Very perceptive post by Ed Kilgore here. He examines why the GOP still seems to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that there is a hidden majority for right-wing ideas out there. Extra kudos to Kilgore for noting that politicians who actually tried to implement a conservative vision found themselves smacked around very quickly.
The thing about the Republican Party is that it draws many passively-willed people. It's a natural consequence of preaching about "old-fashioned family values": the people you attract are going to be people who don't much care for modernity, who don't really want to cause a fuss, and who don't have deeply thought-out political positions that go beyond that things used to be better. Just take the abortion issue: in the late 1970s, conservatives like Ronald Reagan and John Tower supported abortion rights, as did most protestants (though the religious right opposed abortion because of the feminist principles upon which it was based). Then Reagan changes his mind. And the GOP now largely opposes abortion rights. To be sure, there are many conservatives (mostly Catholic) who opposed abortion from the start, and it's not as though there aren't compelling pro-life arguments to be made that no doubt persuaded many thoughtful conservatives. Still, I see this as a clear example of my thesis: Republicans tend to be the sorts of people who fall in line with their elites. They tend more often to Messianism toward their leaders than do Democrats (this year being something of an exception), a la Reagan and Bush 43 after 9/11. They believe in strong leadership as being the path to implementing a conservative vision.
Unfortunately, even with strong leadership it hasn't happened. To continue the example, the pro-life movement hasn't accomplished any of its major objectives in 30-plus years. And yet, you don't hear widespread dissatisfaction with how the movement is serving its people. Movement types have become very adept at spiraling the blame outward. It's the liberal media's fault, of course. The liberals cheat to win. And so on. By feeding a deep and abiding sense of aggrievement they have distracted the rank and file from looking at just how abysmal their record has been.
Or is that really the case? I'm beginning to sense that there are an awful lot of conservatives out there who don't really care much about effective government. What is George Bush's approval rating among Republicans? It's still awfully high, the last time I checked. The GOP just doesn't care about whether things are run well, and the evidence of mainstream conservative revolt for most of Bush's term in office is proof of this. The fact that most Republicans were willing to elect, as vice president, a woman with little experience and no clue about national policy further underscores just how unserious today's GOP is about effective government. The Palin farce illustrates something rotten at the heart of the GOP--grievance has overpowered all else. It used to just be a tool to get conservatives to the polls, but nowadays a Republican can become the de facto face of the party by merely channeling banal resentments from the "real America" toward "fake America". And I thought that I would be spared more "two Americas" chatter after John Edwards doomed his career!
If the Republican Party is to survive, the party needs to change itself such that a Palin doesn't happen again. It needs to cultivate leaders that celebrate education and achievement, and reiterate that that's exactly what their party celebrates. It needs to speak to the fundamental notion that all Americans are real Americans, regardless of their skin color or where they live. The GOP cannot be a national party until it says these things. The old resentments need to die if conservatism is going to win any new converts, as a first priority. The GOP has fashioned itself as the redoubt of the embattled (White) middle class, and it has achieved some things on its behalf (like welfare reform). But the nation is changing, and unless the GOP largely drops all that tired Nixonian rhetoric, I believe it risks consignment to the dustbin of political parties who died off rather than readjust to change.
The Man, The Myth, The Bio
- East Bay, California, United States
- Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.