The Campaign Spot

So What Would Colin Powell’s Ideal Republican Party Stand for?

My first thought on former secretary of state Colin Powell’s response to Rush Limbaugh and former vice president Cheney was a chuckle that he sought to influence the future course of GOP by appearing on . . . “Face the Nation.” Put aside any allegations of bias on the part of Bob Schieffer; few Republicans watch the Sunday-morning political chat shows, even fewer on Memorial Day weekend, and still fewer watch the CBS offering.

If Powell genuinely wishes to persuade Republicans to alter course, and not just get praise from liberals in the vein of “Why can’t those extremist right wingers be more sensible and moderate like you?” he probably ought to appear on a show that a significant number of Republicans actually watch. In fact, why make the argument in the friendly confines of a mainstream-media television studio? I understand Powell lives in McLean, Virginia; the state party convention is next week. Why not take the case to actual Republicans, instead of to a guaranteed-to-concur inside-the-Beltway anchor?

On Sunday, Powell spent a lot of time citing all the statistics of the GOP’s share of the vote declining, but really didn’t get into what his recommended solution is, other than being “more inclusive.” But what does that mean? Who is currently excluded from the party who ought to be allowed in? Who’s disallowing them?

The closest he got was:

You know, my model for the Republican Party is a great man we just lost, a man by the name of Jack Kemp. Jack was as conservative as anybody. We all know Jack. And Jack also was a man who believed in inclusiveness, reaching out to minorities, reaching out to the poor, sharing the wealth. Which became a bad term last fall, but sharing the wealth of the country not only with the rich, but with those who are least advantaged in our society. It’s that kind of Jack Kemp Republicanism that I like, and I would like to see the party move more in that kind of a direction.

But this is ascribing views to Kemp that he didn’t actually hold. Kemp argued against Obama’s economic proposals, specifically calling them “sharing the wealth.” He lamented, “You don’t raise taxes on investment capital when every financial institution in American is seeking to raise capital to form more capital, to help bail out this economy, or not bail it out, because it’s growing again, and clearly Barack Obama is defined the economics world — there’s no economic theory in the history of mankind that suggests you would raise tax rates so severely, so dramatically in a slow-down of the proportions that we face.”

The Powell vision, to the extent he articulated it, was “sharing the wealth,” “close Guantanamo,” and “be inclusive.” I would offer this thought for those who wish to steer the Republican party in a dramatically different direction – you can’t use “Why can’t Republicans be more like the Democrats?” as your message and then be surprised that people charge that you’re a closet Democrat. In the interview, other than a mild criticism of Obama for pledging to close Guantanamo Bay before having a plan on how to do it, Obama doesn’t really spell out anything he would do differently from the current Democratic administration. As bad as the GOP’s defeats in 2008 were (2009’s actually off to a decent start), a slogan of “Me Too” would not get them anywhere; it would amplify the question of whether a challenging party synonymous with the incumbent had a point to its existence.

One small area where Powell had at least a potential alternative vision: He noted that Americans “want effective government. Government that works and just as much as we need.” The problem is that the Bush administration did a poor job of ensuring that government worked well and had limited interest in cutting the government that didn’t work, while the Obama administration is willing to give us symbolic gestures of cutting programs that don’t work while throwing billions at every area of government except defense.

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