These have been a rough few months for the Oklahoma GOP.
The House of Representatives, the only locus of Republican power outside of the Corporation Commission, lost one speaker and another speaker presumptive. The lieutenant governor fulfilled her constitutional duties by reminding members of the GOP they are not in the majority by breaking the first tie of her tenure. Republicans in Tulsa are in such a divided state, they have publicly released the first minority report of a party platform in the modern era. Other counties have similar divisions, but one does not wish to air dirty laundry.
What is the root of these ailments? Surely it cannot be late tax filings, fickle pettiness and personal grudges. Such small matters could not wreak so much havoc or ” to me, more accurately ” atrophy. Rather, underlying tensions have been brought to fruition by the catalyst of the presidential campaign. Primaries by their very nature expose the divisions within a party, but this year has been remarkable in its uniqueness. The Democratic Party has proven to be far more united than it has been since 1964, and the Republican Party has taken the former’s place as the loose coalition of competing groups.
Regardless of the structure of a given party, a narrative is its best link to the populace. The average voter (a sane one, at least) does not tally up a list of issue positions and join the party with the higher total. Franklin Delano Roosevelt changed his policies dramatically between the 1932 election and his first administration. His narrative ” his story ” of where he saw America going, to realize its promise as a land of opportunity, was so powerful that it built an electoral majority that lasted 36 years.
The underlying tensions present in the Oklahoma Republican Party are the inevitable result of the loss of a coherent narrative uniting the party of Henry Bellmon, Dewey Barlett and Frank Keating. In the Eighties, we had the fight for freedom against international communism, domestic stagflation and rising crime. The demise of the Cold War led to competing narratives: “leave us alone” and “faith, family and freedom.” Unfortunately, the historic structural foreign policy advantage is inapplicable to Oklahoma ‘s state elections, so the lack of coherence has wrought consequences.
So, shall we simply pick from the competing factional narratives? On the contrary, each I find fatally flawed. The call of “leave us alone” is not only arid as a governing philosophy ” indeed, it appears that its most devoted adherents actually prefer opposition ” but unbelievable as well. Few voters believe the party of family values is also the vehicle of libertarianism. The “faith, family and freedom” narrative accounts for the social conservative wing, but falls short of the mark. This story does not tell the voters in apprehensible shorthand how the GOP would approach health care, education, the environment, illegal drugs and more.
My proposal? Unity through reform. We are best brought together when opportunities exist for each American to make the best of his or her God-given potential. Government can build an environment where these opportunities exist (through education, infrastructure, courts of law, etc.) but refrains from placing a stultifying hand that tries to make everyone identical cogs. Others may amend or replace my proposal, but the time is now for a narrative that can reinvigorate Oklahoma’s Republicans.
Reese is an attorney who lives with his wife and son in Oklahoma City.