How to Save Conservative Politics:
A Liberal Perspective
J. Michael Straczynski
I’m one of those Liberals you hear about at right-wing rallies and political stump speeches. I work in the entertainment business for television and film, and I voted for Obama. I’m pro-choice, pro-labor and pro-smart gun laws. So it may surprise you to know that in the past I’ve also contributed to conservative Presidential and congressional candidates. Why?
If the American eagle is to fly, it needs a strong left wing and a strong right wing. If it only has one of those, it ain’t going anywhere. The American system flourishes when it finds balance and equilibrium between those two sides. So I’ve always been in favor of Democratic and Republican leaders who have demonstrated capable, smart leadership. The presidencies of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln exemplified leaders who were committed to truth, intelligence and compassion. (Contrary to much of the anti-science rhetoric of the moment, let us remember that it was Lincoln who established the National Academy of Sciences.)
So in the spirit of encouraging the open and competitive exchange of ideas I would like to present a scenario that will allow the right wing of this country to survive the candidacy of Donald Trump. I say “candidacy” rather than “nomination” because regardless of how the rest of the primaries go, the Republican party as it currently exists is on the rocks.
If Trump wins the nomination, he will split the electorate both within and without the party along intensely ethnic and political fracture lines, effectively destroying the Republican party as it currently exists.
If Trump loses the nomination, it will only happen because establishment Republicans and the party elders launch a scorched earth policy that will alienate a vast percentage of its membership who will rail against seeing their choice deliberately torpedoed from within. This will also destroy the Republican party as it currently exists.
Many Republican pundits, seeing the iceberg ahead of the Titanic, have suggested that individual candidates should go off on a third-party tangent. I would suggest that this proposal doesn’t go as far as is necessary to do the job properly.
Desperate situations require desperate solutions. What is outlined below will work. But it will require significant courage on the parts of all involved.
Since the Republican party has always stood foursquare with the philosophy of corporate America, let me put this in terms that will resonate with that perspective.
If you are the CEO of a major corporation that is about to go into receivership because some portions of the company are no longer responsive or contributing to the greater good of the firm, and if the brand name associated with that company has developed a less than optimum image, there is only one smart thing to do. You restructure, ditching or selling off those parts of the company that aren’t working, then you pump liquid assets into the parts that are still solid, before finally relaunching and rebranding under a different name.
This is not something that can be achieved by a few of the corporate executives (for which read individual politicians) branching out on their own to form competing companies. It can only be done by and within the company as an institution.
Courtesy of the loudest voices and dimmest lights in the Republican party, the brand has increasingly become associated with intolerance, anti-intellectualism and a host of other unfortunate attributes. Vast sections of it are not only failing to respond to instructions from management, they have declared open rebellion. The home office has become dysfunctional and toxic, and its customers are increasingly drawn from an older and largely white demographic. Younger and more ethnically diverse consumers, the ones who will be buying products for the next hundred years, simply don’t buy products carrying that label any more.
If the Republican Party were a corporation, what would you do as CEO? Would you simply allow this decline to continue unabated as the market value of that corporation fell? Of course not. You would follow the program outlined above.
Here, then, is my suggestion for a way to save the conservative right wing of the country by ditching the Republican brand name altogether in favor of, for purposes of discussion, the American Party. (The Liberal in me considers that a rather grandiose title, and it has some resonance from a past iteration, but I’m sure the consultants and image brokers can find something a bit more appropriate.)
After the 2016 elections are over, the financial backers of the current Republican party, like the Board of Directors, must decide what they want the new American party to look like: smart, pro-business, capable of governing and making compromises, compassionate, youthful, forward-looking, and savvy on both technological and scientific issues. It must be designed as a political party for the 21st century and beyond just as deliberately as you would relaunch and rebrand a corporation. Don’t let outside forces decide your positions for you, or push you into narrow definitions that will not serve the Board’s greater goals. Be thoughtful.
