Stick to Your Guns
Earlier this month, former Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a speech in Washington, D.C., during which he observed that the Republican Party was "getting smaller and smaller," and that this fact was "not good for the nation." In order to address this issue, Powell advised his Republican colleagues to move back towards the middle of the country's political spectrum.
Powell's comments came shortly after long-time Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania announced that he will be running as a Democrat next year.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, has suggested that the party's loss of Specter could have been avoided. In an opinion piece in The New York Times, Snowe urged members of her party to broaden its scope and be more willing to embrace the ideas of the party's more moderate members.
Despite the advice of Powell and Snow, for Republicans to move towards the center would be harmful both to the country and to the Republican Party.
Voters need to be given a diversity of choices when it comes to elected representatives. It is better for our representatives to have different ideas and to compete for votes, than to cater to the party in power. There should be elected officials representing minority views on any given issue. Even if a voter does not vote Republican, he or she may still agree with Republicans on a particular issue, and it is important for these voices to be heard. When Republicans are not in power, the fact that they're actively articulating a different point of view is important because it sends a message to the Democrats that there are voters out there who disagree with the current government's policies.
One may argue that a Republican shift to the center would be more in tune with the American people, and that, in general, moderation is preferable to radicalism. But this solution will only create another problem. If the losing party shifts towards the center, it will allow the winning party to shift accordingly: away from the center, and towards radicalism.
To allow the minority party to be "cooperative," and fall in line with the party in power, would mean to lose an important aspect of our two-party system -- the power of checks. A lack of opposition would allow the party in power to comfortably continue its policies. Continual opposition is healthy, as it requires the party in power to continue to justify its policies and to be more willing to compromise. Furthermore, the majority party, in the absence of opposition, would not only continue with its current policies, but would likely be inclined to make its policies more extreme.
During the presidential primaries last year, some left-leaning newspapers such as The New York Times endorsed Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., because of his moderate and arguably liberal views on a number of issues (such as immigration and campaign finance reform). But McCain's moderation left the electorate with an unclear choice. Many voters (Republicans and Democrats alike) felt that McCain's campaign platform was not significantly different from those of the major Democratic candidates. Even extreme conservative commentator Ann Coulter declared in January 2008 that if the general election came down to Hillary Clinton and John McCain, she would vote for the former, because Coulter believed Clinton to be the "more conservative" candidate.
The Republican Party took Powell's advice last election by nominating a moderate. But Powell himself sided with the Democrats and formally endorsed Obama. For the Republicans to be victorious, they need to stand apart and differentiate themselves from the Democrats. There is something inherently more appealing about an authentically liberal candidate (like Obama) than a candidate who adopts liberal policies merely to obtain votes (as some people believe Specter has done).
Our country has historically consisted of an electorate that is close to the center, leaning either slightly to the left or the right. The political pulse of the country has historically followed a natural ebb and flow. After one party holds office for a period of time, it is natural that the American people want change. The midterm election of 2006 and the presidential election of 2008 demonstrated that the country was clearly ready for a shift towards more liberal policies. If history is any indication of the future, there will eventually be another ideological shift towards the right. Until then, Republicans should stick to their beliefs and continue to represent the constituents who share their views.
The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Olympia Snowe is the Republican senator from Alaska. In fact, Snowe is a senator from Maine.