August 23, 2010
GOP in Default ModeBy J.R. Dunn
It's widely acknowledged that in 2010, the Democrats are on the ropes. But just about the same could be said for the Republicans.
A few weeks ago, John Cornyn and John Boehner revealed this election's GOP platform. In a year of massive unrest, public disgust with government, and large-scale rejection of interventionist policies, the GOP will emphasize...deficits. An issue to warm an economist's heart -- and the occasional accountant's, too. Top that one, Obama.
In the wake of Scott Brown's stunning upset in Massachusetts last February, with the entire New England region open to exploitation, the GOP is doing nothing. There are no plans to challenge incumbents in New England. No money, no candidates, no program. Historical moment? Wuzzat mean?
No effort is being made to emphasize the achievements of the nation's Republican governors. Jan Brewer, Chris Christie, and Mitch Daniels, among others, are steering their states through the worst economy since the Carter '70s, pressing critical policy changes, and most important, defying Washington while they're at it. Yet the RNC knows them not.
We will merely allude to Michael Steele's perennial circus act to look beyond to 2012, where we have one announced candidate, the immortal Mr. Newt Gingrich, whose most recent sojourn is a national tour with the most Rev. Al Sharpton.
It can't be denied that the GOP is sweeping toward a historic victory, one that may even overshadow the legendary events of 1994, the Salamis of the modern Republican Party (that is, if the current party leadership doesn't throw the opportunity away at the last minute, a possibility never to be overlooked). But this owes very little to the GOP itself. It is instead due to the efforts of the individual candidates and outside parties, above all the Tea Parties, one of the most remarkable popular upsurges in American history. While the TPs are dead serious and out for blood, the Republican Party is tootling along in low gear, its slogan the soul-stirring "Business as usual!"
It's easy to trace the electoral strategy in this. The party intends to take the safe course while encouraging the Tea Parties to knock over garbage cans and tease watchdogs. But that's where the problem lies -- it is a safe strategy. It would be a smart strategy for a party that's on the run or otherwise not expecting much. But that's not the position that the Republicans should be taking in 2010. Rather than viewing the Tea Parties as allies in overturning the Democrats' Neue Ordnung, the GOP is treating them as a disposable resource. Rather than gathering all their forces for a wild, do-or-die charge on Dem strongholds, the party is sitting back and letting the chips fall where they may. This is not a formula for a lasting victory or a necessary political restoration. But it is all too typical of the party that has become used to the status of whipped dog of American politics.
For the adult lives of virtually everyone now living, the GOP has been the loser party. It got that way because of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Great Depression. Herbert Hoover, who had the unexcelled misfortune to be president when the 1929 crash occurred, responded with a grab-bag of interventionist policies -- tight credit, higher taxes, expanded tariffs -- that simply deepened the slump. Following the Bonus March fiasco, he retreated from public view, allowing himself to be caricatured as the "do-nothing" president, and was duly routed by FDR in 1932.
The GOP was routed with him. Republicans were caricatured as the Party of Wall Street, directly to blame for the nation's economic crisis. While New Deal policies failed at turning around the economy, they did convince a desperate public that the Democrats were "on their side." Operating under the aegis of the New Deal, Democratic political machines tightened control over cities across the country. The GOP's 1936 hopeful, the honorable, quixotic Alf Landon, went down to unparalleled defeat, taking the party's hopes with him. FDR settled into a twelve-year imperial reign while the Democrats held complete control of Congress until 1946.
The GOP's return to power under Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 changed little. Ike rolled back nothing, repealed no Democratic policies, and effectively acted as a caretaker for Roosevelt's legacy. (Certain liberal thinkers such as Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. went so far as to claim this as the sole legitimate raison d'être for the GOP.) There was no consensus for change. Both parties had drifted considerably to the left. The "conservative" faction of the GOP was a disgruntled, reactionary rump of no significance. William F. Buckley was only beginning his career as a political firebug setting the landscape ablaze with a new, revitalized conservatism. In lieu of meaningful opposition, leftist thinking prevailed. The GOP might be slightly more business-oriented and slightly more hawkish involving defense -- but only slightly. For the better part of four decades following 1932, the GOP was for all practical purposes a junior party to the Democrats.
Both parties worked to impose centralized interventionist policies. The Republican slogan was "the same program, but slower," its major selling point the contention that it could emplace collectivist policies more "responsibly" than the Democrats. Nelson Rockefeller was the leader of this wing, which controlled the party unchallenged for two decades following WWII. Not even Richard Nixon defied this consensus. His one-and-a-half terms, in which he championed Keynesianism, the Environmental Protection Agency, higher taxes, and affirmative action, put him farther to the left than many Democrats.
