Sunday, January 8, 2012

The GOP (Republican Party) has no brand

In 2008, then candidate for RNC chairman, Michael Steele, published his “Blueprint for TomorrowEn-route to a Republican Revolution,” outlining his view of the future for the Republican Party in the U.S.

My concern at that time was that Steele’s views were too shallow on at least two counts: 1) The “Republican” brand was not “badly tarnished,” it was non-existent, and 2) because there was no “Republican” brand, many of Mr. Steele’s plans would fail.  The party needed a wholesale “house cleaning,” not “reforms” or “improvements in their IT systems.”

Not much has changed since then. By and large, the GOP still has no brand and what brand resurgence they may be enjoying at this moment is due, primarily, to the activism of the Tea Party and libertarian thinkers who have found third-party efforts to be (for the present) somewhat fruitless.

Now, I am a conservative leaning increasingly toward libertarianism. I even count myself still among “Republicans.” I have even read the “Blueprint For Tomorrow — En-route to a Republican Revolution” (“Blueprint”).

As I predicted back in 2009, the Republican Party has benefited in the intervening election cycles from the radical direction the Obama administration and his equally radical Democrat-controlled Congress had been taking us. However, there remains a large difference between benefiting from an externally driven backlash and what the Republican Party really needs.


What the GOP needs is an internal revolution

What the GOP truly needs is an internal revolution or, perhaps better and more to the point, a thoroughgoing “house cleaning.”

In “Blueprint,” Steele’s first “key point” was the Republican Party’s “brand is badly tarnished.”

My futile hope was that this was an intentional understatement and perhaps a sign of life from the emerging GOP establishment that Americans were calling for real change and that the Republican Party could and should rally to the fore for liberty, economic growth, sound monetary policy and limited government. It, apparently, was not.

From a commercial marketing standpoint the “Republican” brand is not “badly tarnished.”  The “Republican” brand remains to this day virtually non-existent.

Or, more properly stated: getting folks to buy the “Republican” brand today is akin to getting folks to believe that the New York Yankees of today are the same team as the New York Yankees of the 1950s and ‘60s (when I thought the World Series was “some team getting to play the Yankees at the end of the season”).

No. People today have little or no respect for or trust in the “Republican” brand.

There have not been enough Republicans in the Senate, the House of Representatives, the White House, or even in governors’ mansions over the last 20 years who have taken a solid and forthright stand for anything more substantial than assuring their own re-election that would identify the term “Republican” with anything correlating to a “principle” or an “ideology.”  (I am not saying that there have not been any, I am saying there have not been enough to create a recognizable “Republican” brand.)


The Party of competent management?

Steele’s “Blueprint” said, “We were the Party of competent management.”

Yet, I ask: why, then, were the Republicans not wailing more loudly and more incessantly when President George W. Bush (a man I respect for many, many reasons) permitted the Federal Reserve to artificially suppress interest rates well below what a free market would have supported for a period of more than two years?  This action recklessly supported the already badly managed FNMA (Fannie-Mae), FHLMC (Freddie-Mac) and Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage programs that encouraged the promotion of subprime mortgages. (And please, GOP establishment, do not try to tell us that the Republicans have not done their share to support the programs promulgated by FNMA and the like.) The market, thus intoxicated by “easy money,” made bad capital investment choices ranging from real estate through manufacturing and distribution channels and all the way to Wall Street and the capital markets themselves.

Sound-thinking economists were, even then, not silent on the dangers inherent in the housing bubble. However, except for a few somewhat weak attempts to speak up over the years, Republicans have remained content to see “economic growth” — even if it was supported by nothing more than federal policy “hot air,” bad monetary policy, and bad banking.  Instead of these weak attempts, there should have been an incessant howl raised by conscientious Republicans against what was happening. (Of course, the GOP politicians remained enthralled to the campaign monies flowing their way in a near-constant stream from Wall Street firms, their CEOs and bankster cronies, so they could not take principled action.)

