By Judd Gregg - 02/27/12 10:00 AM EST
As one listens to the continuing clanging of the Republican presidential campaign, one simple fact is becoming apparent: Viable proposals on the big issues that face our country are difficult to find.
The candidates are allowing any effective and doable policies to be marginalized by their zeal to speak to a blogosphere electorate that does not have to consider approaches that work on difficult problems such as our deficits, immigration reform and energy policy, because they have no responsibility to fix those problems.
The practical effect of this new form of influence in the political process is that any policy that does not meet a litmus test of irrational ideological purity is rejected. Ironically, the purity sought guarantees the failure of the policy.
This policy mayhem leading to a virtual absence of substantive proposals on the complex issues of our times might be driven by the nature of some of our candidates.
It is a field in which candidates who for years have been considered at the margin of the effectiveness range now find themselves being looked to for leadership. Some of the stronger players who actually have had to govern and who speak with conservative voices never got into the field.
For example, instead of having Gov. Chris Christie (R) defining how to reduce bloated government as he has done in New Jersey, we have Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who has for decades been a gadfly promoting non-functional thought.
Or, instead of having Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), who actually has governed and led from practical political experience, we have former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who shouts out ideas that are most often nonsensical but which generate attention and sell books, thus adding to the revenues of Newt Inc., which has no relationship to actually governing.
Or, instead of having House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has shown you can advance conservative initiatives without having to shout louder than your opposition, we have former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who wears his outrage for all who disagree with him on his sleeve and accuses them of being not Christian enough, which by itself is a fairly un-Christian approach.
It might not be so much that these candidates have decided to move to accommodate the blogosphere as it is that they personify the blogosphere — showing uncompromising excess in pursuit of marginal ideas that will not move this country forward because they are not even close to being functional.
One of the core characteristics of effective conservatives such as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the late Ronald Reagan is that they got things done.
These folks have no idea how to get things done.
As a result of the proposals they are putting forward, the Republican Party is being pushed into a position where even if we win the presidency we might not be able to effectively govern on the critical issues.
On the issue of restoring our country’s fiscal soundness, these candidates have so narrowed the options that if you calculate the actual adjustments they could make to reduce the deficit they would have virtually no effect.
Or, if you look at their policies on immigration, you get the feeling that they must have decided the proper legacy of the Republican Party can be found in the “Know Nothing” party of the 1830s. Just substitute “Hispanic” for “Catholic,” and they seem to be in the same place.
Or, in foreign policy, why have one option? Beat the drum of grandiose verbosity as though we were in a time of “big stick” diplomacy and a simple world.
The American people are not interested in the wailing of the disgruntled who dominate the dialogue of the blogosphere. They want leadership that proposes effective and realistic initiatives built off such conservative ideas as fiscal and individual responsibility. They are not seeing a national debate in this Republican contest that has much relevance to those concerns.
Solving America’s problems, rebuilding our nation and reigniting our natural culture of vibrant individual opportunity and initiative should be our goal. If we continue on our current path of pandering to the marginal, we will accomplish none of this, and as a party we will become irrelevant to the vast majority of Americans — and maybe even to ourselves.
Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Foreign Operations. He also is an international adviser to Goldman Sachs.