Now, would someone in the corporate media care to discuss “Republicans in Disarray?” Heaven knows it’s been a hallmark of coverage about issues within the Democratic Party. As a former adherent of the GOP, and now as a complete outsider, I’ve had some rambling notions about what’s been happening since the 1980’s. Here they are.
The election of President Ronald Reagan was a significant one for the Republicans, and the popularization of the Southern Strategy by GOP activist Kevin Phillips continued into the decade. The Republicans offered a home for the Dixiecrats, the gun lobby, and the “God, Guns, and Gays” wedge issue proponents who found succor within Republican realms. His was the “Southern Strategy Fulfilled.” All of this made it far easier for the beknighted President to advance an agenda that was blatantly anti-union, persistently pro-banking, and generally pro-corporate. He was, however, not the consistent opponent of the New Deal some conservative would like to remember.
“Reagan increased payroll taxes in 1983. History records that, alarmed by spiraling deficits, he signed tax increases during six of his eight years in office. Even so, his administration tripled the national debt, to almost $3 trillion.” [Salon]
He pulled U.S. forces out of Lebanon after the Beirut Barracks bombing. He gave amnesty to undocumented immigrants. He did not privatize Social Security, instead he raised the payroll taxes. What he did do was to popularize some right wing ideas which advanced the corporate agenda (to break the social compact between citizens and their government) such as the “welfare queen.” Reagan’s world was “Leave it to Beaver” without the unionized employees who made the show possible. It was “Ozzie and Harriet” without any African American neighbors. It was “See The USA In Your Chevrolet” without acknowledging the Eisenhower Administration’s grand public works project — the Interstate Highway system. Reagan, instead, paved the route for the Bush and Rove show.
The Bush-Rove Bargain
The Show was abetted by the advance of right wing talk radio in the AM revival after the fairness doctrine was eliminated during the Reagan Administration in 1987. The Reaganesque mythology of welfare queens was translated to the John Birch Society – Randian free market mythology, and further transmogrified into Compassionate Conservatism, proving once and for all times that a snappy slogan exempts the speaker from having to provide any specific, cogent, or rational policy proposals on any given subject. The spins, the twists, and the dog whistling created an environment in which the Oil Barons, the Bankers, and the CEO’s were the Blesséd Among Us, while the rest of the nation’s population would have to demonstrate their worthiness to receive the charity of the country. If this is sounding a bit familiar, it should.
The Truth Tellers
One of the well documented features of the Romney-Ryan election efforts was the casual association their campaign had with the truth. Nor did their campaign suffer from a surfeit of consistency. Indeed, one of the highlights came when this quotation was captured: “I’m not familiar precisely with what I said, but I’ll stand by what I said, whatever it was,” Romney responded.” [RS] How on Earth could a candidate get away with this? Even worse, there was this comment from the Romney camp: “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers,” Romney pollster Neil Newhouse said at a panel organized by ABC News.” [HP] The answer may well be that Governor Romney assumed that the Mythology of Reagan, the focus group centered conservatism of Bush, the fulfillment of the Southern Strategy, and the cynicism toward information from the media created by the GOP-Fox-Right Wing radio Echo Chamber, would all culminate in a successful election effort.
What Went Wrong?
Policy Matters. Those corporate friendly policies of the Bush Administration which tended toward de-regulation, capital flight, and “creative” products to enhance investment revenues collapsed in a staggering heap circa 2007 and 2008. We went from “Greed Is Good,” back to “Greed Is One Of The Seven Deadly Sins.”
Item – The vaunted and well publicized Supply Side Theory of economics proved illusory, in all probability because it was a hoax in the first place. It may take the American public some time to understand the facts, but as of 2008 they were inescapable — low taxation did not, and never had, create economic growth in the real economy. No amount of spinning, theorizing, generalizing, or rationalizing can make this ideological theory whole again. Yet the Romney campaign persisted, enabled by the plutocrats on the Rove donor lists, the Club for Growth, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the bankers.
