Friday, December 19, 2008

Lessons from 2008 Part 2: Know Thyself

I continue with my year in review with the lesson learned hardest by the Liberal Party of Canada and the GOP down south.

Run On Who You Are: The Grits forgot themselves in a few ways this year. First, the party forgot its base. The Liberals sealed their electoral fate when they failed to vote down changes to the Immigration Act despised by many new Canadians. This inaction on a core issue of strength for the Liberal Party signaled the beginning of the end for Stephane Dion. The rest was completed by the launch of The Green Shift weeks later. Liberals forgot that we are a party of incrementalism and pragmatism. I cannot name the Liberal leader last elected on radical policy shifts. While the Red Book was a sharp departure from Conservative policies of the day, it represented in its opposition to the GST and free trade a return to old principles. While Chretien pragmatically backed away from these promises, the Red Book, like successful Liberal platforms of years past promised a steady hand and good government that would work for Canadians best interests. Often in words not more expansive than that. Stephane Dion's great miscalculation in The Green Shift was that the Liberal Party is a small-c conservative party, at least on the campaign trail. Few of the major policies brought in by the party have been platform items (repatriation of the Constitution being an obvious exception). Particularly in the most recent era of Liberal government, Liberals succeded by being the party Canadians trusted not to screw up the country; in other words keep things pretty much on the same course. It may be boring, but it works. The Liberals forgot that boring is beautiful in 2008. They lost as a result.

To a lesser extent, the Republican party forgot itself in 2008. First, they nominated John McCain. McCain is not a modern Republican. He just isn't. He never was the guy who was going to excite the all-important Republican base. The Republican party since Reagan's election in 1980 has been a party of national defense and national morality. McCain fulfilled the defense criterion, he failed to get the Moral Majority. McCain never spoke the language of evangelicals and he has put his party in perilous danger of losing them as a voting block. Now, I don't criticize McCain for not being a radical social conservative, I criticize Republican Party for failing to recognize the key to their successes. All credit should go to Barack Obama for his campaign, but this election was I think less satisfying for some on the left because Obama didn't defeat the GOP of 1994 or 2004 but a withered shell of its former self. I don't know that the Republicans could nominated a better candidate, but they never had a chance with John McCain. Much as Democrats need to talk about the economy to win, Republicans need to talk about social issues.

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