Friday, November 14, 2008

The GOP Battle for Party Identity

(News-Herald, November 13) It didn’t take long for the Republicans to start eating their own young. It was to be expected. The Republican Party is the new Democratic Party—fractured, unfocused, unclear of its own identity.

Political groups are like a bunch of college students in a dorm hungry for pizza. When there’s no pizza, and nobody has enough money to buy a pizza alone, pooling money makes sense. Everybody pitches in, everybody’s excited, everybody’s a big happy family, waiting for that pizza.

And then the pizza comes, and the bickering begins. Do I only get one piece? Why is he getting two pieces? Who the heck ordered pineapple on this?

The more times they go in together for pizza, the more the memory of those pizzaless days fade, the more people want their own way, and the more they forget that they can’t actually buy a pizza alone. The other people seem increasingly obnoxious, demanding and annoying. And when the day comes that they can’t even get the pizza, all hell breaks loose.

That’s how the Democrats became a bickering party standing for nothing except keeping a bunch of special interests happy.

The recent Republican era began with an uneasy alliance between political conservatives and social conservatives. Political conservatives were the good old boys of the party, the sons of Goldwater, who were all about a small government that didn’t spend many tax dollars and left everybody alone to live out their own traditional values without government interference.

Social conservatives (the so-called “religious right”) shared that interest in traditional values, and they were excited (back when they were called the “moral majority”) to be invited to sit in with the Big Boys. The old guard was happy to let the social cons believe they were major players as long as they would bring along their network of many voters.

But once the political conservatives let the social conservatives into the tent, they found them harder and harder to control. Social conservatives became peckish —they were repeatedly promised bold action on abortion and gay issues, and were delivered nothing of real substance. Many religious political leaders began to suspect they were being suckered.

Some of these guys took their ball and went home, but it didn’t really matter. At some point during the Bush Jr. administration, old line conservatives looked around the Republican tent and discovered that so many of the social conservatives had come in that the old guard was outnumbered.

The party that had once boasted some extremely smart and articulate thinkers (think William F. Buckley) was now filled with people openly hostile to ideas, proud that they didn’t read much, and distrustful of fancy-pants smart-aleck college-educated people and their so-called “facts.”

The party that had once preached endlessly of financial restraint found itself throwing money around like a rat in a Hickory Farms kiosk.

The party that once stood for personal responsibility promised a war that wouldn’t require us to sacrifice a single thing on the home front.

The party that once mocked Democrats for their fuzzy-headed inability to see the Big Picture decided that nothing mattered except a candidate’s position on gays and abortion. (As Diane Gramley says on her website, “These issues are more important to God than the economy.”)

The party of small non-intrusive government took over the nations’ local school districts, bought up a giant chunk of the economic system, and created new law-enforcement powers beyond any the nation had ever seen before.

The party of professional politicians is even realizing, with a mixture of shock and surprise, that while they can spend a few months smearing their opponent and then leave it behind, some of their followers actually believed that invented foolishness and are still ranting about it.

Whether these shifts are good or bad is not the point. The point is that the political and social conservative wings of the Republican Party disagree big time about some fairly fundamental stuff, and now they don’t even get the pizza.

Palin was brought onto the ticket to make social conservatives happy, so she becomes the default spear-carrier for one wing of the party (which never liked McCain) and the target for the other. The battle about her is the beginning of the battle to determine what the Republican Party is going to become-- whether it is going to retreat to its own traditional values, or leave them behind for good. Either way, it won’t be pretty, and somebody is going to end up without a pizza.


medaura said...

If religion ever was the opiate of the masses, the “secular” Left is crack cocaine for the ideologically-vulnerable apostates of organized religion. New generations are rightfully laughing Judeo-Christian superstitions out of the cultural scene but they are also inevitably rejecting economic freedom and limited government by association. The Religious Right nearly drowned the baby in the filthy bathwater, and the “secular” Left is ready to throw both out altogether.

Many politically savvy thumbs sticking in the wind are becoming increasingly sensitive to the “spiritual hunger” aspect of the Zeitgeist. Al Gore and Barack Obama are already successfully exploiting it to bootstrap their own glamorous personality cults. Feminism, radical environmentalism, animal rights, anti-globalization, anti-Americanism, global-warming hysteria, and all-encompassing Statism, are all very much in vogue.

Such developments should attune Conservatives to the cultural necessities of our times: Americans are experimenting with many templates of morality, but they would rather succumb to nihilism or moral relativism than return to the “caves”. Judeo-Christianity is going to die and unless Conservatives genuinely reform their movement to develop enticing modern ideological propositions, the Left will undoubtedly win by default and civilization will eventually succumb to the void.

Joe said...

Atwater and Rove and their ilk (going all the way back to Nixon's "Southern Strategy") performed incredible feats of political alchemy, so that the party of the "haves" (who benefit most from traditional Republican tenets of limited government and lower taxes) also succeeded in reeling in huge numbers of the "have nots," based on appeals to "family values." It's rather fascinating to see what happens when the big tent blow away, revealing the various non-intersecting rings in the GOP political circus.

On the other hand, this seems like standard fare; every four years, there is much commentary on the coming disintegration of the losing party's coalition.

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