Over the past few weeks news outlets all around the world, including The Saint, have featured countless pieces on the US government shutdown. While this isn’t a totally new phenomenon, it is an uncommon one. And almost all international outlets have attempted to explain the concept of a ‘shutdown’ to their citizens who cannot fathom the idea of government leaders causing hundreds of thousands of federal employees to be furloughed and services to be shut down because they can’t agree on implementing a law that’s already been passed. It’s not so much the fact that this happened that concerns me, but the fact that it will likely happen again in a few months. The debt ceiling will need to be raised again in January and House Republicans are unlikely to make it easy for this to happen the next time around.
As a matter of full disclosure, I am the president of Republicans Abroad St Andrews and I’ve been a Republican, more or less, since I first voted three and a half years ago. It is important to realise that this doesn’t mean I have voted straight Republican. In fact, I have not voted for just Republicans. Furthermore, following the 2010 midterm elections I switched my party registration to unaffiliated or independent. I simply felt that the extremism I was witnessing in my own party was hard to bear, but in the end I still supported many of the party veterans in the GOP that were committed to doing what was best for the country.
Over the past few years, I’ve had a fairly extensive amount of experience working with policy experts, lobbyists and politicians themselves between internships at the US Chamber of Commerce and the US House of Representatives. In both positions, I met pragmatic people I liked a lot and a few ideologues who didn’t seem to let me get a word in before shoving their manifestos down my throat. It seems that while the former still exists in Washington, the latter is becoming increasingly present.
This shutdown, often referred to as the Ted Cruz shutdown, is one of the longest in recent history and the first one in 17 years. As easy as it is for the Tea Party to blame the president and Senate Democrats, the public is mostly on the president’s side. The massive failure that was the Obamacare rollout seemed to be largely ignored as millions of Americans cancelled family trips to national parks and thousands of employees wondered when they would be able to return to work. Is this what the 113th Congress wants to be remembered for? How can Republicans possibly cast this in a positive light for the 2014 midterm elections or the 2016 presidential election?
I was struck by James Baker’s piece in the FT last weekend when he highlighted the issues in today’s Republican party and the negative consequences of the shutdown, including an approximately $24 billion cost to the federal government and billions more in lost GDP. Many GOP leaders, both current and former, like Baker, have addressed the issue of Republicans focusing on everything that’s wrong with government and in turn having a draconian approach to spending, the ‘I want it all or nothing’ attitude, instead of focusing on the areas that government can do well in and improving efficiencies in government. Instead of focusing on the negative, they could be discussing the ways in which we can help out others in need.
I can’t help but think the Republican party has a strong future ahead for itself so long as its leaders either wake up or get out of the way. There are many young people in the party that want to help those in need and see the government as a potential way to do that. Additionally, we are socially liberal and believe that people should be able to marry those they love, get a background check if they buy a gun, and that we as humans have a responsibility to protect our environment for future generations. Is that too much to ask for? I would hardly call myself a RINO (Republican In Name Only) for advocating those policies, but instead someone who has the common sense ideas that everyone can get behind.
Most importantly, we support an efficient government that can cut out unnecessary costs, has a fair tax code without numerous loopholes for various high net worth individuals and corporations, and a balanced budget that will allow federal programmes to remain solvent for me and future generations down the road. The party needs to get with the 21st century and focus on sensible approaches to making our entitlement programmes more efficient and sustainable. This party has some great economic solutions for the country but young people can’t get past seeing the GOP as the laughing stock of America when idiots like Todd Akin fill the newswires with comments like “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
I’d like to challenge my peers to take a second look at this party and understand that not everyone is perfect all the time and not everyone in a party subscribes to the same platform. Check out the phenomenal work being done by Republican governors and mayors across the country who have balanced budgets, increased government efficiencies and even created surpluses to further provide for their citizens.
Bill Clinton helped bring the Democrats to the centre after decades of Republican victories over far left liberals. I believe the same moderate future is possible for the GOP. I’m not sure who their saviour will be – John Huntsman, Jeb Bush, Scott Brown, Condoleezza Rice, to name a few possible candidates – but I do hope he or she comes very soon.