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Column: Election Result Gives GOP Cause To Reassess

This story was written by Brian Bolduc, Harvard Crimson

Political parties are machines, and last night, the Republican Party broke. To fix it, conservatives must update their blueprint and learn the right lessons from 2008.This year, Americans top concern was the economy, yet John McCain failed to address it adequately. McCain dwelt on his commitment to cut taxes and halt earmarks, but voters were more concerned about a stable healthcare system and family finances. After three Republican presidents in thirty years, taxes and spending lack the political salience they once had. Today, four in five taxpayers pay more in payroll taxes than they do in income taxes and some 29 million Americans pay no income tax at all. Republicans have become victims of their success; they must extend their focus to more pressing issues, like the rising costs of education, healthcare, and retirement.Unfortunately, some Republicans now think they must lurch to the Left on these issues to sway voters. Despite all the Democrats allegations of partisan inflexibility, many conservatives already have begun their swing, especially during George Bushs tenure. No Child Left Behind stamped federal standards on local schools and Medicare Part D bloated government spending.Meanwhile, liberals weaknesses on these issues remain unexplored. Democrats support of state mandates on health insurance policies and their refusal to allow people to buy health insurance across state lines has kept prices high. As a result, a health insurance policy that costs less than $1,000 in Kentucky costs over $5,800 in New Jersey. A conservative solution to health care, which extends beyond mere tax exemptions, needs to be articulated.On the flip side, many activists complain McCain was soft on Obamas connections to Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers. But a recent New York Times/CBS poll found that voters who rejected McCain in the final stretch cited his persistent attacks on Obamas character as one of their main reasons for doing so. While Obamas associations were fair game, they ultimately seemed irrelevant, and McCains harping on them revealed a lack of innovative ideas on more important issues.The next crop of Republican leaders should retain their conservatism and their grit, but they should use it wisely. Rather than campaign on issues that won in 1980 or focus exclusively on their opponents character, Republicans must adapt conservatism to the needs of the day. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, for example, is tackling education and healthcare with proposals to increase school vouchers and transparency in health care costs. Jindal is a future Republican leader, but he is only one person. The dearth of young leaders is probably the most pressing problem the Republican Party faces.Still, after last nights blowout, conservatives have a blueprint for reform. They must adapt conservatism to the needs of the day and inject some life into their party. If they fail, the GOP will continue to sputter, and Democrats will be eager to pick up the scraps.
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