David All argues that the proliferation of competing “agendas” now emanating from individual Republican House members misses the point. I agree, but for very different reasons than David. His essential argument is that Republicans should ditch any hope for a Contract-style agenda:
Gone are the days of Newt Gingrich’s Contract for America, a plan which every Republican got behind and backed. A unified agenda back in 1994 was possible because of Newt Gingrich’s intoxicating personality and strong leadership style; but it was also a different time, a time before the Internet inspired a culture of choice and information.
Today, thanks to the Internet, each Member of Congress can and should be fighting in the trenches for the hundreds of issues which drive their voters to the polls under the banner of the Republican Party. The Internet provides a medium to distribute our message like never before. We can fight on thousands of fronts.
Rather than being forced to to pick a few, limited set of agenda items, House Republicans should change the game and act more like iTunes and NetFlix — offering conservative, libertarian, and independent voters a lot of different choices — all of which can only be found under the larger brand — Republican.
This overlooks the most salient example: Obama, the epitome of the new net-centric candidate. Obama has actually thrived on a very strong, unified message.
This is not an agenda. It’s deliberately vague. But the message is as clear and unifying as Reagan’s optimism. Those who celebrate the bottom-up nature of the Obama campaign can’t deny its top-down, cult of personality, aggressive brand management aspects.
I was recently discussing the difference between the Clinton and Obama campaigns with a GOP pollster in town. In the conversation, an interesting point came up: that Obama has beat Clinton because he’s refused the play the small-bore, microtargeting game epitomized by her ex-strategist (and Microtrends author) Mark Penn. Obama has run on a big, national message of generational change in both red and blue states and it’s worked.
Democratic voters have latched on to this narrative. There may not have been a mass market for a 46-year old guy named Barack as President a year ago — but now there is. He created it. That takes a big, aspirational message that’s bigger than the sum total of a bunch of issue positions and demographic segments. The Internet doesn’t change that. It actually amplifies the success of popular messages at the head of the long tail. The common thread of Internet success stories is that they tend to be really big success stories, the enhanced variety offered by the long tail notwithstanding. Think of Google, Apple, and Obama.
What Obama has done for change represents what the Republican Revolutionaries did with the Contract with America. They married the Republican brand to the idea of Reform. Republicans may have won in 1994 without the Contract, but they would have governed a whole lot differently without it. Without a well-branded agenda, they would have more quickly drifted into a boring, piecemeal floor schedule.
The problem with the current “agendas” on offer is that they’re small-bore. They act as though we were still in the majority and our job was to fine-tune the workings of government. It’s not. In the minority, our job is to 1) make the majority’s life miserable, grinding the House and Senate floors to a halt, and building a narrative of the Democrats as broken and incompetent, and 2) offer big, bold alternatives to this mess like the Contract did in 1994.
We’ll be discussing more of what these agenda items might be over at The Next Right, but I imagine it would be things on this scale:
- A total ban on earmarks
- Let the half of Federal workers due to retire in the next few years retire – and don’t replace them
- Personal Social Security accounts
- A 50% cut in farm subsidies (yeah, good luck on that after this week)
- McCain’s idea of
replacingsupplementing the UN with a league of democracies
There’s a market for this kind of change. When Tom Cole posted a few of the incrementalist agenda items to the NRCC blog, I couldn’t count a single positive comment in favor of the nearly 2,000 posted. This shows the disconnect between Washington and the grassroots. Instead of boldness, many members still think a 1998-style litany of “practical solutions” will work for a party that could be headed into the wilderness without a shock to the system.