Perhaps the greatest difficulty for conservatives during the better part of the George W. Bush era was that we had a president who was nominally a conservative, but, save for Social Security, he showed little enthusiasm for genuine conservative reforms. Re-elected in 2004 with increased Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, Bush had a winning hand, but let the Democrats bluff him. And, well, it seems he didn’t much have the appetite for reform.
As health insurance premiums rose faster than inflation, Republicans were oblivious to popular cries to address health care. Even the party’s nominee in the 2008 election, while putting together a package embodying sensible conservative ideas for reform, didn’t promote his proposal in his campaign — and let his opponent misrepresent that plan. To the Democrat’s credit, he recognized reform as a winning issue, so made it a centerpiece of his campaign. (Of course, he obscured the cost of his proposal and did not stress the details which have now made his current plan so unpopular.)
It is to the great discredit of the GOP that when they had majorities in Congress, they did not move any of the major conservative ideas for health care reform. Had they done so, it would have shown a commitment both to reform and to free market principles. While promoting such a proposal may not have kept Congress in Republican hands, it would certainly show that the GOP was not devoid of new ideas.
Now, that we’re out of power, Republicans should redouble our efforts to show that ours is indeed a reform party.
Jennifer Rubin points to a one-page summary that Jeffrey Anderson has prepared, culling the best of the conservative ideas for health-care reform and putting them on a single page. It behooves Republican candidates and leaders to familiarize themselves with these proposals and promote them in public fora.
No matter what we do, some Democrats will continue to say that Republicans don’t care. But, with the American people paying closer attention to politics than they were a year ago and with new media, Democrats no longer control the debate as they once did. If Republicans regularly promote real reforms, then independent voters (as well as the party’s rank and file) will know that they’ve changed. And with disappointment in the Democrats continuing to mount, that may well give them a second chance come 2010.