My last piece of thinking, at least for the moment, about the 2008 elections has to do with the fate of the opposition, the question of what is going to happen to the Republican party.
The conventional wisdom seems to be that, with many of the so-called Moderate Republicans like Senator Gordon Smith in Oregon and Representative Christopher Shays from Connecticut being voted out, that the average remaining Republican is, by definition, further to the right, so the party is going to be more conservative in the upcoming years. Some have referred to this remainder as the Republican Rump, which I believe is a term of the art, more than a slur, but I’m not entirely sure about that.
And there is definitely some merit to this view. The more extreme version of it comes from the Limbaugh wing of the party, which says that they only reason the Republicans lost was failure to adhere slavishly enough to the tenets of conservatism over the last 8 years, and that the American people, faced with a choice between a conservative party running left, and a liberal party running as center, punished the party that they agree with more, but that failed to live up to their expectations, or something equally incoherent.
And this is all, of course, of a piece with my hobby horse of late about the absolute bullshittedness of the ‘America is a center-right country’ meme. But, if you believe that, then the only way you can really justify the right-of-center party losing quite solidly in the election is to believe that the Republicans were being punished for deviating from their claimed values, while the Democrats must have been running as conservatives, and simply hoodwinked the good people of “Real America”, places like Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, and North Carolina.
If I were a simple partisan hack, I would be cheering this along, all the way to locked-in Democratic majorities for a generation, because I sincerely believe that the American public, having seen the graft and corruption of single-party Republican rule over the last 8 years, simply decided that they had seen enough, and felt that it was someone else’s turn at the tiller. The Democrats, including President-Elect Obama were, in my opinion, pretty honest about what they would do, if elected, and they won solidly. While they hardly have a mandate to impose wage scales, start setting commodity prices, or dissolve the private health care system, they definitely have been given the authority to set about implementing the major pieces of the Obama campaign plans in a variety of sectors, both foreign and domestic.
However, I am firmly of the belief that it would be much healthier for the Republic to have two honest parties, who engaged in honorable and honest debate about the issues of the day, trying to find areas of agreement and letting the American people decide who should be in the majority, thus able to make the rest of the decisions about policy. I know that this is a farcical dream, so I’d settle for, at the least, a Republican party which at least occasionally engages with reality, arguing on the basis of facts and statistics rather than shadowy fear and threats of The Homosexual Agenda and Obama’s Coming To Take Away Your Guns.
Far and away the most depressing development, at least to me, in the American political system in the last 15 or 20 years has been the rise of know-nothingness as a major force in the Republican party. It used to be that the Republican party, while hardly a party that I would agree with on most issues, had a solid basis of policy issues, mostly based around the idea that American businesspeople were the backbone of our society, and deserved to be given extra opportunities to put their abilities to good use. There was a decidedly nasty undertone of racism in the Republican party starting in the late 60’s, but it was never more than an undertone.
However, starting in the Reagan era, then accelerating rapidly during the defection of once-reliable Democratic southern districts in the 90’s, the increasing importance of the religious right to the fortunes of the Republican party has led to deeper and deeper rifts between Republican elites and the once-derided ‘reality-based community.’ To me, this trend has, so far, culminated in the personage of Sarah Palin. George W. Bush may not have been overly intelligent, although opinions on this certainly differ. He had a good laugh in his first run about the ‘gentleman’s C’ he “earned” at Yale. At the same time, he was of the existing elite structure – he had gone to Yale and Harvard, had many friends and acquaintances from previous administrations. Yes, he could not pronounce the word ‘nuclear’, one of those markers that I believe was a purposely adopted habit to accentuate his ‘aw-shucks’ appeal. And his legendary malapropisms (‘childrens do learn’, etc.) were sign of, at the least, a sort of verbal dyslexia, if not outright mental dysfunction.
Palin, however, was a different animal altogether. I don’t want to get into a list ennumerating her many faults, but suffice to say – if you think that she was a qualified, decent nominee to be Vice President of the United States in 2008, then we really have very little to talk about on this particular subject.
Anyhow, she certainly represents an altogether different level of know-nothingness, an absolutely aggresive dislike of the entire concept of qualification, respect for the truth, or even the concept of ‘truth’, at least one that exists outside of a spin room.
And so, as I see it, the Republican party has a real, and serious choice ahead of it. It can try to reclaim the mantle of realistic hawkishness on matters both foreign and domestic – actually try being against wasteful government spending, rather than simply being against it when the recipients are not favored Republican interest groups. Try being in favor of really using America’s mighty weapons and fighting men and women to make the world better, or safer, rather than simply being in favor of extending the conflict in Iraq in order to avoiding having to admit making a mistake in 2003.
Alternatively, start sprinting along the path you’ve been walking the last 20 years, remove yourselves from the realm of serious debate on the issues of the day, and ensure your marginalization as a viable national political party, instead shoring up your support in the aggresively know-nothing areas of the country (deeply rural areas of the Deep South and Upper-Midwest), while watching the Democrats continue to pick away at former strongholds in the Inner-Midwest, Mountain West, and Upper-South. The choice is up to you…