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Seeking a new direction

Robert Downes - May 4th, 2009
Seeking a new direction
Robert Downes 5/4/09

Rick Snyder, the surprise Republican candidate for governor in 2010, strikes you as the kind of guy who could save the Grumpy Old Party from going down the path to extinction.
With an open expression, a youthful demeanor and an emphatic way of listening, Snyder thinks of himself as a “green” Republican, interested in preserving the environment and promoting alternative energy as avenues for solving Michigan’s job crisis. An Ann Arbor venture capitalist with the firm Ardesta, he served as the interim CEO of Gateway Computers a few years back, offering credence that he may be the sort of person with big ideas and business savvy to turn our state around.
Snyder stopped by the
Express offices last week as part of his statewide listening tour. “I’ve been visiting communities across the state to hear what people have to say about jobs and Michigan’s direction,” he said.
Much of what he’s heard has been pretty gloomy, especially coming direct to Traverse City from the Upper Peninsula, where unemployment is above 20 percent, with not much hope on the horizon.
So we were quick to point out that life seems to be much brighter here in the ‘magic bubble’ of northwestern Michigan, where various windpower projects are starting to take root, along with our robust tourism and agricultural industries. We pointed out that the Grand Traverse Commons renovation project in Traverse City is going like gangbusters and that our region is percolating with ideas for festivals, downtown destinations and new manufacturing schemes.
Not surprisingly, Snyder feels that Michigan suffers from a leadership crisis. This is what every Republican candidate for governor might be expected to say, including U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Holland, State Attorney General Mike Cox, Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson -- one of whom will face off against Lt. Governor John Cherry in the next election.
But what may set Snyder apart from that pack is that he doesn’t come off as an “ideological” Republican of the sort that has knee-capped the party with a hard-right slant.
That, of course, may also be what does him in, because members of his own party have already smeared him as being a “moderate” -- pariahs which the GOP has sought to rip out root-and-branch from their so-called “Big Tent” of inclusion (and if ever there was an oxymoron, it’s the Big Tent metaphor of this aging white mens‘ party).
In March, the Grand Rapids Press wrote about Snyder’s struggle to avoid being tarred as a moderate by the Right to Life crowd. He was singled out for giving $1,000 to the Republican Leadership Council, which is deemed to be too “liberal” on social causes, and he backed last November’s successful embryonic stem cell initiative with a $2,000 donation to Cure Michigan.
His campaign adviser, John Yob, rushed to assert that Snyder is a pro-life candidate, which apparently sets the bar for all Republicans who hope to make it in the party.
Message? Republican candidates are expected to get in line on issues that are out of touch with mainstream America if they hope to get on the ballot.
Consider what the Republican Party has come to these days. Each night on television we see President Obama and the Democrats taking bold action on health care, the economy, Afghanistan, torture, the banking crisis, mortgages, jobs, the auto industry... Who knows? They may be screwing up, but they’re doing something. And there following right behind is some nagging Republican naysayer, taking shots and obstructing progress without offering any plausible way out of our nation’s troubles.
Then there’s the party’s de facto leader, Rush Limbaugh, who actually huffs like a baboon or an alpha male gorilla in his TV appearances (check out Animal Planet and see) and has put RNC Chairman Michael Steele (and other top Republicans) into the cravenly role of apologizing for pointing out that he seems to be off his meds most of the time.
That’s not leadership. Someone in the GOP needs to give this bully a hard and very public slap the way Bill Clinton put left-wing activist Sistah Souljah in her place during his first presidential campaign.
Last week, a poll claimed that only 21 percent of Americans identify themselves as Republicans these days, and there was much head-scratching on the talk shows as to why there’s not a single Republican congressman in New England. And why, oh why, did Senator Arlen Specter defect from the party after 29 years on the Republican side of the aisle?
Specter provided the answer in a press conference: “Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.”
That perhaps, is why more moderate candidates like Rick Snyder could be the salvation of the Republican Party. The winning GOP issues and constituencies of the past: right-to-life, fundamentalist religion, tax cuts for the rich, opposing stem cell research and universal health care, denying global warming, opposition to gay rights, and launching a war with no exit strategy -- to name a few -- are a losing hand. As many commentators have noted, the Republican Party is shrinking into the party of the Old Confederacy, both geographically and socially.
But that could turn on a dime -- just as it did for the Democrats.
If you’ll recall, less than 10 years ago, Karl Rove was predicting a “permanent majority” for the Republican Party, with America becoming a virtual one-party nation.
It was only because of a series of spectacular blunders on the part of the Bush administration that we avoided getting on that train. That, and the unexpected appearance of conservative and centrist Democrats on the national scene who swept the 2006 congressional elections with new ideas.
So, don’t write the Republican Party off... unless of course, they keep following their same old talk radio recipe for failure. If they can get a few more moderates in the party like Rick Snyder -- who seem to be a bit more clued in on what mainstream Americans want these days -- you’ll see a big resurgence.
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