Over at the HQ for the last little while, we've been talking about Rebranding the Republican Party (or the Conservative movement- sometimes the two get conflated when they shouldn't). I've commented a lot over there, but I wanted to use this space to get a bunch of ideas all in one place.
First off, as I see it, the Republican Party and the Conservative Movement are not the same thing. I am a Conservative. Until and unless the Republican Party can prove to me that they are also Conservative, I am not a Republican (even though I'll probably vote "R" much more often than "L" for the moment). Now, Many Republicans are Conservative, and I would venture that most Conservatives are Republican, but not all Republicans are Conservatives, and a goodly number of Conservatives vote Libertarian (I cannot believe anyone who is conservative could vote Democrat in good conscience).
To that end, it is the Conservative Movement that I will be discussing.
So, if you're ready to come along for the ride, take a look under the fold.
Now, when we speak of "Rebranding" we could mean a few different things. We could mean, as the Liberals/Progressives seem to do every few decades, changing our "name." This decade we could be "Constitutionalists," next decade we could be "Freedomists," and maybe the next after that we could come back to "Conservatives."
Personally, I think that's silly.
On the other hand, what we could mean when we talk about "rebranding" is a combination of associations and messaging. This is where I think we should be making changes.
First: associations. As Ace said (yes, he quoted one of my comments, but his analysis stands on its own): Liberals have a penchant for lying. They often name their organizations something that sounds universal. Conservatives, however, always name our organizations as "conservative." I think we need to stop doing that. Particularly, we need to stop doing it as relates to any non-political (on its face) organization. College organizations are a good example- while I think it's good to have a "College Republicans" group, I think we need a lot more conservative-leaning groups. We could name them things like "The Free Debate Society," or "The Club for Personal Prosperity." Then those groups could host lectures (more on this in a moment).
Now, many say that "any organization which is not specifically conservative will turn liberal." This is true in many ways. On the other hand, it is not impossible to overcome. First off, you seed the initial structure with Conservatives. Then, you convince them that what they're doing is important; if they see it as important, they're more likely to stick with it instead of giving that power over to someone else. Finally, you convince them to pick their own successors. If they're mentoring people under them and grooming them for the various positions of leadership, you're more likely to get an unbroken continuity of Conservative leadership.
It won't work 100% of the time, but it will work more than what we're doing now.
Back to these lectures. Too often, the "College Republicans" will host someone to give a speech on some Conservative topic, and no one shows up. Or everyone who does show up is either part of the opposition or simply there to watch the fireworks in the Q&A session. On the other hand, if "The Club for Personal Prosperity" has some (conservative) blogger come, they can hype the session on campus and generate a pretty good crowd. Then that conservative blogger can give the conservative message.
"But," you say, "if they do that, people will start calling the group conservative!" And you're right. But you can combat that, too. To combat that, you specifically ask liberals to come as well. Invite them regularly (no more than 2:1 conservative:liberal, and I'm thinking 3:2 would be a better ratio). Then, make sure you put out the posters and all of that, but don't quite pull out all the stops to generate attendance. Further, you make sure that the speaker (and stick with the B team, just like you're using B team conservatives) knows that a Q&A period of a minimum of 10-15 minutes is expected. Then you seed (just like the liberals do) your front several rows with people who will ask questions from a conservative standpoint.
Then, when someone says, "Oh, that's the Conservative 'Club for Personal Prosperity,' the Club's officers can say, with absolute truthfulness, "No. We are neither Conservative nor Liberal, we are not for Republicans or Democrats. The Club does not make any political donations, and we have speakers of all viewpoints."
Now, the point of this is not that you'll get a bunch of converts (though, hopefully you'll get some). The point of this exercise is to get a fair hearing. If you can get these college kids to hear the conservative viewpoint, but give it a fair hearing, then those same ideas won't be as scary later. You don't expect converts from these lectures.
Where do you expect converts from, then? Evangelism. Conservatives need to be proud about being conservative. We need to be proud that we're for lower taxes and lower spending. We need to be proud that we believe in the sanctity of life. We need to be proud that we believe a peaceful world is generally a more prosperous one.
We also need to be up-front that Liberal Policies are bad. We don't have to go so far as to say "evil," (whatever we may believe) because that will prevent people from giving us the fair hearing we so need. But we can point out that Liberal Policies on, for instance, DDT kill millions of African children every year, and seem to be leading to a slow increase in insect borne illness even in the First World. We can point out that Liberal policies on taxation and spending take more money out of the economy (don't even bring "the rich" into it) and put more money in the hands of "consultants" and political contributors.
