Op-ed: GOP must reboot capitalism to work for America

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Last year’s election made me think about the1970’s popular TV sitcom, The Jeffersons.  The show was predicated on George Jefferson who started a dry-cleaning business in Harlem and wound up owning the largest chain of dry-cleaning stores in New York City.  

Jefferson became very affluent and as the inspiring theme song announced, “We’re moving on up to the East Side…we finally got a piece of the pie.” 

What I liked about the sitcom was its implied message then and now:  Jefferson took a risk, worked hard, and created an opportunity for himself to claim the American Dream.  George’s entrepreneurial spirit and hard work, although fictional, showcased to millions of Americans how capitalism was the inclusive equalizer of opportunity regardless of race, color and creed.   

The Jeffersons kept playing in my mind, because Mitt Romney and GOP seemingly abdicated any type of narrative on economic prosperity and how it created equal opportunity for Americans to “Move On Up.”  

This absence set the stage for an electoral battle between big government and capitalism.  On Election Day, a majority of Americans voted for big government as the distributor of the pie and the equalizer of outcomes. 

Big government’s victory wasn’t surprising given bank bailouts, crony capitalism, Wall Street bonuses, Occupy Wall St. and Mitt Romney’s “we don’t need the 47 percent” gaffe.  This created an aggregated, emerging viewpoint that trickle-down capitalism led by Republicans only benefited the rich, while the rest of America suffered the Great Recession.  

Proponents of big government also got a helping hand from Republicans who viewed capitalism as a political loser. In late 2011, GOP strategist Frank Luntz warned republican governors not to mention capitalism.  He cited that “Americans prefer capitalism over socialism, but they think capitalism is immoral. And we’re (GOP) defenders of ‘Wall Street’, we’ve got a problem.” 

This may help explain why Mitt Romney was on the offensive, attacking President Obama’s economic policies as “trickle down government”, which was confusing and uninspiring to voters on both sides of the isle.  

Immediately after Romney was defeated, the headlines roared with how minorities, Millennials and women voted for President Obama, which prompted the RNC to commission a self-examination or autopsy called The Growth & Opportunity Project. The 100-page report warned the Party must be more inclusive and reach out to minorities to win future presidential elections. 

However, it’s not what the report said that I found interesting, but what it didn’t say.  If you do a word search on the report, capitalism is not mentioned once in the entire document! 

It would appear that we as a party have given up on an economic narrative that champion’s capitalism. Instead, we’re currently voicing diffusive messages in Washington ranging from tax/budget cuts to immigration to defunding Obamacare.  These talking points are doing little to inspire voters, as well as unite factions within the Republican Party. 

The GOP and the nation would be better served by rebooting capitalism as a tide raising all boats.  Capitalism is not perfect, but what is?  Economist Allan Meltzer is credited with saying, “Capitalism without failure is like religion without sin. It doesn’t work.” 

I would add by saying the Republican Party without capitalism doesn’t work either, which explains the why Democrats have gained ground in the economic dialogue. 

A Quinnipiac Poll taken in April 2013 showed voters were divided almost evenly (Rep. 42%, Dems 40%) on which party can do a better job on the economy.  This may explain why President Obama was in Jacksonville last week touting his highly promoted economic speech and peddling more big government stimulus spending and taking credit for creating jobs. 

It’s time for the GOP to bring capitalism back in from the cold and reboot it as the engine driving economic prosperity for all Americans.  Capitalism and its semantic cousins – free market, free enterprise, and market-driven forces – are political capital that can become an X-Factor for the Republican Party in the 2014 and 2016 elections. 

Where to start?  We can look to Jeb Bush who wrote for Rare.US a guest column titled, Conservatives are Winning…in the States.  He exclaimed, “Conservative states are creating a climate where entrepreneurs are welcome, people are getting back to work and schools are focusing on the needs of children instead of unions and bureaucracies.” 

Bush cited a Pew Research Study that “…showed just 28 percent of Americans rated the federal government positively to 57 percent for state government.  Half of Democrats in Republican-controlled states were happy with their [state] government.” 

There are 30 Republican governors and Republicans hold the majority in both chambers of the legislature in 26 states.  This is where capitalism is working for the American people and it has created political capital for the party. 

At the state level, Republicans are promoting and passing free market solutions that are empowering employers to invest capital, create new jobs and balancing state budgets. Democrats are unable to demonize capitalism and paint Republicans as defenders of the one percent in the states. 

This gives Republicans a stronger posture to campaign against the illusions of big government in Washington.  For example, for every job the Obama Administration takes credit for creating (7.2 million), they neglect to address how 9.5 million Americans have dropped out of the labor force.  Also, there are 15 million more Americans on food stamps today than when Obama assumed office.  So nearly two Americans are on the food stamp rolls for every one job the administration says it created. 

In Florida, a key battleground state, the unemployment rate is lower than the national average, companies are relocating here, and Governor Scott and Florida Legislature have created hundreds of thousands of jobs since 2010.  As I mentioned in my column last week, more Floridians believe the state economy is improving and a vast majority give Scott, a rich capitalist, credit over President Obama. 

Republicans are closely identified with capitalism.  Instead of running away from it, we as a party must reboot it as Capitalism 2.0.  The states have a wealth of conservative, economic examples to showcase in the 2014 election cycle, which will underwrite a more inspired national vision for Americans in 2016. 

A narrative of economic prosperity built on inclusive capitalism, tax incentives and market reforms will not only help unite factions within the GOP, but resonate with minority voters who also want the opportunity to “own that deluxe apartment in the sky.” 

Time is money and the GOP must get busy positioning capitalism to invest in our nation’s greatest asset, and that’s the American people.  

Patrick Slevin is a communications strategist, political consultant and writer who lives in Tallahassee. Florida. He’s recognized as a national political “Mover & Shaker” by Campaigns & Elections Magazine. He is also a former Republican mayor.  You can reach him at pslevin68@gmail.com.  Follow him on Twitter @patrickjslevin.