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A Suburban GOP Manifesto

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LAST WEEK, I offered my personal political manifesto - the world according to me on 15 hot-button issues.

Writing it was part of my post-election catharsis. Addressing everything from Iraq to gay rights, I shared my views with my radio and Philadelphia Daily News audience. Next, I posted the opinions on my Web site and invited people to weigh in and see where we agreed.

Last weekend, 3,449 people did just that. That's a healthy sample by conventional polling standards, although I'm not qualified to tell you its statistical significance. Common sense would dictate that it's too large a group to be ignored.

Of course, I'm mindful that the respondents were probably radio listeners who were largely suburban, Republican and ideologically in the center, or to its right. That's an important consideration. But it makes the results even more telling for the GOP as it looks to the future.

So what did I learn?

For starters, that, on average, people who responded agreed with 10 out of my 15 positions.

Specifically, there was significant agreement on the need for an Iraq exit strategy, even a timetable, and on the subject of hunting down and killing bin Laden - even if he's in Pakistan, where President Pervez Musharraf has struck a truce with tribal leaders.

With a total of 80 percent, people agreed with me that we need to screen everyone at airports and borders, but some more than others. (Yes, I refer to the dreaded p-word, profiling.)

And also, by a similar margin, we agreed on something future House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has embraced: that the 9/11 Commission recommendations be enacted. There was overwhelming support for my view that the borders be closed before we deal with the illegals already here, the estate tax ended and term limits imposed. Each of these items was supported by 70 percent or more of my respondents.

Already, I could see why the GOP got drubbed. These views should have been the core of the GOP platform, but they weren't.

And the social issues were even more revealing.

My support of less-conservative social positions didn't win such decided support, but I wasn't in a lopsided minority, either. On embracing embryonic stem-cell research, half of the respondents agreed. The same result greeted my arguing for a party that has room for both pro-life and pro-choice folks, makes Plan B available over the counter and rejects federal intervention in end-of-life cases like Terri Schiavo's. Even when I said marriage between a man and woman is not threatened by same-sex unions, half agreed.

So, when the GOP leadership is decidedly pro-life, against Plan B dissemination and for federal intervention a la Schiavo, or opposes gay rights on the grounds that it has an effect on heterosexual marriage, we are turning off 50 percent of the suburban base.

And therein lies the future for the GOP. It's time for moderation on social issues in order to advance a suburban agenda for the GOP. There seem to be many of us who want a party ready to kill bin Laden, willing to profile at airports, desirous of closing the borders, looking for an Iraq endgame, tolerant of homosexuals, willing to entertain multiple views on abortion and stem cells.

In short, a party that's tough on the bad guys and not too preachy, and no longer willing to allow fringe elements to take over their platform. We're not monolithic and should not be treated as such.

The GOP future depends on a blend of pragmatism, moderation and conservatism of the kind advanced by Barry Goldwater, the man who started the movement and simply wanted government off our backs, and out of our pocketbooks and our bedrooms.

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