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Published: Saturday, 11/18/2006

Election Day drubbing offers GOP an opportunity for painful reassessment

BY PHIL SCHURRER
Schurrer: The GOP needs to clean up its own house. Schurrer: The GOP needs to clean up its own house.
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THE Grand Old Party took a drubbing on Election Day. As a lifelong Republican, I'm feeling a bit ambivalent about this. While hating to see the GOP lose, I frankly think we deserve it. In view of recent events I've occasionally been reluctant to publicly admit my Republican leanings.

The GOP has traditionally been the party of small government, low taxes, fiscal restraint, and balanced budgets. Underlying it all was a well-honed ethical sense. It has built past platforms on these foundations. But somehow we've lost our way.

There is probably little difference between Republican and Democrat in identifying our national problems. Taxes, Iraq, abortion, the economy - most Americans can probably agree on the short list of challenges, both national and local.

Where we disagree is how to solve them. What impedes our ability to solve them is the rancor that now passes for political debate.

The only way to end the corrosive partisanship of the past few years is to heed the advice of Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet that Lyndon Johnson was so fond of quoting: "Come, let us sit down and reason together."

I was fortunate enough to see this in action recently.

Several months ago, I attended a discussion held at the Catholic Student Parish in Bowling Green. Present was a representative from the Toledo Catholic Diocese and a representative from the BGSU Women's Center. The topic was abortion.

What followed was a civil, thoughtful, and respectful discussion. While probably no one's position was changed, it's safe to say that most of us gained a greater appreciation of the other point of view.

This respect, accompanied by disagreement, should be the essence of political dialogue. We need to develop the ability to separate the idea from the messenger and to reject ideas (after careful evaluation) while giving the other person or group the respect and dignity they are due.

Certain concepts should animate the rebuilding of the Grand Old Party.

First is transparency. We must not be afraid of washing our dirty linen in public. Americans are a fair-minded group and they will give credit to any political party that seeks to publicly purge itself of error and corruption.

Second, the GOP must somehow break its connection with large campaign contributions. While it may be true that money is mother's milk to politics, Lord Acton's comment that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" is pertinent. And money is power.

To achieve this, we may have to become comfortable with a new perspective on the First Amendment, such as a limit on contributions and political terms in office. This would undoubtedly involve amending the Constitution. But it's a debate worth having.

Third, the GOP needs to set the example and walk the higher road of treating others - all others - with dignity and respect, without necessarily agreeing with their position or expecting courteous treatment in return. As Churchill said in another context: "Let them do their worst. We will do our best."

A prime example is the use of negative political ads.

When a candidate or a cause resorts to mudslinging, it suggests a lack of a well-thought-out alternative plan of action. Those who throw mud must remember that some of it sticks to them. The result is that both the candidate and the position are not taken seriously.

Lastly, a little humility wouldn't hurt. If the GOP cannot arrive at a better alternative to solving a particular issue, then we shouldn't field a candidate or take a position. Save our recourses and creditability. Pick our fights carefully.

Admittedly, this is - and will be - tough work. We've dug ourselves a hole and the first step in recovery is to stop digging.

G.K. Chesterton was correct when he said in another context that the problem was not that it was tried and found difficult, but that it was found difficult and thus not tried.

With guidelines such as these, the Republican Party at all levels can begin to recover the respect and creditability it once enjoyed.

We should not wait for the opposition. If we can't set the example by cleaning our own house, we don't deserve the support of the people.

Phil Schurrer is an instructor in Accounting and Taxation at Bowling Green State University.



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