Like it or not, their fingerprints are all over the largest problems facing this country in decades: two wars, a decaying image abroad and a battered economy. And if they want to shed themselves of that very undesirable legacy they’ll have to do more than just trot out the same Cold War-era arguments. We’re just not buying them anymore.

Call it naiveté on my part, but for a little while I really thought Republicans would be able to shed themselves of the much-deserved label as the party with no ideas. Thanks in part to some serious missteps by John McCain and our tanking economy, Republicans were thoroughly thrashed in the November presidential elections. Along the way, they were bludgeoned by critics for their deregulatory ways and for not offering anything but sourness when ideas were presented.


In the immediate aftermath of the elections, there were hints that Republicans fathomed that if they want to regain control of the White House and Congress anytime soon, they would have to do more than offer polarizing criticism. But before President Obama has finished his first hundred days in office, there’s little evidence that has happened. In some ways, it’s even gotten worse.


Witness the flagellation he’s taken over his grip and grin with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez at last weekend’s Summit of the Americas. In the hours that followed, GOP’ers including Nevada Sen. John Ensign and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich were quick to criticize Obama. They called his willingness to appear smiling with the leftist strongman “irresponsible” and even accused him endangering this country’s security.


Much to Obama’s credit, he’s handled these attacks with his trademark coolness and reserve. When asked about the handshake and the soon-to-follow book acceptance, Obama said something like he can’t see how shaking someone’s hand will undermine this country’s security.


There’s no doubt that Chavez and his leftist ilk (hello, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega) are fanning anti-American sentiment to strengthen their power bases. And it’s important for our leaders not send them the message that there won’t be consequences for their actions. 


Still, it’s frustrating to hear Obama’s critics recycle the same rhetoric McCain and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton employed during the election. The majority of voters rejected those arguments agreeing with Obama that it was time for this country to take a different path towards our relationships with other countries. Yes, even those countries that don’t like us that much. The days of former President George W. Bush’s “our way or the highway” mentality didn’t work in North Korea or Iran and they’re not going to work in places like Pakistan, Venezuela or Afghanistan.


So, how does it make sense for Republicans (who are desperate to stay relevant) to try the same argument again? It doesn’t. If Republicans want to earn their way back to respectability for moderates and independents, they’re going to have to show they have alternative solutions and ideas. Furthermore, they’ll have to find someone to lead them. And I’m not talking about someone who polarizes large sections of the country every time they open their mouths.


To be fair, Democrats could do a better job getting along with their Republican counterparts. Remember the recent treatment of House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia? The rising Republican star was raked over the coals for skipping out on an Obama press conference in March to attend a Britney Spears concert with his teen daughter. Sure, Cantor wasn’t there just to chaperone his daughter. He was also there schmoozing with potential donors. But so what? Cantor was later quoted as say he didn’t understand why it was an issue in the first place. Neither did I at the time and I still don’t.


But it’s really Republicans who have the fence mending to do. Like it or not, their fingerprints are all over the largest problems facing this country in decades: two wars, a decaying image abroad and a battered economy. And if they want to shed themselves of that very undesirable legacy they’ll have to do more than just trot out the same Cold War-era arguments. We’re just not buying them anymore.


David Rogers is the editor of the Tri-Town Transcript in Boxford, Mass. Any comments? Send them to: drogers@cnc.com.