Friday, June 19, 2009

Lost In The Wilderness

In our wildest imaginings following the 2000 election and during the subsequent 8 years, could anyone have predicted the massively horrible, yet oddly entertaining death spiral of today's GOP? As we gawk in amazement at the bizarre ongoing Republican sojourn in the wilderness, certain questions spring readily to mind. Where is the famed noise machine by which republicans maintained a reign of terror which kept the democratic leadership cowering and/or running for cover for years? Whither the swaggering, cowboy ethic that proved so impenetrable to reality, logic, and the exigencies of politics at the dawn of the new century? I guess liberal prescience found vindication when the misery factor (war, hurricanes, torture, phone taps, economic Armageddon...) finally overwhelmed the smoke and mirrors of Karl Rove's message machine, bringing an awakening that has proved to be very rude indeed.

As Barack Obama and his coalition of democrats, independents, liberals, and a few disaffected republicans attempt to clean up the foul mess left in George W. Bush's wake, it can be said that none have done more to bring about this sea change than rigid, shortsighted conservatives themselves. With such unbridled power at their disposal, could anyone have doubted the inevitability of the GOP landing us in dire straits? Regarding Bush, the past, as they say, is prologue, and he had pretty much failed at every endeavor he'd undertaken before becoming president. It's amazing how the abject fear attending the thought of another four years under a criminally inept executive can focus the mind of the electorate. If the GOP is experiencing a spot of bother as they seek their erstwhile mojo, perhaps it's merely a function of truth's well known bias against blatant phoniness.

The mandarins of the right are on to something, one feels, when they wring their hands and mutter and mewl about their failure to take seriously the implications of demography. The young shifted in droves to the democrats in the last election, and the reason is that Obama fired the political imaginations and hopes of an entire generation in 2007. In the heady aftermath of electoral victory, they seem sufficiently engaged to remain a force to be reckoned with for decades. Name almost any demographic group, and Obama bested the republicans with said group in 2008: women, Hispanics, African Americans, college educated and working class whites. Indeed, the only group staying home for the GOP are Southern social conservatives, the same group that Richard Nixon advised that the party "nurture" in his so-called "Southern Strategy." Now republicans must sleep in the shrunken bed they have made. It is good to keep the base happy, but everyone knows that you can't win national elections with the base alone. The GOP's dilemma lies in the fact that if they moderate their crazy rhetoric at this stage in order to reach out to independents, they run the risk of losing the base. They have been hoisted on their own petard.

Going forward, I see one danger. Our system is one that relies on a healthy if occasionally contentious conversation between the party in power, and the loyal opposition. Because conservatives have painted themselves into a very bad corner, the administration may get the idea that it can do what it pleases. Regardless of who is at the controls, that's not a good scenario. Liberals have watched in dismay as the administration has made decisions which run counter to our values. Obama seems to have made purely political calculations on questions of torture which leave out a vigorous pursuit of accountability. He has sought to suppress photographs which would give a clearer picture of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" engaged in by our intelligence agencies. He can do these things in large part because of the ineptitude that has stricken the loyal opposition. Democracy requires grown ups on both sides of the aisle to keep everyone honest. While I can admit to the guilty pleasure of watching the GOP stumble in the dark attempting to find political true north, at some point it is in everyone's best interest that they right their veering course.

I just don't see it happening in the foreseeable future.


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