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Do Republicans have the will for reform?

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By Rick Howell

    As President-elect Barack Obama (what a wonderful phrase!) prepares for his January inauguration, reaction to the election results from the other side has ranged from silence to hysteria.

    Even in the Internet age, letters to the editor of a newspaper are always an interesting barometer of what “the public” is thinking, at least some of the public.

    And guess what? Obama’s not a Muslim anymore. It turns out he’s a “Marxist.” That development started during the last gasp of the dying McCain campaign and is now the most popular cry of despair among the defeated mass of conservatives.

    Marxist? I wonder if most people tossing that word around have even the slightest knowledge of what it really means? I doubt it. George W. Bush engaged in a massive redistribution of wealth when he took the tax revenues that we all paid and handed them out by the billions to the richest Americans. But few of his supporters - most of whom didn’t get much - called that “Marxist.”

    If you want to worry about socialism, what do you call the government bailing out the financial markets, the big banks, and, next apparently, the auto industry? What’s Social Security except paying people not to work? That’s the best socialist program in the world, and it happens to be the most popular program in the world, too.

    No, people won’t be fooled by the use of code words that aren’t even truly understood by those using them. What needs to be heard from Republicans now is this: Here’s how we reform our party; details to follow.

    But in all the post-election rhetoric, this doesn’t seem present. I’ve heard conservatives comfort themselves with the notion that this is still a “center-right country,” even though the results don’t back that up.

    I’ve seen what appears to be attempts to make Mitt Romney and - yes, if you can believe it! - Sarah Palin, frontrunners for the Republican nomination in 2012. But I have yet to hear any major Republican talk or write much about how the GOP is to reform itself and get back into the game.

    This begs the question: Will responsible Republicans push aside those who haven’t learned anything from their massive defeat and advance a reform agenda for their party? If so, what should that agenda be?

    From the victor’s perch, I’ll be glad to offer them some suggestions….First, the base of the party has got to be broadened beyond the two current factions: white conservative men and Christian fundamentalists.

    The Republican Party has got to reach out to minorities. The sea of white faces at Republican rallies looks like something out of a 1968 George Wallace event. It doesn’t look America and minorities know it.

    Secondly, the religious right has to be brought under control by more mainstream Republicans. “Secular” is not a dirty word; neither is “moderate.”

    As for issues, well, the GOP should start with the following: Stop denying human responsibility for global warming; commit to doing something about 50 million Americans without health care; reject the Bush doctrine of “pre-emptive” war; and finally admit - say it out loud, as Bob Dole did in 1996 - that government has an important role to play in the fundamental development of a modern economy and a just nation.

    Become, again, the Republican Party of Lincoln and Eisenhower, or, in today’s terms, the party of Colin Powell, Richard Lugar, Chuck Hagel, and yes, the moderate, year 2000 version of Sen. John McCain.

    Will they do it? The better question is this: Do the few moderates still remaining in that party have the guts? Because that’s what it will take.

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    Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.