The Republican Identity Crisis
In the hurley-burly of the GOP's ongoing primary scramble, it is easy to overlook what a wonderful thing it is to see a major American political party in the midst of rediscovering who it is. The other major party has the last four years to identify with, and a face to go with it. Voters know the Obama record. What conservatives, Reagan Democrats, Libertarians, some traditional and academic Democrats, and independent voters want to know is what else is on the menu.
The candidate mash-up thus far has been informing, entertaining, and robust. It is uniquely American that either major party after two centuries of political history could be still so connected to the voter that party regulars cannot dictate top-down, try though they might. Grassroots movements, especially in a cyber-connected world, can claim a seat at the table, too.
For Republicans, and unaffiliated voters in many states, it's like laundry day. The wash is being done, and hung on a line in the backyard, just like at Grandma's. Whatever happens between now and when a candidate becomes the nominee, Joe and Jane Voter are talking, expressing, thinking, reading, watching, yelling, purging, adapting, and occassionally getting nasty. The nastiness is visceral; it shows passion. There is a lot of accumulated anger on the Fruited Plain; it is healthy to vent it. And it's better than war. Ask any European.
Although we are by no means the only nation that changes heads of government in an orderly manner, with the exception of four years in the nineteenth century, we have been doing so for more than two centuries. It is still a remarkable and radical thing.
The idea that citizens could self-form and finance a national government and arrange flexible systems of law and representation, all without the authority of one looming sovereign, one central, final capricious arbiter, must have amused some in the early days. It took us a couple of runs at it, but in 1789, Benjamin Franklin emerged from the Constitutional Convention to inform a curious citizen that we have "[a] republic, madam, if you can keep it." We have; we are.
What came from the Declaration, the Articles of Confederation, and then the Constitution was uniquely American. That same radicalism expresses itself today, in lively, heated barking, blaming, finger-pointing, and character assassination in the media, and in coffee shops, pubs, and homes nationwide. When was it never thus?
Health care, budgets -- or lack of them -- deficits, growth, jobs, taxes, regulation are all in the mix. But the Washington insiders, the Republican Mr. Bigs, need a win, so they listen with one ear as they cling to Mitt Romney's electability. Fine. Maybe Romney will end up being the best choice, but so far it looks as though Main Street is asking for a look at alternatives. Maybe something else unexpected will erupt, drawing the primary season out long enough to introduce more new faces.
As we look at the Arab Spring, with its trail of bodies, torture, brutality, and prisons, inflicted by despots, backstage juntas, and Dark-Ages ideologues and their puppets, how can we not enjoy a moment's gratitude for having the leeway, the liberty to participate in our own cultural making? Forty Syrians were gunned down last week. Gunned down for doing what we're doing: looking for an alternative.
Apart from a few hired thugs and goons in Madison and selected other pockets, popular politics remains largely injury-free -- another remarkable thing, given what's at stake. So let the Republicans muss up their hair in the process.
Identities can be hard to pin down. I'm delighted with the whole bloody mess.