For years now, conservatives have been calling for entitlement reform. Some measures of welfare reform were implemented during the Clinton Administration. And with the rise of the Tea Party, the calls for entitlement reform have escalated to screams.
The problem with asking for entitlement reform is that many Americans want it until it affects the entitlements they feel that they deserve. Retirees want welfare reform but not Medicare or Social Security reform. Young single mothers are fine with reforming Medicare, but horrified at the thought of restructuring WIC benefits or welfare or the public education system.
Newsflash, folks! The Republican party is no different. Sure, they talk a good game. They talk about pushing for legislation that would reform entitlements. But the elephant in the room is the entitlement that no establishment Republican will ever talk about: who is next in line to run for President.
During the 2008 GOP primaries, a question was asked that should never be asked: whose turn is it for the nomination? The names being tossed around were mainly Romney, Huckabee and McCain, and the final assessment was that it should be McCain because, as the oldest of the three, he was the least likely to get another chance at the nomination in a subsequent election. Lo and behold, after a relatively short and barely contested primary, who should emerge as the nominee but John McCain... The entitled took his place on the debate stage with the inexperienced upstart from Chicago (arguably) and proceeded to take an historic beating.
That question has been asked again in reference to the 2012 election, and I say we need to stop it now. We only need to look at recent history to see why this is a bad idea. When we look to the established queue for our candidate, we tend to lose - and lose badly. McCain is an example of this, along with Bob Dole in 1996 and George H.W. Bush in his bid for a second term. (Bush had the benefit of being an incumbent, but relied too much on that benefit and failed to launch an effective campaign.) If we rely on this system of entitlement-by-seniority, we can expect more of the same.
Recent history also dictates that the Republican party can succeed when they are willing to shake things up. Take Ronald Reagan, for example: as an actor and a former Democrat, he was the last person most establishment Republicans wanted to see anywhere near the White House. But he jumped through the prescribed hoops anyway, and went on to win 49 of 50 states against the incumbent Jimmy Carter. And then there is the curious case of George W. Bush. Not only was he not next in line in the Republican party for the nomination, he was not even supposed to be next in line in his own family for a Presidential bid. His brother Jeb, Governor of Florida, was being groomed for that path long before George ever considered it. But when he threw his name in the ring, all bets were off. The 2000 election was something of a squeaker, but once elected George W. Bush became one of the only Presidents in American history who did not face party losses in his first midterm election.
The upshot is this: the Democrats choose their candidate based on who is timely rather than who has served his time. They base it on who has the stamina and the ability to fight the good fight now rather than who has already been in the ring the longest. And they base it on who they think is capable of drumming up the funds and support necessary to win rather than who has paid the most dues up to this point. When Republicans follow suit, we tend to win. When we do not, when we fall victim to the entitlement mentality, we lose. We lose big. And we lose because our first move in the battle was to cut our own legs off at the knees.