By Frank J. Donatelli - 01/20/09 06:10 PM EST
The president-elect is on a roll. His ratings are sky-high as most Americans rightly hope for the success of his economic program. He has already made a number of dazzling speeches and bent the Democratic Party and the mainstream media to his will. Taking no chances, though, he has also focused on his conservative and Republican critics, hoping to win their support. He has met with conservative opinion leaders and has been telephoning Republican officeholders. One conservative senator said that he had received a call from the president-elect and felt that they could work together on a number our country’s problems. If this approach can lower the decibel level of the public debate, I applaud him. If it is meant to deter Republicans from vigorous criticism of some aspects of his policies, that would be unfortunate.
Let me suggest this now, at this time of the president-elect’s maximum popularity: Republicans have a duty to offer an alternative to the Obama economic plan. It is not a contradiction to wish the president-elect well but oppose what he is doing.
Republicans are now the “loyal opposition.” Both words are important. We are loyal Americans who always work on behalf of the best interests of our country. In a time of common national purpose such as engaging and defeating a foreign enemy, we should be united with the majority party and the administration in pursuit of that common objective.
Fixing this economy is different. We’re all committed to the goal, but we have radically different approaches. Liberal Democrats honestly believe a huge increase in government spending and a redistribution of income from “the few to the many” will increase purchasing power and revive the economy, and they cite Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal as proof. They won the election; most of what they are proposing will undoubtedly pass.
Conservative Republicans have a different view. We believe that economic recovery will come when the private sector is reassured that the financial system is sound and that government will not expand its regulatory and taxing powers. We would focus on creating jobs in the private sector as the key to economic recovery. We cite Ronald Reagan’s program of tax and spending reductions and regulatory reform as proof that our way is best.
The point is that the loyal opposition owes the public an honest discussion of these two approaches. It is foolish to pretend that the parties do not have major disagreements about economic policy. Such a debate produces clarity of thought, increased party responsibility and clearer choices in future electoral contests. If the Obama program proves successful, his party will be rewarded. If it is not, Republicans will have an opportunity to offer this alternative again to the public when the next election rolls around. That’s how democracy is supposed to work.
If Republicans heed Buckley’s advice, our democratic system will be better for it.
Donatelli is a former Republican National Committee member and GOP consultant.