You and I both know why there was, for the most part, little more than an occasional “squeak” of warning erupting from the deafening silence among GOP officeholders. And, what little was actually said was not backed by any hard-driving action for effective change.

The fact is, far too many Republicans — just like Democrats — receive significant campaign support from the financial sector.  Indeed, the incestuous relationship between Wall Street investment bankers and Capitol Hill is the single largest reason that so many financial institutions have been granted the “too big to fail” marker and handed bailout money.  And, of course, when high inflation comes our way in the not-too-distant future, it will be the financial sector that reaps the rewards.  Why?  Because the financial sector gets hold of the freshly printed fiat money before price-inflation takes effect.  Therefore, with billions or trillions of dollars of inflationary currency in their hands, they get first option to buy whatever assets they choose at pre-inflation prices. (Nice payback to the politicians’ cronies in the banking and securities industries.)

This is the sickening symbiotic connection between politicians who lack moral anchors or sound principles and a monetary system that can readily be manipulated through a central bank.  No wonder that politicians like Senator Dodd need only five individuals from his home state to support their re-election campaigns while they garner hundreds of thousands of dollars from out-of-state donors.

Can the GOP really say (with a straight face), that they are “the Party of competent management,” when Republicans — just like the Democrats — have allowed the Social Security system to become nothing more than a Ponzi scheme that makes Madoff look like a piker? The only difference between what Madoff did and what the U.S. Congress — Democrats and Republicans — have done with Social Security is that no one has arrested any Congressmen or Senators (yet).  Apparently this is because no matter how immoral or how unconstitutional or how (otherwise) illegal or deceptive an act of Congress might be, it is still “legal.” The fact that Republicans have participated in this — almost to the equal of their Democrat cronies — makes it virtually impossible for the “Republican” brand to mean anything to anybody anymore.


The Party best equipped to stand for fiscal restraint and smaller government?

How can the Republicans be “best equipped… to stand squarely for fiscal restraint [and] smaller government”? Refresh our memories, please. We poor folks outside of Washington, DC, are having a really hard time remembering on just what principles the GOP stands for “fiscal restraint” and “smaller government.” Was that with the Patriot Act? With our wars in the Middle East? With the TARP roll-out under George W. Bush?

Oh, we remember a few brave folks who stood up — who really stood for something — against the winds and tides of public opinion. But, even when Ronald Reagan was president, were it not for the strength of his personal will and integrity, there were those Republicans in his staff, cabinet and Congress at the time that would have readily jettisoned his economic policy for some good press and slap on the back.


The thing about “brands”

Here is the thing about “brands.”  Brands are not merely “names.”  Behind every outstanding brand is an “idea” or an “ideology.”  People who buy “Michelin” tires over some other brand are not buying “Michelin”; they are buying “safety” or “security.”  People who by a “Rolex” watch over some other brand are not buying “Rolex”; they are “investing” in “prestige” or even “ego satisfaction.”  These associations are built up over years and years.  However, a “brand” that may take decades to build can be destroyed in a week of bad press.

What does the “Republican” brand stand for today?  It stands for nothing.

And the reason it stands for nothing is because for at least the last decade — and likely more than four decades with only spotty exceptions — the great majority of those who bore the title “Republican” have stood for no ideals and no principles. (Oh! Wait! I take that back, most of them have stood for one principle — get re-elected by any means.)


On coalition-building

Michael Steele spoke of building “coalitions” and “collaborating and coordinating with center-right think tanks, grassroots organizations, and online networks.” The Republican Party’s present image is so tarnished and so degraded that you may very well have to commence these efforts by stealth—even if the GOP establishment insists on restraining its coalition-building efforts to the “center-right.”

Tell me why any organization that has, in fact, invested in building a solid reputation and “brand” around limited government, free market economics, or sound monetary policy would want to bear the risk of saying that they are “collaborating with” or in any way connected to the Republican Party at this present time?

While some current GOP officeholders were elected in large part by through the willing efforts of Tea Party activists, these efforts did not stem from coalition-building. Rather, these efforts were the result of Tea Party people recognizing key principles being articulated by individual candidates who just happened to be running under the GOP banner.

