Friday, December 08, 2006

Back to Basics for the Republican Party, Part I

Back in 2002, I was working on an idea for a political newsletter that eventually became this blog. One of the articles in the sample issue was an interview I conducted with Michael Zak, author of Back to Basics for the Republican Party.

Since then, just about everything has changed, except Tim Pawlenty is still governor. But Zak's insights are just as timely, if not more so, than they were in 2002.

Michael Zak is a native of Chicago and resident of Washington, D.C. Before writing Back to Basics for the Republican Party, Zak was a Foreign Service Officer, serving in Mexico and Venezuela, and an international banking analyst based in Chicago and New York. In February 2003, Zak originated the U.S. Senate’s "nuclear option" for confirming President Bush’s judicial nominees. His idea was based on the Republican Party’s success in defeating the Democrat filibuster against the 1957 Civil Rights Act.

Here is my interview, presented in multiple parts:

Matt Abe: What prompted you to write Back to Basics for the Republican Party?

Michael Zak: The main reason I wrote Back to Basics for the Republican Party is that it was so clear to me that Republicans placed themselves at a huge disadvantage because most don’t know their own story. They don’t know their own history. And that lack of information is what allows Democrats to outmaneuver Republicans so easily and put them on the defensive all the time.

What Republican activists think they know about the Republican party is generally a product of what "lefty" Democrat history professors have written over the years. So I said, "I’m going to tell Republicans their own story." I wrote Back to Basics for the Republican Party, which is a history of the GOP from the Republican point of view.

MA: I’m kind of student of history myself. I like your comment that the Republican party is known as “the party of Lincoln,” but beyond that, people don’t know what that means.

MZ: It is a cliché, and that’s more or less the theme of my book: what does “the party of Lincoln” actually mean? And then I say, “more importantly, what should it mean for us Republicans and the country we love?” The point is that history books — again, almost always written by Democrats — overemphasize Lincoln, and they portray him as a mythological figure. They do that to take him out of the context of being a Republican: the same as you, the same as me, the same as George W. Bush. What my book does is places him in context, as a man, a good man, but a man, and a man of his time. I talk about who were the Congressional leaders at the time? What was the GOP doing apart from the war?

Central to my book of course is the fact overlooked by so many history books: that the President of the United States, for the first four years after the Civil War, was a Democrat. The history books somehow completely ignore that fact. Lincoln was the one who put him on the ticket not his first, as his second running mate.

My book talks about what was the Republican party doing after Lincoln, and then all the way through till today. Putting Lincoln in context allows people to experience, to learn about the Republican party in its full breadth, from before Lincoln, actually, all the way through Clinton.

MA: Why were the Republicans so successful in the 2002 elections? Are we as a party getting "back to the basics?"

MZ: As far as Minnesota goes, especially in the Senate race between Coleman and Mondale, it was very clear that the Republican party, as it almost always has been, is the party of ideas. The Republican party is the party of progress. And the Democratic party, generally, is the party of elites who think they're better and smarter than other people, and want to control them "for their own good." That’s the way the Democratic party has always operated, since well before the Civil War.

So there was a very strong contrast between a forward-thinking, dynamic man like Mr. Coleman, and a sort of stuck-in-the-past, status quo, Socialist-minded guy like Vice President Mondale. It was very clear to the electorate which way they wanted to go. It was in a way a reflection of how the people see the Republicans and the Democrats nationwide. Look at George W. Bush: he’s aggressive, he’s forward-thinking, he cares about the American people, not for the sake of being "their boss," like Bill Clinton did, but just because he actually cares about the American people. And who are his opponents? Stuck-in-the-mud, status quo Socialists like Daschle and Gephart. So the American people chose, and in the case of Norm Coleman they chose wisely.

MA: That seemed to be a recurring theme nationwide, not only in Minnesota: that the Democrats seemed to be fielding candidates from the past, so to speak.

MZ: Very much so. In a lot of ways, and your readers will appreciate this, the Democratic party is the conservative party, in the sense that they want to conserve the status quo. What is the status quo? The status quo through our history has always been an elite, who think they’re smarter and better than everyone else, running the country. That's the way most countries have always been governed, and that's the way the Democratic party thinks. The Republican party has known that the country should be run for the sake of the individual. The Democratic party has just run out of ideas. They try to scare the voters and they lie, and they accuse the Republicans of all sorts of things, but they’re not putting forward any agenda of their own.

MA: A recent example of that is the assertion by some in the Democratic party that the "conservative right" has taken over the media.

MZ: One TV station: Fox News. I read this in Time Magazine just this last week, they said that "oh, it's awful, we can attribute the loss of so many because conservatives have taken over the news industry." We're talking about one TV station, Fox, that’s taking over the industry. It’s absurd. I don't know who said it, some major Democrat leader in Congress said, more or less, the majority vote for Republicans shows that the American voter is out of the mainstream! It could have been Nancy Pelosi, I'm not sure. It just shows the arrogance and the condescention of Democrats.

What the Democratic party needs is the "honorable wing" of the Democratic party has to take over. I don't see it happening yet. The decent, patriotic Democrats have to sieze control of their party. So far I'm not seeing it happening.

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