As part of that process, you will have to accept the necessity of divesting yourself of the religious/social-values Right and the self-defined Tea Partiers. At first this may seem like a scary idea, but as long as they are a part of your company, they will continue to drag down the profit margins and alienate other customers. Yes, they served a purpose for a time, but their interests no longer align with those of a forward-looking political party. In any cost/benefit analysis, they are more of a liability than an asset.
And bear in mind: those folks are never going to vote for a Democrat or a Liberal regardless of their technical party affiliation. So you’re really not losing that much in the long run. And you stand to gain far more.
You don’t need to do the divestiture publicly or loudly, there’s no need to make a big to-do over it. You just let those groups die on the vine. I’ll get to that part in a bit.
Now comes the fun part. This is where the financial wing of the American Party — the billionaire backers — bring their considerable weight to the affair.
Having decided what the American Party stands for, the Board of Directors must now reach out to those in the current Republican party, as well as like-minded individuals from other parties, for some quiet corporate raiding. If Republican Senators and Congress-people agree to switch membership to the American Party, the party will help to finance their elections just as was done when they were part of the Republican Party. Further, there are a number of conservative Democrats and Independent politicians who might agree to switch over to a smarter, leaner and better organized American Party that doesn’t have any of the baggage carried by the Republican brand. This is something new, and going forward they will have the unprecedented opportunity to help define that party’s direction.
Those politicians and public figures whom the American party feel would be a liability to its new image, or run counter to its new image in other ways, are cut off at the purse. They are more than welcome to continue running as Republicans for whatever value they think that name provides, but they will do so without the support of those now shepherding the American Party. Deprived of the substantial political and financial resources, occupied mainly by Tea Partiers, Religious Conservatives and other fellow travelers, the Republican party continue on as a shell entity, a “competitor” in name only. Deprived of vital financial resources, it will eventually fade away entirely or be reduced considerably in viability.
The American Party must also divest itself of the most strident voices of its past, from the Rush Limbaughs and others of similar inclination. They must be made irrelevant and similarly cut off at the pockets.
Having finished its corporate raids, the minute the rebranded American Party launches, it will have a strong, built-in presence in both wings of Congress, with an immediate impact on the governance of the country. Both the Democratic Party and the remains of the Republican party will not be able to get any of their agendas through without assistance from the American Party. This will allow the American party to further define itself by being able to pick and choose bills or actions on either side of the aisle that will play well with a wider range of the electorate, making it more flexible.
The switch-over to the American Party can be done fairly quickly and painlessly. The other choice is to let the Republican brand continue to slowly deteriorate, splinter and decline.
The death of the Republican Party is not a funeral for the conservative perspective; instead, it is a remarkable opportunity for those who associate themselves with that perspective to redefine themselves in a way that leans forward into the future, rather than relying on battles that hearken back to, and are in many ways reliant upon, the culture wars of the sixties. Instead of re-litigating and rehashing decades old arguments about abortion, birth control, climate change and the role of the Bible in modern politics, we can launch into new arguments about the role of technology in life extension, cyberwar, cloning, internationalism, the global economy and other issues that will define our future. Wouldn’t it be a lot more fun to argue over which nations should share the benefits of asteroid mining, and the morality of synthetically grown organs, instead of having yet another argument over who should use which bathroom?
There needs to be a constructive, smart conservative perspective to balance out a constructive, smart liberal perspective. We as a nation are not diminished or weakened by that dialogue, we are strengthened by an honest and fair exchange of ideas. There’s nothing I love more than a solid, fact-based, vigorous discussion about the issues with someone whose views are different from my own. It’s the only way either one of us can learn something we didn’t know before. And there are issues before us where there are no left or right positions yet, areas of inquiry where those parameters have not yet been defined in any way, where both sides can contribute to developing common-sense solutions.
Many of us on the Left look forward to a new beginning, one that represents a chance to have an honest, productive conversation with the Right about the issues that will affect our nation and the world around us, a dialogue that does not trade on the divisions of the past or hinge upon the need to demonize either side.
J. Michael Straczynski is a television and film writer, most known for Clint Eastwood’s Changeling, and producer/writer for the Netflix series Sense8.