However, there is so little evidence that the Republican Party—especially the GOP establishment—represents any of those principles or ideals, that any organization with which the GOP might seek alliance puts their own “brand” at great risk in agreeing to such a formal association.

Think about it: How many Republicans speak great and marvelous things about liberty, free markets, sound money and a constitutionally-limited government when they are stumping? A small handful, at most.

And, all too frequently, those who do make campaign statements about liberty, free markets, and sound monetary policy end up going to Washington or the state house or elsewhere in government only to cave-in time and time again to so-called “political expediencies.”


The GOP establishment kind of candidate

This year’s (2011-2012) GOP presidential primary exposes the hypocrisy of the Republican Party’s false claims to principle and the infection of progressive thinking within party itself. It seems clear that the GOP establishment delights in a candidate like Mitt Romney while despising and shunning a candidate like Ron Paul.

Here I pause to give you a specific and local example.

Most of you are likely aware of Minnesota’s supposedly upwardly mobile star, former Governor Tim Pawlenty.  Here is a man whom I respect for many reasons.  However, this man—as a politician—is a supporter of subsidies for the ethanol industry.

There is at least one word in that phrase alone that should be anathema to a principled Republican: “subsidies.”

A free market needs no subsidies for industry.  Subsidies cause capital to be misdirected, thus damaging the economy overall.  And, of course, that is not to mention the fact that this particular subsidy causes our machines to become competitors for our very food supply with little or no proven offsetting benefit of any kind.

Again, most of you know that this nothing more than a political expedient for GOP politician Pawlenty. He is willing to sacrifice the principle of free markets and to extract taxes from the people for this senseless waste and, in the end, for nothing more than political gain.

Is that the “Republican” brand?  Because that is what many of us out here, who are trying to figure out what the “Republican” brand is, seem to find everywhere we turn.

Here is another pertinent example. Congressman Erik Paulsen. When Paulsen supported the COPS Act of 2009.  I wrote him the following:

Representative Paulsen:

Since when is local law enforcement a role for the national government?

Of course, in a re-election campaign your opponents might say that you voted against money for law enforcement. Now, who could possibly be against more or better law enforcement?

Naturally, for a politician, that’s a justifiable reason for ignoring the U.S. Constitution.

Very sincerely yours,

P.S. One of the things I’ve noticed about writing to you regarding issues is that, if you and I agree, you frequently respond. If we do not agree, I seldom hear from you. I would respect you more if you told me something like, “I know it was the wrong thing to do from a Constitutional point of view, but it was a political expedient.”

At least then I would know you were being honest with me and with yourself. Furthermore, I would know that you actually know and understand the constitutional limits of the federal government.

It appears that “Republican”-branded Congressmen are just as willing to keep state and local governments suckling at the federal teat just as much as the Democrats are.

Earlier, Congressman Paulsen supported extending the CHIP (Child Health Insurance Program) as an extension of Medicaid, and I wrote to him as follows:

Representative Paulsen:

I’m sorry. I thought you were a Republican. Please tell me why your new television advertisements boast about your willingness to access public tax monies for the benefit of a limited group of individuals in the extended socialized medicine program? Also, please cite for me the Constitutional provision that grants to Congress the right to take such actions.

It cannot be the “public welfare” provision, for that only allows Congress to take actions that benefit or will tend to benefit all the public — not restricted or qualified groups.

If you, as an individual, choose to indulge in charity for those less fortunate than yourself, then you are free to do so at your own expense. I will do the same in my personal affairs. But the Constitution does not grant to Congress the authority to extort monies through taxes for the purposes of meeting the wants and needs of the “poor” or any other group smaller than the group of all U.S. citizens.

We elected you, and you swore an oath, to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. Please do so.

I trust you understand the “brand confusion” out here in the general population a bit more clearly now.  I would be delighted to correspond with you further on this matter.


Very sincerely yours,

I think you get the picture. Please let your GOP Party representatives and elected officials know that you would like the party to stand for something other than re-election!

Thank you.

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