This week’s Courier Herald column:
This week we bring in a new year, which is always a time for optimism. If not, why would we all make resolutions we all know we have little chance of keeping? Face it, we are an optimistic people at heart.
For political types, 2015 will essentially be an election year. We’ll be electing a new President in 2016 – the actual election year. But as there is no incumbent and the Republicans don’t even have an official standard bearer, 2015 will be the year that candidates and parties define themselves on the national stage leading into primaries that will begin roughly thirteen months from now.
There is a natural tendency to look backward as this process begins. After all, two of the leading candidates have the names of Bush and Clinton. A third has the name Romney. It’s understandable that some voters may begin this campaign with fatigue even before we begin the two year process to swear in our nation’s next Commander In Chief. Even President Obama says Americans will be looking for a candidate with a “new car smell.”
Republicans have an exceptional opportunity to redefine themselves and their message. They haven’t been the incumbent party in the White House for 8 years, and recent election successes in both Congress and in state level elections give them a deep bench and a broad network from which to draw both talent and ideas. The party that has found success running against an unpopular President will have to decide if they believe they can do that again with him no longer on the ballot, or if they will better define what they stand “for.”
There are signs the economy that has long shown anemic growth is starting to improve, and how Republicans handle this good news will help define their message and choose their messengers. They should note, first of all, that the economy began to stabilize with the Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives. While many decry the gridlock that has followed, most investors have not. Gridlock means stability, and it has given investors some semblance of certainty needed to place their economic bets.
Republicans can also take credit for the falling energy prices. Democrats of course will be taking credit for that too, but try to find the ones that have been openly pushing fracking or trying to get the Keystone pipeline built so that shale oil from Canada and North Dakota can more easily get to U.S. refineries. This is a win for the GOP.
Then, there’s the budget deficit. Sequestration hasn’t been pleasant, but the deficits are coming down. This would have never happened had it not been forced by a Republican House.
Americans have been wary of international politics during the last elections. Republicans should not be shy about helping Americans understand what a US role should look like on the international stage. The two issues mentioned above speak directly to international relations. If America can sustain its oil production in the current price environment, it directly diminishes our dependence on OPEC countries – and allows us to have a stronger hand when negotiating foreign policy with Middle Eastern countries.
Likewise, if the budget deficit can be erased, it would give the US a much stronger bargaining position with lending nations like China. This would give us an edge when dealing with human rights and environmental issues – ones that have been dodged and avoided as long as we’ve been dependent on China to buy US bonds.
We will, of course, have to continue to watch how Russia deals with significantly lower oil prices. This is both a threat and an opportunity. Russia’s domestic problems will force them to have to handle domestic problems, and give the US an opportunity to strengthen ties to Eastern Europe.
Too many Republicans have spent the last 6 years in a state of outward bitterness that will not attract swing voters that wanted “Hope and Change.” While the case can be made that the change that is needed is different, Republicans must return to being the party of hope. To do so, we must sell the opportunities that lie before us, and recognize that the US economy is in better shape than most. We must articulate that we are poised to do even better, and discuss the policies that will enable that to happen.
Given the negative rhetoric that emanates from far too many within the GOP, this will be a tall order. But what can I say? It’s a new year. And I’m an optimist.