From the Right: Republicans need a new idol

By Phil Boynton
On April 8, 2014

Ronald Reagan is one of my favorite presidents, as he is of many other Republicans across the country - and for good reason. His sunny optimism and happy warrior-like approach to politics reignited the conservative movement in America and made the Republicans a force to be reckoned with in American politics for the last 30 years. He reaffirmed our faith that the best ideas come not from government, but from the free market. He helped hasten the end of the Cold War by taking a hard line against communism and the Soviet Union. He is in the eyes of many the last great lion of the Republican Party. Since he left office, politicians across the political spectrum have been trying to embrace the Reagan mantle, and leaders in the Republican Party have been searching for the heir to the Reagan throne to no avail.

Ronald Reagan was a transformative figure in American politics and he is a great figure in the Republican Party to look up to for successful conservative leadership, but Republicans cannot keep living in the past and yearning for the nostalgia of the 1980s. We must stop worshiping Reagan as an idol and look to the future as we rebuild the Republican Party.

Republicans in every presidential primary since 1988 have been trying to be Reagan, essentially folding themselves into a pretzel in order to be the most like Reagan. He's quoted in debates, speeches and held up as the standard for all Republican presidential candidates. Frankly, it's time for the party to be relevant again and stop taking a page from the Reagan playbook and look at how to reinvent and rebrand the party. 

Moving past Reagan is not a simple task. He is a towering figure over the Republican Party and for good reason. He is a Republican who we hold up as a standard of greatness. The two Republican presidents to come after him, both Bushs, are not held in such a light and generally regarded as failures who abandoned the Reagan playbook. Still, in the place of Reagan, we as a party have forgotten other Republican presidents like Dwight Eisenhower, Calvin Coolidge, Theodore Roosevelt and of course the man responsible for the Republican Party: Abraham Lincoln. 

All these presidents are diminished when compared to the Reagan legacy, but the party is more than just the Party of Reagan. Before we go out of business, we need to stop running the Reagan campaign and start running as our own Republicans, with our own agendas and own ideas, not continuously borrowing from Reagan.

Presidents like Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt loom large in Democratic circles, but Democrats don't run around today pretending to be modern day coming of either president. They acknowledge their legacies, they respect their presidencies, but they don't emulate them. Republicans should take a page from their liberal counterparts and acknowledge Reagan, but stop trying to be Reagan.   

What will this new Republican Party be? What policies will the Republican Party stand for? These are the central questions for a party still trying to find itself almost two years after Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney. Sure, we've scored some wins: the special election for Executive Council here in the Granite State, a win in the Florida special election for Congress. On the issue of Obamacare, the party is unified, but we must go further than Obamacare. We must go further than our rhetoric. We cannot be merely the opposition, road blocking President Obama and the Democrats at every turn. We must embrace what our party has always been, what we were founded on: Reformers. Pragmatist. Problem Solvers.

The label of problem solvers is what the Republicans must become in order to position itself as a viable, governing alternative to the Democrats. Merely opposing Obamacare is not enough. We need to push our own reforms for healthcare and our own solutions to make government work for the people, not against the people. 

The Democrats are tied to their ideology. They love big government. They know no other solution. They see a problem, and they answer it with more government. We see the world differently. We realize that all problems cannot and should not be solved by government, but as responsible leaders we have a duty to ensure that government works and works properly. 

The party should stand in the tradition of our founder, the first Republican president and embrace what he said, "government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more."  

On the issue of government it should be the sole mission of the Republican Party, not to as some have said to shrink it so much that it can be drowned in the tub. Instead, to be practical and make government more efficient and effective in our lives. How? By reducing the number of bureaucracies, or regulations, like the healthcare mandate, or reforming the tax, which means seriously reducing - if not doing away with all together - the IRS. A government, which acts as a referee, not a player picking winners and losers and usurping the job of the free market. 

In other areas the GOP must soften its approach. I am not advocating abandoning principles, but modernizing. Or in the words of Senator Rand Paul: evolve, adapt or die. We must adapt to the times and evolve as a party that is a big tent one and remember that while we are the party of Reagan we are also the party of Teddy Roosevelt, Coolidge and Eisenhower. 

I imagine if Reagan were here today, he'd be flattered by conservatives' admiration for him and his policies, but he'd want them to be their own candidates with their own ideas and own future. For we as a party cannot shape the future while we are still living in the past. We are a forward thinking people, one that continually looks at how to make tomorrow better and brighter than today. The Republican Party can and must be the party which offers hope for a better tomorrow. The NSA Scandal, IRS targeting Conservative groups, the Obamacare debacle, all these are examples of big government run amok and are opportunities for the Republican Party to assert themselves as a governing alternative to the Democrats. A party of ideas aimed at making government work better and be less intrusive in our lives.

The American people are not partisans. They are pragmatists. They want to know their tax dollars are being used wisely and their government is performing its most basic functions and then they want to be left alone to live their lives.  

We aren't going to get this approach from the Democrats, so it is time for the Republicans to step up and claim this mantle. I am not advocating abandoning Reagan, but simply acknowledging that we as a party must move on. Democrats moved on from FDR and redefined themselves in a Post-Roosevelt Era and Republican can do it too, we just haven't been able to yet. 

But we should take note of the a lesson from the 34th President of the United States - Dwight Eisenhower - a widely admired but often forgotten Republican president, who said, "Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him." As the party rebrands itself - let us remember these words.






Phil Boynton is a senior political science major and president of the UNH College Republicans. 

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