I had planned to write a column about how the Thanksgiving holiday would give us all a chance to chill out and decompress from what has been an intense and hard-fought presidential election. After all, Thanksgiving is celebrated the same way in both blue and red states. Any disagreements about the best type of stuffing or the correct number of vegetables to serve are nonpartisan in nature.
Apparently, however, Mitt Romney, Karl Rove and Bill O’Reilly have not gotten the holiday spirit and are anxiously offering their views on who is to blame for the Republican Party’s Nov. 6 flameout. It is a bit ironic since Thanksgiving is really a celebration of a group of immigrants (undocumented) expressing their gratitude for the promise of their new land.
Still, all three see Barack Obama’s victory as the triumph of some other America that they scarcely recognize. Romney, in essence, reverted to his 47 percent analysis of the public — dependent moochers all — while O’Reilly complained that the winning coalition wanted “things and stuff” from government. Rove wasn’t particularly coherent in his comments, but seemed primarily eager to avoid discussion of the hundreds of millions of dollars he blew to no effect during the election.
What is most amazing about the Republican commentary on the election is how surprised — the word “shell-shocked” was even used — they all were about the results. That’s the product of creating your own facts and reality and ignoring the reality in front of you.
The Romney campaign led backward, not forward. Picking a “true” conservative as the party’s nominee in 2016 won’t help their basic disconnect with the changing profile of the American electorate. While seceding and forming their own red country might be appealing until they think about the practical details, a better route to competitiveness would be to examine the direction of one of the nation’s bluest states: Maryland.
Let me suggest five policy trends evident in Maryland that could be instructive for a political party trying to avoid irrelevance. However Republicans respond to these trends, the one thing they cannot afford is to ignore them.
Maryland this year approved its version of the Dream Act. This wise investment in the state’s human capital reflects an appreciation of the value of immigrants rather than the demonizing that has characterized the Republican approach.
Just because a different approach to a rapidly growing demographic group is essential, and is even being advocated by some Republicans as a necessary tactical adjustment, doesn’t mean that the party that caters to its angry base will easily make that shift.
This policy issue also goes to the broader question of the Republican position with respect to every group in the country other than older white males. Paul Ryan concluded that the ticket’s loss was due to the “urban” vote. Actually, they lost everywhere, but Ryan’s base supporters certainly understand who lives in urban areas.
Their stance toward women, going way beyond the issues of abortion and contraception, was staggeringly stupid. Their dogmatic views on those two issues suggest again that a shift in direction won’t be easy.
Maryland also passed a marriage-equality ballot measure this year. This is a rising tide in America, and Republican antipathy toward gays and lesbians is but another example of alienating a group that pays attention and votes.
Moving from social issues, Maryland has demonstrated a farsighted approach to three of the most pressing public policy issues facing the nation. Balancing the state budget has involved a combination of budget cuts and increased revenues.
Resistance to a similar approach at the national level raises the question of how serious opponents are about dealing with budget deficits. And, as the European experience shows, relying just on austerity measures extends recessions rather than cures them.
On the expenditure side, maintaining spending on education is a key investment without which we will fall farther behind our international competitors. Maryland’s record in this area demonstrates a serious commitment, even in tough economic times. This issue should be an easy one for Republicans to support, especially considering that businesses needing skilled workers are a key constituency for the party. Just saying “no” without thought of alternatives is not a policy.
Finally, Maryland policymakers have, within the limits of the state’s authority, identified protecting the environment as a basic responsibility of this generation. Mitt Romney’s cheap joke at the convention about Obama’s concern with rising sea levels must not seem too funny to either Republicans or Democrats in New Jersey and New York.
Maryland has not done everything correctly. Failing to act on transportation funding needs is a serious mistake. Annual battles about extending gambling take the focus off more pressing challenges. We are not making progress in “saving” the Chesapeake Bay, and our land-use decisions are often driven by the wrong values.
Still, Maryland officials and voters have not buried their heads in the sand about the issues that will define the future. Republicans could learn some lessons from this state’s experience. They might even find themselves facing a presidential candidate in 2016 who knows a lot about the Maryland approach.
Laslo Boyd does consulting in higher education, public policy and politics. His email address is email@example.com.