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OUR OPINION: GOP should weigh ideas for reform

In 1989, Democrats had just lost three presidential elections in a row -- and the most recent Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, had lasted only a single term.

Our Opinion

In 1989, Democrats had just lost three presidential elections in a row -- and the most recent Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, had lasted only a single term.

Where had the party gone wrong?

Enter William Galston and Elaine Kamarck (among other analysts), who recognized the mass disaffection with Democrats that had arisen among American voters.

"Too many Americans have come to see the party as inattentive to their economic interests, indifferent if not hostile to their moral sentiments and ineffective in defense of their national security," Galston and Kamarck wrote.

Among the many who read those words was a young Arkansas governor named Bill Clinton.

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Today, Galston and Kamarck are out with a new analysis, this time taking a look at the Republican Party.

"The election of 2012 revealed a stark reality: Whatever may be the case in the states and congressional districts, the Republican Party faces deep difficulties at the national level," they begin.

The paper that follows, called "The new politics of evasion," is worth reading in full. It's available online at democracyjournal.org, the website of the journal Democracy.

But here's an excerpt that gets some of the flavor across (with a hat tip here to PowerLineblog.com, where this excerpt first appeared):

"When combined with the party's long-standing opposition to new taxes, however, the new commitment to a balanced budget entails much deeper spending cuts than most Americans are willing to accept -- especially in programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

"It's easy to find surveys showing that Americans favor a smaller government that does less and prefer spending cuts as the principal strategy for achieving that end. But when survey researchers ask the obvious follow-up question -- 'Which of the following programs are you prepared to cut?' -- the consistent answer is, just about none of them.

"Nor have Republicans found a response to one of the dominant economic facts of our time -- widening disparities of income and wealth. This is more than a distributional table in an academic study; it is a reality that Americans have noticed and don't particularly like.

"A majority of Americans sees the GOP as a party that favors the rich and opposes every effort to make them shoulder a larger share of the revenue burden. President Obama scored a clean win over Mitt Romney on that issue, one of several reasons why Republicans were eventually forced to abandon the Bush-era tax cuts for higher-income earners."

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Lest readers think Galston and Kamarck sympathize too openly with Democrats, here's an excerpt from an analysis in the journal of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. It makes basically the same point:

"Most importantly, delegitimizing government does not cause the white working class to distrust or oppose all government activity, especially those programs that directly impact them. For example, the Pew survey found that 82 percent of 'Disaffecteds' oppose cutting Social Security and Medicare to help reduce the federal budget deficit. Only 17 percent favor focusing on cutting major programs to reduce the deficit compared with 59 percent of 'Staunch Conservatives.'

"Attitudes like this strongly suggest that many working class whites do not instinctively see personal benefits flowing from an untrammeled market."

Will Republicans pay attention to these reformers, who want the party to learn from its mistakes and to govern with the kind of effectiveness, responsiveness and appeal that wins presidential elections? Readers, you're welcome to weigh in.

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