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Reinventing the Republican image

The Republicans emerged from the 2006 and 2008 elections in dire need of Extreme Makeover: Political Edition. Some prominent Republicans should cross their fingers in the hopes that Ty Pennington and his camera crew will arrive on the steps of the Capitol at any minute.

U.S. Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, a Republican, had it right when he said: “Voters didn’t elect the Democrats in 2006; they unelected us.”

The Grand Old Party, emphasis on the “old,” has sustained its image as the party of America’s grandfathers with its inability to appeal to the younger constituency. Talks of rebranding the party have been circulating for a while now.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger warned of the dangers of keeping with business-as-usual Republican politics in May.

“The Republican idea is a great idea, but we can’t go and get stuck with just the right wing,” he said in the San Francisco Chronicle.

It has become more apparent than ever that Republicans must restructure or face political extinction. But what exactly led to the recent demise of the Republican Party?

Most obviously, eight years of disapproval for a Republican president. Former President George W. Bush finished off his second term with the lowest approval ratings in history, an embarrassing 22 percent, according to CBS News.

Unfortunately, the American population views many of Bush’s failed policies as bona fide Republican dogma. The role of big government expanded rapidly thanks to the Bush administration’s Patriot Act and social programs such as No Child Left Behind. It would not be farfetched to suggest government spending under Bush was spinning out of control.

This spending was not exactly the fiscal conservatism traditionally associated with Republican politics.

America’s view of Republicans suffered another blow with the recent McCain-Palin campaign. John McCain touted himself as a maverick politician who was a proud, non-traditional Republican. These claims may have been true for McCain before the transformation that occurred once he won his party’s nomination, but he soon resorted to the same tactics that he had spoken against years earlier: political mudslinging, petty pandering and unsound judgment. In an effort to appease the Republican base, McCain picked the infamous Sarah Palin for vice president.

This move was effectively the final nail in the coffin for McCain’s already decrepit campaign. Palin brought nothing to the table except appeal to far-right Republicans, a group that would never have dreamed of voting for Obama anyway.

Independents were scared away by such brash decisions. Unable to pull from the center, McCain lost the election.

Consequently, this has become an important lesson for those attempting to salvage the Republican image. In order to weather the change in political winds, Republicans must learn to appeal to the more Independent center.

Republicans should not ignore the fundamentals of conservatism and finding a platform that falls just right of center fiscal responsibility is key. America has suffered from many years of both Republicans and Democrats ignoring calls for more responsible government spending.

However, certain aspects of traditional Republican ideas have to be refurbished. Hawkish policies from trigger-happy politicians are not a substitute for traditional diplomacy. But don’t label me as a peacenik. When attacked, America is justified in retaliating. In an effort to promote democratic ideals and America’s interests, certain interventionist policies must be adopted. Diplomacy, however, cannot be ignored as an effective tool.

Tax cuts for working Americans, meanwhile, are an important aspect to stimulating the economy, and Republicans must embrace this fact. How can the average American contribute to the retail heartbeat of our consumer society when he or she is being smothered under the weight of heavy taxation? While taxes are a necessary component to a democracy, America cannot afford to let them get out of control.

To see the effectiveness of such strategies, one can examine the victory of President Barack Obama. Tax breaks for “95 percent of working Americans” and eliminating wasteful spending were key tenets of his campaign.

It is my distant hope that Republicans will wise up and follow suit by taking a few pages out of Obama’s book and strive for cross-party integration. Unfortunately, the audacity of such a hope may not be based in reality.

Brendan Collett is a sophomore  majoring in public relations and psychology.