Change began in the mid-'60s. The west-of-the-Mississippi GOP, not far removed from the days of the frontier, remained solidly conservative. An insurgent movement opposing Rockefeller faction control coalesced around the figure of Arizona's Barry Goldwater, who ran for president in 1964. He was soundly beaten in the wake of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but his candidacy created the conditions for a rebirth of Republican conservatism, nurtured by Buckley's new conservative intellectualism. The conservative "Prairie Fire" culminated in the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, the sole president in an eighty-year period to govern on strict Republican (one might go so far as to say "American") principles.
Reagan changed the game completely. Even onetime hippie leftist Bill Clinton felt compelled to govern as a right-of-center Democrat. But both Bushes reinstated the conventional Republican paradigm of a firm foreign policy coupled with domestic policies that were anything but -- not a good sign.
Congress took longer to adjust, with many of the Rockefeller branch (today termed "RINOs") remaining in office through the Reagan years. That began to change in 1994, with a masterful tactical victory engineered by the same Newt Gingrich today cavorting with Al Sharpton. But Gingrich's victory soon foundered on the rocks of his own ego, leaving the party under the control of impotent figures preoccupied with their own agendas while the party as a whole spiraled into blatant corruption -- again in direct imitation of the Democrats. The election of 2006 was a deserved rebuke for this dereliction.
In the 21st century, the GOP has fallen back to its ground state as the loser party, a shadow party that has learned its lesson -- submissive, cautious, and unwilling to take chances. (Shortly after the 1994 election, it was discovered that Democratic committee staffers were not being replaced. Asked to explain, an anonymous Republican said that if they allowed the staffers to remain, when the Democrats returned to office, perhaps they'd remember and do the Republicans a few favors. Nothing could illustrate the basic spinelessness of the traditional GOP more clearly.) John Cornyn has already stated that the party will make no attempt to repeal ObamaCare. If the GOP won't tear down that monstrosity, what good is the GOP? The current Republican Party is tired, frightened, and lacking ideas, no fit war wagon for the struggles that lie ahead.
But a wild card remains -- the Tea Parties. American political culture has never been limited, as it is in Europe, to a professional elite that makes the deals and then imposes them on the prole class. In this country the people speak, as they are speaking today. Obama has governed so ineptly, arrogantly, and stupidly as to arouse disgust in people who until now have been happy to ignore politics.
The Tea Parties are not Republican. They're not even necessarily conservative as we have grown to recognize the term. But they are American in spirit, and thus de facto conservative. They must turn to the GOP as a political vessel because they have nowhere else to turn.
The politically independent, philosophically conservative Tea Partiers will win the upcoming election for the GOP. Once that's taken care of, the current Republican leadership will do its best to put distance between the GOP and the Tea Parties, the quicker to return to their loser's slumber.
What's the alternative? Not a future as a third party. Third parties as a rule have a miserable record, from the forgotten John Anderson and H. Ross Perot, who can proudly proclaim that he put Bill Clinton into the presidency on two separate occasions, to the perennial embarrassment of the Libertarians, happily acting as tools for the Dems. If formed into an acting political party, as some are urging, the Tea Parties would probably do little better. (In any case, recent reports indicate that attempts to run "Tea Party" candidates are actually front operations overseen by the Democrats.)
But what future do they have in the GOP full of untrustworthy pols yearning for a return to the old days of well-rewarded ideological servitude? The answer may well be to reverse the equation: for the Tea Parties to use the GOP as a resource.
There are already a number of Republican Tea Partiers, people who believe the same things and share the same goals. Michele Bachmann and Mike Pence are the best-known of these. Next January, they will be joined by a large number of newly-elected politicians who owe their success not to the GOP, but to the Tea Parties. This substantial group could serve as a kernel around which a program of internal conservative reform can be carried out, much as the Goldwater backers did in the 1960s. They will not simply be new recruits, or another faction, but something on the order of a driving wheel for a party that lacks one. It's interesting that Bachmann has already formed a Tea Party Caucus -- exactly what you'd expect of someone with such plans in mind.
The Tea Party could turn the GOP into a vibrant political entity worthy of the new millennium rather than merely a group of tired hacks rubber-stamping the social changes mandated by the Democrats and awarding themselves earmarks. It's possible to view this as a historical imperative, a broad-based citizens' movement fulfilling the promise of the incomplete Goldwater, Reagan, and Gingrich revolutions.
Even if the Tea Parties fail in rejuvenating the GOP, they could utilize the party as a chrysalis in which to grow and expand until, some time in the near future -- perhaps eight or ten years from today -- they are established enough to emerge as a viable third party, leaving the husk of the GOP behind, much as the Republicans left the Whigs in the 1850s. Either course is viable. Either would offer us a way out of the current impasse of twin parties growing more and more to resemble a political oligarchy in the purest and least democratic sense.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker and will edit the forthcoming Military Thinker.