Blue Ribbon Politics
Cal Thomas has an interesting idea about what Republicans should do if, as seems increasingly likely, they find themselves in the minority after the November midterm elections.
Republicans should assemble a bipartisan group of former members of Congress, such as Georgia Democrat Sam Nunn and Missouri Republican John Danforth. They would be commissioned to draft a bipartisan team to find solutions to common problems and challenges, such as a general framework for when American forces would be committed abroad and for what purposes. The team could also attack poverty in ways politicians have not, largely because each side is beholden to its “base,” which won’t let them stray far from past practices.
They can start by considering the ideas of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus. Yunus, a Bangladeshi banker, founded and heads Grameen Bank, which offers “micro-credit” to the very poor. Since 1983, when the bank was founded, more than half of its borrowers have climbed out of poverty.
In a recent Wall Street Journal column, Yunus expresses a philosophy that sounds Republican. He offers, “small loans packaged with practical business and social advice.” The Democratic Party philosophy is to give the poor more government aid. Republicans, when they think of the poor, believe they should emerge from poverty on their own initiative. With micro-credit, Yunus says the poor become self-sufficient and acquire dignity because they must repay the loans. He says nearly 99 percent of the loans are repaid. If Yunus can make it work in Bangladesh, it should work in America.
Republicans need to try something dramatic that will demonstrate success and communicate to the public whose interests they actually serve. If they do lose their majority next month, but learn the greater lesson that power should be a means to success, not an end in itself, they will not be the first party or person to learn more from failure than from success.
It seems highly unlikely that micro-lending would scale from Bangladesh to America. After all, $20 doesn’t go very far in these parts and it would be much harder to make a living here renting time on one’s cell phone, what with everyone above the age of six seemingly having their own and an economy where it would be difficult to get by on less than $25,000 a year.
Still, the idea that blue ribbon committees of greybeards can come up with novel ways of solving problems that everyone would then agree on has long had great appeal. It’s intuitively satisfying, after all. Surely, if we would just put politics aside, we’d all agree on the way ahead.
It turns out, however, that the world doesn’t work that way. For one thing, if a solution that emerged that was so uncontroversial as to catch fire, both parties would promptly announce that they were in favor of it and attempt to take credit for it. More likely, though, ideas that came out of the committee would be so watered down by compromise that they would either be unworkable or would spawn alternative proposals that hew to more traditional ideological lines.
Thomas’ central point, that holding power should not be more important to politicians and parties than actually putting one’s policy preferences into effect, is a good one. Inevitably, however, the former takes precedence over the latter once a party has been in office more than a few years. The initial enthusiasm about policy ultimately peters out because the best ideas get adopted early and the hard ones can’t get past political roadblocks.
The solution, generally forced upon the moribund party by the electorate, is some time in the minority. The way back, though, is not bipartisan committees of Yoda-like gurus but rather new blood and fresh ideas. Both parties have think tanks, magazines, and young leaders waiting in the wings to generate these ideas. That’s ultimately much more productive than dusting off Jim Baker and Sam Nunn every few years.