have his/her hands tied by what the policy group has been doing the previous four years?

Leave the politicians to their politicking.  If you want to effect real, institutional change it starts with think tanks and penetration into other non-governmental institutions (education, for one).  President-elect Barack Obama represents the product of decades of institutional change effected by the Left.  Folks on the Right need to drop the pom-poms and get onto the field--just not necessarily the field of politics.

Deeds, not words

Ya gotta be kidding me.  The problem isn't the lack of ideas, it's the complete and utter failure to implement any of them  -- or even try for that matter.  Republicans are all hat and no cattle.

Republicans yammer on and on about small government, meanwhile Bush grew spending more than Bill Clinton ever dreamed possible.  And the GOP politicians have been larding up the hidden earmark spending as fast as they can get away with it.

The problem is that that is all the Republican party is -- ideas.  Lots and lots of talk about small government and less spending and never any meaningful action.

And as soon as the base gets restless, they break out some meaningless cultural warfare issue like flag burning, Terry Schiavo and prayer in school.  It's a flaccid smokescreen to hide the fact that they LOVE Big Government and spending as much money as they can get away with.

Idea Czar? Nope, Just An Enforcer

When has the GOP never been about smaller, less intrusive government, incentivising personal responsibility, lower taxes and fiscal restraint -- at least in theory?

The Class of '94, for the most part, forgot why they were sent to Washington and what they were supposed to do when they got there.  Even though they had a simple, easy-to-read and easy-to-understand document explaining their policy ideals: 

The Contract With America.

When they got there -- and figured out how the system worked -- they started spending like drunken Democrats and conducting The Peoples' Business in the same manner it's been done in Chicago for generations:  Patronage, buying campaign contributions with other peoples' money, and senses of entitlement.  It's no wonder their constituencies got fed up with them.

What must happen to enable Conservative Revolution v 2.0 is to start from the ground up in running and selecting candidates in the primaries who demonstrate a whole lot more personal integrity and loyalty to conservative principles than the "ladies" and "gentlemen" we sent there 14 years ago, seniority system be damned.  Personally, I'm a whole lot more comfortable with someone who doesn't get how the system works and has to have some time figuring it out.

 

'Berg     

  

you guys are trying too hard.

you guys are trying too hard. forget the ideas czar and go directly to some new ideas. preferably shared by a lot of people. with a leader to articulate them. maybe start with the leader. is there one on the horizon? hard to tell in the rain.

Isn't this the exactly opposite of grassroots activism?

I mean, the very term "Czar" come from Imperial Russia.

The Internet, on the other hand, is more like Jacksonian Democracy.

We need to start getting ideas percolating upward from local activists and local Republican parties. Let a thousand gardens bloom. We'll get some winners, some mediocre ideas, and some huge clunkers. And we'll test market them or have the brain trust in DC weed through the chaff.

We are not going to get 5 million activists doing participatory democracy is the participation is limited to echoing pre-approved talking points  

Grassroots wins

grassroots activism starting in local town republican committee meetings and working groups is the answer. Local groups can create policy under the guidance of local experts.As an example I live in Hartford CT  finding an expert in health insurance to lead a working group would be easy.  

The product of those groups could then be used to educate elected officials, candidates and local activists.The national party can listen to the State chairs to find out which Ideas are working . If there are potential winning trends that develop the party can use them

Participation at the local level is key to wining elections. Engaging people in the process of developing solutions locally will  create a motivated core of  activists. 435 local armies wining hearts and minds.

 

 

I vote for grassroots and Internet

Oh great, that's just what those five-million party activists are going to need to keep them jazzed...another leadership committee.

 

 

 

 I had hoped you guys just might be able to take a little advise fromThe National Online Party on where you can find true, authentic Republican ideas and ideals --- FROM THE TRENCHES.

 

As I have been saying, and have been repeatedly ignored here, if you want to empower the party, you have to empower the membership.   All you have to do is give each member a voice, allow each to speak, and allow all to be heard. Once you do that, once the body can speak and be heard, all you presently seek, Pat, will be achieved, and more -- that is if you guys seek to empower the party and just not yourselves.

I know your kind. The party's full of 'em.

ex animo

davidfarrar

 

A true leader or "czar"...

...will quickly understand that the focus needs to be shifted from internal GOP workings.  Shifted 180 degrees outward toward the voter.  Massive polling should be done so that the dense, clueless GOP leadership can get an idea of what the electorate is thinking.   But polling isn't going to help if its conducted by dishonest pollsters who fashion and sculpt the questions to get the answers they want.  Which describes most of them, in my opinion.  Its just unfortunate that there is such a barrier between those estranged, former GOP voters and the GOP Hierarchy.  So much time will be wasted in re-establishing the lines of communication.  Had the GOP elites kept their finger on the pulse of the voter, we wouldn't be in this mess. I am beginning to have my doubts as to whether the GOP will ever recover.  Those in control are so obstinate, stubborn and closed.  DD

We need a method to promote good ideas; czar is one possible

There are too many competing possible Republican ideas.

A czar can choose the ones he or she thinks are most important -- whether long or short term (getting elected).

Those who disagree with a czar should be looking for a better alternative to solve the problem of too many ideas.

An idea website with lots of idea questions and votes might be a more grassroots way of helping ideas percolate upward.

Other membership voting systems are possible -- the 'czar' of this Next Right website should recommend some.

Of course, I haven't bothered to read the Republican Platform, which is where previously successful ideas get temporarily immortalized.

 

Even after identifying a good idea, perhaps like the Fair Tax, the question becomes what next?  Next is to find a leader/ candidate that supports that idea and help get that guy elected.

We Need to Create Ideas Through Peer Production

While both Patrick raises important points, in the end we cannot continue looking to elites to generate new ideas.  Instead, we need to effectively use peer production.  I go into detail about this in my new blog post at:

http://thenextright.com/aaron-marks/forget-the-ideas-czar-or-network-we-must-create-ideas-through-peer-production

The Problems in America Originate "On the HILL"

Congress (on the Hill) is NOT responsive to the American Public.   We cannot handle 2 more Years of Failed congressional Policies of "No Drilling", Food for Energy, and Obama's Auto Tire Policy of "Air for Oil".

Government can't fix anything.   California is bankrupt and the Politicians can't even Figure it out.  Opressive State income Tax and Sales taxes, and an Insane Housing Market, is making California look like Michigan, people leaving in droves.

Build a Republican party, and they will Come.