The Republican Party is at a crossroads nationally. Handed their biggest defeat in 2008, their grassroots are now showing a resurgence. Of course, parties are always most vibrant in exile. The Golderwaterites of 1964, the McGovernites of 1972, and the Republican Revolution of 1994 have shown us that.
These tea parties and town halls are revealing an anger that is real and an engagement with the issues that can be healthy. People make a mistake when they dismiss the organic nature of what is going as only the actions of some crackpots and reactionaries.
For every crackpot and reactionary, there are real independent voters who are confused and in search of a real alternative to the Obama administration. Unfortunately, those aforementioned crackpots and reactionaries are making a rebound from the right of center difficult. Because as desperate as some may be for a new Republican agenda, if the first thing they see are red-faces screaming about the President's birth certificate and radio hosts decrying 'death panels' they are going to run in the other direction.
Now don't get it twisted, there is nothing wrong with getting a little 'revolutionary' now and again. The Republican Party under Bush did lose its way and reorganization is in order but things have gotten out of hand.
It seems lately that the Right is doing nothing but throwing red meat to their base waiting for President Obama to make mistakes. And so far, it seems like he is obliging them. The President made a critical error in failing to craft a bill and push it through. What we are likely to get now from congress is a muddled mess that will do little to fix the fundamental problems.
But the point of the matter is not what the President does or doesn't do. It is time for Republicans to take control of their party and rein in the Right. Now by rein in, I don't mean lose the fire of reformation.
Republicans shouldn't be looking to jettison Ron Paul supporters yelling "End The Fed" or dismiss those who clamor for state sovereignty. These people are motivated by issues. Right or wrong, they have ideas. The GOP needs those. What Republicans don't need are those who have run out of ideas. Those radio talkers and townhall agitators whose red meat can't make a meal — those who, once you get past the slogans and the shout downs, have nothing substantive to offer.
Bruce Barlett, a former Reaganite, writes of the need for someone to right the ship of Republicanism.
"I think the Republican Party is in the same boat the Democrats were in in the early eighties — dominated by extremists unable to see how badly their party was alienating moderates and independents. The party’s adults formed the DLC to push the party back to the center and it was very successful," wrote Bartlett. "I will know that the party is on the path to recovery when someone in a position of influence reaches out to former Republicans like me."
The Republican Party need not cut itself off from constitutionalism but it does need a break from the conspiratorialists. Someone in the Republican Party needs to stand up and denounce the birthers and the bombthrowers.
But who can do it? Who in a position of power sees Republicanism, not as a reactionary destructive force, but as constructive shepherd of a limited government and is unfraid to speak truth to conservatives?
One name that comes to mind is Lamar Alexander. He is a Republican of the old school — before the Republican Party and the conservative movement became as one. He is well-liked, respected by minorities and has always been an advocate of compromise and pragmatism.
Alexander, likely in his last term of elective office, has little to fear if the conservative electorate reacts badly to his rebuke.
Which makes it all that more curious that Alexander messaging contains fears of "runaway government" and warnings to the state to stay away from "end of life" decisions — coming very close rhetorically to the "death panel" scare tactic of conservatives.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with either of these messages per se or the policy preferences behind them. But this only one side of the equation. The Republican Party has been taken for a ride rhetorically by these talk show shows and tea party opportunists. The message has gone off the rails.
At a moment in time when Alexander should be turning his rhetorical back on the extremists he seems to be blending his words to mimic their noise.
Whatever happens in its final years, Lamar Alexander's political career will be legend in Tennessee. Why not add savior of the national party as the final chapter of the Lamar legacy?