Of course, once we get that fair hearing, we still won't convince anyone if we're telling them they're evil, or if we ask them to go too far against their perceived values. You can't talk to some college kid on the Berkley campus and say "We need to end abortion!" No, you have to talk about things they can agree with.
You say, instead, "The Federal Government has simply grown too large and too intrusive. We need to start scaling it back to a more reasonable level." Most of them will agree with that (okay, maybe not in Berkley, but the point stands). You say, "We need to ensure that the promises we've already made can be kept before we make even more promises." Most of them will agree with that, too.
There are three particular places, though, where Conservative/Republican philosophy is painted as being at odds with America. Those are Immigration, Abortion, and Same-Sex Marriage. While most of the country actually agrees with our positions, the Media has successfully tricked them into believing that we would like to round up all immigrants and homosexuals and at least put them in camps. They believe we would like to make any abortion ever illegal. We know none of this is the truth, but we can't even get a fair hearing to talk to people about what our actual positions are.
So, on these particularly, the National Republican Party (as, unfortunately, the spokes-people for the Conservative Movement) needs to take a new track completely. On Abortion and Same-Sex Marriage, it is time to call for true Federalization. That is, return that power where it rightly belongs- to the several states. Let Texas decide for Texas, and let California decide for California.
That Federalism fight will be a hard one, for a variety of reasons. To get people to understand we're serious, we have to fight it on other things, too. We need to work on returning the right of a farmer to grow his own chicken-feed free of Federal Oversight. We need to return most mineral rights to the States, where they belong. We need to stop the aggressive growth of most Federal bureaucracies, and return those rights- even the ones where we think the US Government is doing the right thing- back to the States.
That leaves Immigration- specifically Illegal Immigration. Since Immigration is specifically a Federal matter, simply returning it to the States won't work. This is actually easier than many would think. I would not be surprised if the majority of Americans could get behind these ideas.
1) Begin enforcing current law (we're actually already sort of doing this, though in a way as to be as inconvenient as possible). Focus on employers. In this one instance, I advocate Show Trials. Let people see that hiring illegal aliens is much more expensive than hiring legal residents.
2) No Welfare for illegals. That means no food-stamps, no Medicaid, no requirement that ERs treat. If you can't prove you're here legally, you don't get a dime of Federal tax-payer money. Couple this with a "lazy-enforcement" policy that says "We're not going to pursue you. Keep your nose clean and don't make us take notice that you're here illegally, and you have nothing to fear from ICE."
That sounds contradictory to #1, but it's not, really. Once we do have to take official notice that a given resident is an illegal alien, they would be subject to the law as appropriate (deportation or whatever). Until then, if they're really not a burden on society or criminal (beyond their illegal entry), then we have much bigger fish to fry.
3) After 1 and 2 are done and proven to be the new Status Quo, then we introduce a new immigration status: "Registered Illegal" or whatever. Basically, for a nominal cost an illegal alien could register and gain their legal status. However, this new status would a) prevent them from receiving welfare benefits and b) prevent them ever from becoming US Citizens until and unless they returned to their country of origin and started over from the beginning.
Yes, #3 is a type of Amnesty. I'm realist enough to realize we're not going to get anywhere if we don't offer that. It sucks, but it's true. This form, at least, really does nothing to encourage illegal aliens. If they're really just here because they want jobs at better pay than they can get at home, that's fine. Welcome. If they want to become Americans, then they'd better do it the right way.
Now, all of those points would need fleshing out. I can see some holes already (what do we do about "anchor babies," or illegals who were brought over as minors, for instance), but they're a good framework to start with. I think most conservatives- provided #1 & #2 happened first, would be okay with #3, however distasteful they might find it.
In all three cases (Abortion, Same-sex Marriage, and Immigration) this gives us a much moderated stance which- 1) allows us to stay true to Conservatism, both in the sense of Social Conservatism (I can advocate that my state never allow any abortion ever, if I so choose), and in the sense of Small Government (taking power away from the Federal Government), 2) allows us to avoid many of the pitfalls which have traditionally plagued Conservatives over these matters ("Hey, I'm not talking about specific cases of abortion, I'm talking about the Federal Role in the area."), and 3) seem much more "moderate" and "middle-of-the-road" to those people sitting on the fence.