November 1, 2010
The Grand Old Party, known to many as simply the "G.O.P.," passed away during the recent election season.
Despite having once been known for such luminaries as Lincoln and Reagan, in recent years the party had slipped into a near-comatose state of minorityhood and, under the leadership of a continuing parade of elder statesmen, had demonstrated an unfailing ability to reach across the aisle and compromise principles in the name of "getting things done."
It is survived by a group of aging professional politicians whose primary interest has been their own political careers and assuring the blessings of continual reelection upon themselves and their cronies.
Those close to The Party say it was asleep at the time of passing.
At a time when the Republican Party is on the verge of rising from a near-death experience just two years ago to achieve a stunning electoral triumph, writing the obituary of the Grand Old Party might seem a little strange.
I would submit, however, that if you define the G.O.P. as an organization, structure, and established group of people, its demise is not only imminent, but already an accomplished fact.
Moreover, the cause of its passing is a change in the political world as fundamental and profound as a polar shift. The political world has truly been turned upside-down. Republican politics has shifted from a top-down to a bottom-up power structure.
For the established Republican elite, the professional politicians who have shaped the party's policies, picked its candidates, apportioned its funds, and dispersed the fruits of political power, the Party is over. There's a new group of bosses in town. They're called The American People, and the real irony is that it is all made possible by Al Gore's little invention called "the internet."
Think about the difference that the internet has had on these elections. The Washington-based establishment no longer has a monopoly on communications. While the major media continues to focus on Capitol Hill, today, a blog in Ames, Iowa can reach as many people as the nightly news, a simple viral e-mail can make the most expensive direct mail campaign seem paltry in its reach, and a single moneybomb campaign can raise sums that would make the most successful bundler jealous.
As a result, the establishment -- national, state and local -- has lost the ability to dictate candidates based on membership in the G.O.B. (Good Old Boys) club. In the past few months, we've seen a parade of well-established, well-backed primary candidates disappear down the well of oblivion, defeated by upstart newcomers running on convictions rather than connections.
What remains to be seen is how the establishment will react to this change. Or whether they will recognize it at all.
On this count, I must admit, I'm not particularly optimistic.
The old-timers who have always urged conservatives to stay within the party have been among the first to jump ship and start independent candidacies when that seems to be the only way to protect their power, and their condescending attitudes toward the likes of Sarah Palin and Jim DeMint make me question whether they really understand that they work for us, or think that this message was intended for Democrat ObamaCare supporters only.
But it wasn't.
The genie is out of the bottle, and it's not going back in. Thanks to the internet, our nation has gotten small enough to once again allow a direct participatory political process, and the old, traditional G.O.P. establishment will either accept this new reality or face a party split that will condemn the Republican Party to the history books.
Hopefully, the career politicians will "read the tea leaves" and accept the new realities, and the Republican Party will become a G.N.P. -- a Great New Party -- driven from the bottom up, putting principle before politics and service before self-interest.
If not, then the Tea Party folks may have no choice but to abandon the elephant for a real party of their own, marching under a new name and banner (maybe a mama grizzly?), but always with a firm dedication to the principles that made this country great.
Truly, a party of, by, and for the people.
A party Lincoln would have been proud to call his own.
Bill Markin is a retired businessman, lifelong conservative, and certified curmudgeon.