David Brooks reminds us of history and calls (Times $elect) for more ideas in the Presidential campaigns. First, the history:
By now, this should sound familiar. And it should be clear that while some Republicans argue that big government conservatism started under George W. Bush and that the G.O.P. was in decent shape until Bush ruined it, this is a total myth. In fact, it was Bush in 1999 who single-handedly (though temporarily) rescued the Republican Party. He did it not by courting Republican interest groups, but by coming up with something new. On July 22, he delivered a speech in Indianapolis in which he explicitly distanced himself from Washington Republicans and laid the groundwork for compassionate conservatism.
This is, to some extent correct. I would argue that Presidential campaigns and candidates redefine a party anyways. However, as Bush pointed out soon after winning the 2000 election, he was shocked that he won in an environment of peace and prosperity.
I think that the right point for Brooks to make is that "compassionate conservatism" was a political innovation that attempted to reshape an image of the GOP. The "old" GOP brand had been shattered by any of a number of things, and Bush found new ideas to build a new brand.
So what are the options today? First, looking at the candidates, Mitt Romney clearly has little to offer other than competence. As a number have pointed out, he is running from his past whether it be his newly minted conservatism, Massachusetts, or his health care plan. Fred Thompson offers a renewed federalism, but is a re-hash of the 30 year old Reagan coalition. Rudy Giuliani and John McCain offer different visions for the future of the party, with, perhaps McCain’s being a little bit more clear. Giuliani offers an enhanced toughness on security (but not foreign policy) and taxes, with no bones for the social conservative part of the coalition. McCain offers old hawkishness with green and anti-corruption measures. It is a new mix.
In any case, Brooks offers an important suggestion for where one or more GOP candidates should go:
Today, Republican candidates should hunger to give that kind of speech, this time with a bigger policy agenda. Republicans should learn from Bush’s false dawn and create a real dawn. What the country needs is a candidate who can transcend current categories and give a speech laying out a human capital agenda, which offers several advantages.
I think that this is probably correct. It is an answer to globalization. Good for reaching some of the new "Reagan Democrats". It is an answer for soccer moms, who are worried about their kids’ educations. And third, it is an answer for business leaders, who are afraid that they will not be able to get good workers.
Isn’t that, in the end, what the Reagan coalition looked like? The coalition wasn’t the issues, it was the people. They had something in common, if you could talk to them. No one is talking to them now. And Bush has so botched Iraq that security probably won’t be a credible message.