John Feehery: What are we for?

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Republicans continue to define themselves by what they are against, and so far, that strategy has worked out pretty well. 

This strategy — such as the GOP’s battle against ObamaCare — might very well carry the party to electoral success next November. Democrats have no chance of taking back the House, and Republicans now have a better than 50/50 chance of taking back the Senate. 

President Obama’s mere presence has made it difficult for Republicans to go through a serious re-evaluation of what their party stands for and what they want to achieve. Every president sets the issue table (he proposes) and the Congress reacts (it disposes), and Congressional Republicans don’t have the bandwidth to offer a competing vision. They nominally control only one chamber of the Congress and have met intractable opposition from the Senate majority leader to any kind of positive alternative. And Obama has defined the issues (healthcare, climate change, immigration reform, gay marriage) in such a way as to ensure significant GOP opposition.

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It hasn’t helped that the GOP has been fractured ideologically, with the business and libertarian wings at each other’s throats and the Tea Party trying to overthrow the so-called establishment. If there is no unanimity among the party faithful as to what we all believe, how can Republican leaders define a positive agenda?

Some assume that whoever wins the presidential nominating contests will help to define that agenda, but that is waiting too long. Others believe that the party is best defined by the work of the party’s governors, but all too often, the states and the Congress seem to working at cross-purposes. 

The GOP needs to start the process of building a reform agenda now, with the congressional Republicans working with the Republican Governors Association and the Republican State Leadership Committee to bring about a thorough overhaul of what we are all for — just as the party did in 1993 with its agenda overhaul that eventually, though not directly, yielded the Contract with America. A similar effort needs to happen today. 

What would a positive agenda look like?

Well, first the GOP would be smart to focus on job creation. The Obama administration’s track record has been terrible when it comes to focusing on jobs, and the Democrats are vulnerable. A relentless and singular drive to make sure that every American that is physically and mentally able to work has a job should be the top agenda item for the Republican Party. 

Second, Republicans should be the party of political reform. They should push to ban lobbyists from giving campaign contributions. They should be the political reformers in the big cities and in county governments. They should demand that the majority of campaign funds be raised in the districts or the states where a candidate is running, to limit the influence of Hollywood and Wall Street. The American people are more cynical about the political process than they ever have been, and candidly, they have ample reason to be. A political reform agenda is sorely needed. 

Third, the GOP should be focused on strengthening families and communities, protecting children and giving parents more flexibility to take care of dependents, whether they be children or grandparents. We should do this through tax policies that give more resources to parents with children. We should encourage marriage with tax incentives, encourage parents and grandparents to invest in education, and otherwise relieve some of the stress of living in the modern world. We should aggressively promote policies that help organizations that serve the community, like the Knights of Columbus, the Rotary Club and the Future Farmers of America, and become their champions. 

Fourth, Republicans should actively define the brave new world of tomorrow. They should become fierce advocates of privacy, especially from a nosy government, of protecting children against cyber bullying and of promoting decency and respect in the cyber world. They should aggressively promote a 21st century agenda to deliver better government at a much lower cost. They should be champions of science, not antagonists to it. They should be optimistic about the future and America’s place in it, not doomsdayers wondering when the collapse is going to come. 

The GOP has been very effective at telling the voters what it is against. It is time for Republicans to start defining what they are for.  

Feehery is president of Quinn Gillespie Communications and spent 15 years working in the House Republican leadership. He is a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com.