As it is now, the Republicans are going nowhere. Every election, when they put forth any new proposal, such as a change in the capital gains tax, the Democrats immediately brand it as a sop to the rich, and the Republicans are frozen like a deer caught in the headlights of a car. Or if the Republicans suggest scaling back Medicare or charging recipients a higher premium, the Democrats immediately brand them as insensitive to the old and the poor.
It's true that in the budget deal agreed to last week the Republicans were able to push through deep cuts on capital gains. But they weren't on the campaign trail at the time, and they weren't subject to the heavy barrage of negative ads the Democrats' zealous fund-raising enabled them to unleash.
And even though, as The New York Times stated, "Many elements of the budget deal, most notably the commitment to a balanced budget by 2002, were conceived and initially pushed by the Republicans. But the ultimate articulation of those ideas owes much to the pressure applied by the White House negotiators who pushed the Republicans to the left."
So the Republicans come up with the ideas, get severely beaten up about the head and shoulders for espousing such radical and heartless notions, and then the Democrats embrace the GOP proposals in a way that makes the Democrats come across to the American people as both humanitarian and practical. Quite a hat trick: The Republicans, in many ways, are shaping the political agenda, but the Democrats are getting the credit.
The great debate in the next election and into the millennium will center on economic growth and productivity. The U.S. has become the great economic engine of the world by downsizing and modernizing plants and equipment. Now our major challenge is to try to assist welfare people as they come off the dole. Our economy-our society-will never function on all cylinders if we have a substantial number of our citizens without hope of work.
The Republicans were the ones who pushed for welfare reform, and now they've got it, and it seems to be working far better than envisioned. The next stage is to make sure American businesses have opportunities for these former welfare recipients.
Companies big and small want to get in the act. A small company called Cape Cod Works employs homeless people to perform outsourcing jobs for other companies, such as assembly operations, direct-mail fulfillment and inspections. Sprint has teamed up with a community college to provide training to welfare recipients. Never mind that Sprint so far has only hired seven people from this effort. The point is the company is making an effort, and other companies are gearing up to make similar commitments.
I used to call this approach social capitalism, and the time is now ripe for the Republicans to invade the turf of the Democrats and embrace it.
Garrett Douglas, founder of Cape Cod Works, is exactly the kind of guy the Republicans should embrace. He started his company with the idea to provide a needed service, and he doesn't want any help from the state because he feels it would come with strings attached.
Garrett's belief is that work is "a form of freedom-as important as family. If you don't have a job you're disconnected from the fabric of society." So he set up Cape Cod Works as "a stepping stone" for the homeless, ex-prisoners, Vietnam veterans and others to get back into the mainstream of society.
Demographics may be working in favor of this concept. As baby boomers turn 50 they are in a position to make policy changes at their companies, and some are looking to make a contribution outside of traditional business opportunities. As Garrett, who is 34, puts it: "They are looking not just at what fits inside the lines but also what makes sense for them as human beings."
Republicans should make it a core issue to encourage Garrett's type of enterprise, either as stand-alone operations or as part of bigger companies. After all, they were the ones who pushed through welfare reform; now they have an obligation-and an opportunity-to help make sure these people gain steady employment.
And the beauty is, how can the Democrats object?