Item – The Republicans themselves, at least in the form of former House Speaker New Gingrich, recognized that they had a Financialist candidate in a race wherein the electorate was still reeling from the effects of financialist excesses. American voters rejected the Supply Siders, in favor of a candidate whose economic policies emphasize growth not European style austerity, which seems to have done precious little for the Eurozone economic growth rate.
Item – the conservative complaints about immigrants being a curse upon the civil state were strident enough to cause Hispanic voters to express their opinions in the polling that mattered. Opposition to the DREAM Act, calls for self-deportation, “papers please” legislation,” and charges that the Hispanic community was basically “unAmerican,” didn’t help expand the numbers for the Republican Party.
Item – That “rape thing” in combination with wholesale assaults on the Affordable Care Act, attached to radio ranting about “sluts” who take birth control pills, and associated with the most extreme anti-abortion rhetoric wasn’t good for Republicans either. Only 15% to 20% of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal in all instances. [PR] Proposing to adopt policies supported by 20% of the population doesn’t seem to be a constructive way to attract votes from the 46.2% of American women who are registered to vote. [Census]
Leadership matters. Those not self identified members of the Republican Party have marveled at the importance attached to the opinions of the right wing radio ranters in GOP politics. There have been several instances in which members of Congress, for example, sought to distance themselves from or disagree with radio commentator Rush Limbaugh — only to walk back their criticism almost immediately. Unfortunately for Republican politicians, Mr. Limbaugh’s misogynistic, racist, and otherwise radical offerings are associated with the fringe right not the moderate middle.
It is handy to have one’s own television network, but Fox News however helpful it seeks to be has done a poor job of informing its viewers. Studies from the University of Maryland and Fairleigh Dickinson University both demonstrated that Fox viewers were the least well informed, and were often willing to accept obviously inaccurate information. [HP] Fox’s response was to attack the Universities, not to deny the results of the studies. The Republicans could be certain to count as theirs the votes among the Fox viewers, but while Fox draws about 604,000 per day [TV] it should be recalled that there are 112,806,642 people in the country between the ages of 18-44, another 81,489,445 aged 45-64, and some 40,267,984 over 65. In slightly more stark terms, Fox is reaching 604,000 daily viewers out of 234,564,071 of those eligible to vote.
Item – An echo chamber can also be a trap. From the outside it appears the Republicans can’t decide if they are a Party with its own radio and TV broadcasters, or if they are the operatives responsible for promoting the policies sought by one television network, and a handful of broadcasters on AM radio. The Party appears to be functioning without a national spokesperson — is the anointed one Rush Limbaugh? Senator John McCain? Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly? Governor Mitt Romney? Senator Mitch McConnell? What are we to think of a party that for two election cycles didn’t (or couldn’t) use the services of its most recent incumbent?
Having an incumbent in the White House is always an advantage, but President Obama is the acknowledged leader of the Democratic Party, and has secured the support of former President Bill Clinton, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senator Dick Durbin, Senator John Kerry, and the imprimatur of the Kennedy family. GOP spokesperson may rail about the “Chicago” clique responsible for the Obama Campaign, but there’s no mistaking the fact that unlike the GOP there is a clear coterie of national Democratic leadership aligned with an incumbent president.
Ancestor worship, focus group politics, and the narrowing perspective along polarized lines promoted by a self referencing media does not constitute a recipe for long term success. Self definition works better. If the GOP is truly the Small Government Party, then the privacy invasive anti-abortion portion of the base will be disappointed. If the GOP is the Party of Big Business, then eventually small business owners will come to define themselves separately from the mega-corporations and the bankers. If the GOP is the Party of Social Conservatives then does it permanently constrain its membership to the 20% to 30% of voters for whom issues like abortion are primary considerations?
Perhaps the Party might want to look at Democratic efforts to realign itself after 1988? There’s a template there should the GOP choose to follow it, but WARNING — it requires moderation.