We lost. We lost in 2008. We lost in 2012. We can say we won in 2010, but why bother? What gains did we achieve? How did we really help everyday Americans by replacing the Democratic-controlled House with a Republican one? The answer: We didn’t. We didn’t pass a single piece of important legislation and we did nothing to improve the quality of life for the American people.
Almost every moderate, sensible member of Congress who was in a competitive election this cycle lost: Scott Brown in Massachusetts, Bob Dold in Illinois, Nan Hayworth in New York, among many others. Many simply chose to not seek re-election.
I have been a Republican for as long as I can remember. As far back as fourth grade I remember listening to my father talk about capitalism, individualism, and the pursuit of the dream that makes America different from every other place on Earth. Though I didn’t quite understand why at the time, my father instilled these ideas in me in order to teach me why I should always be proud of my country, the only country willing to take my family in after the terrible atrocities we faced in the Holocaust. My father has always been a Republican, and in many ways I inherited my beliefs from him.
But the party my father raised me in was never a party of absolutes: our party was one of progress, one of thought, and most of all one that believed that compromise was a trait to be honored, not despised. My father’s party, and the one I have claimed to be a part of for years, was never ashamed to work with others to do what was right, and what would move the American people forward.
Every day I have conversations with liberal friends who have vastly different beliefs than I do about the ideal way to solve the problems our great country faces. We talk about welfare and government dependence; we talk about taxes and shared sacrifice; we talk about immigration and national security; yet never once has any of my countless conversations with friends resulted in anything but an honest, open conversation about ways we can put aside our ideological differences to find a middle ground — one on which we can move forward for the benefit of all.
But in the end we always realize that our grand conversations, our amazing ideas of compromise and political altruism are all for naught. With both parties as they are now, none of our grand ideas have any chance of becoming a political reality. In a world where simply working with the other side is seen as a political liability, how can we hope to move forward as a generation?
As a life-long Republican, and after enduring two straight embarrassing losses, I can no longer sit by and wait for things to change. The party in which I was raised did not dictate to others how they must set policies on immigration, marriage, and abortion; the party in which I was raised thought sensibly about how to work with the other side and compromise, achieving at least in part the goals of all for the sake of the nation. As a dear friend and fellow moderate Republican recently said in an argument I have become far too familiar with, “Disagreement is not a threat to your own views.” In fact, disagreement is what can propel us forward, what can drive us to discover what policies can truly change our society for the better.
If our party is to truly change, as it is now clear it must, our focus needs to change as well. No longer can we count on a conservative, Evangelical base to provide the necessary votes to sweep a candidate into office. The party must abandon its hardline positions on abortion, immigration, gay marriage, and many other issues — many of which alienate those who are supposed to make up the future of our movement. Perhaps none said it better than moderate Republican Representative Cory Gardner of Colorado: “After tonight, the GOP had better figure out that a big tent sounds good but if there aren’t any seats in it, what good is it?” We must learn to embrace the fact that no matter our disagreements, those on the other side of any issue are not our opponents — they are our friends. No matter the difference, no matter the issue, we can and have to work together.
The United States has always moved forward on the premise that we can do better; I know now that we can, and I hope that together, we will.
Alex Jakubowski is a junior at Northwestern University in Chicago and an active member of the Illinois Republican Party. In the past, he has served as a staffer for the congressional campaign of Joel Pollak (R-IL9) and as an intern for Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). He is currently an intern for the European Foundation for Democracy, a Brussels based think tank.