Gen. Colin Powell is the walking embodiment of the American Dream. Raised in the Bronx, the decorated Vietnam veteran served as President Reagan’s national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the first President Bush and Secretary of State for the second President Bush. Many people think he would have been the country’s first African American President had he run in 1996 against Bill Clinton.
Yet despite his Republican pedigree, he endorsed Barack Obama in October over longtime friend John McCain. Last week he told an audience of security executives that the Republican Party “is in deep trouble” and that “The party must realize that the country has changed. Americans do want to pay taxes for services. Americans are looking for more government in their life, not less.” He advised the Republican Party to head left, toward the center and distance itself from the social conservatives.
Is Colin Powell correct? Do Americans want “more government”?
Certainly in east King County, a moderate Republican like Dave Reichert is going to be more popular than, say, Dick Cheney. But nationally, I think the good general is mistaken. Here is why.
Every time the Republican Party moderates while in power, it loses elections. And after losing, party moderates, echoed by most of the national media, advise them to move even further left.
It happened in 1976, after President Gerald Ford, the moderate alternative to Ronald Reagan, lost to Jimmy Carter, leaving the Republicans in even worse shape than they are today. But the Republicans didn’t move left. They nominated Reagan, the most conservative candidate in the primary field, who won 41 states in 1980 and 49 states four years later.
It happened in 1992, after George H.W. Bush, broke his “no new taxes” pledge, divided his party and lost to Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. Instead of moving left, the Republicans ran on a mostly conservative “contract with America” in the mid-terms, winning control of Congress two years later.
And today, after nominating John McCain, the most moderate of the Republican candidates, and losing, the Republicans are hearing the same advice. Here instead is what the Republicans should do: get back to the timeless principles that defined working class Republican heroes like Reagan and the late Jack Kemp and offer a clear, positive alternative to Obama’s massive spending, endless bailouts and huge deficits.
And keep in mind that when the Democrats lost in 2004, they didn’t move “toward the center.” They nominated the most liberal member of the Senate, Barack Obama, who inspired the party’s base and offered a better profile for change in a nation yearning for it than 72-year old John McCain, who had spent 22 years in Congress.
I admire Gen. Powell’s countless contributions to his country over the years. But bad advice from a good man is still bad advice. If taken in years past, there never would have been a Reagan presidency, which means The Gipper wouldn’t have been there to bring Colin Powell into the White House more than 20 years ago.