On One Hand

April 28, 2009

The Death Spiral of the Republican Party

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 4:20 pm

I never thought I’d see the day when the Republican party came to be completely marginalized. Yet today as moderate Republican Arlen Specter leaves the party after it threatened to run an ultra-conservative against him in a primary, members of the party are collectively shouting “good riddiance.” They don’t need weak-willed moderates among their ranks! Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and John McCain can go too!

It’s hard to figure out exactly what the Republican party considers “acceptable” given that a president who lays out what are essentially Ronald Reagan’s tax policies is labeled SOCIALIST. The range of views they’ll approve of are exceedingly narrow, and simultanneously vague. Activists have contradictory libertarian and authoritarian currents; what they call the decay of our morals is simultanneous with the installation of a fascist state.

Liberal Democrats are currently in love with a surprisingly incrementalist and balance-minded leader in Barack Obama, who manages to win their approval even with fairly pro-market and pro-business policies. He doesn’t want to remake the market, he simply wants to patch it up, which is all the American left ever wanted. It’s fair to say he has had his ideological counterparts on the Center Right, including John McCain himself, a group which constitutes the perhaps one third of the country that stands to the left of the 20% that still indentify as Republican. That group is exceedingly abandoning the Republican party, or are forced out.

It’s hard to imagine what kind of candidate Conservative Republicans want to see elected. Sarah Palin frightened America with her lack of intellectualism and base rhetoric but the Right loved her. Yet her left-wing counterpart, probably somebody like Ralph Nader, wins no friends among Democrats.

I think this is the moment when the American Right finally realizes, once and for all, that what they always thought of as the destiny of America is an illusion; that we will continue to lose our identity as a white, Christian nation, and that the days of the Wild West and segregated South are over. The flat tax will likely never happen. We will never declare a formal allegiance to Christ or install the Ten Commandments plaques in all state capitol buildings. Meanwhile my generation has always perceived a steady march towards a progressive and tolerant society, towards increased secularism and diversity alike, and see that as inevitable now. America’s future indeed looks more like modern Western Europe than the individualist’s utopia they’ve always beleived in.

What will emerge in the place of the Republican party? It would be interesting to see the Libertarian party become elavated in status but the reality is the American electorate is just as opposed to ideological economic conservatism as it is to ideological social conservatism. That’s especially true as Americans generally don’t think taxes on the wealthy are too high, and like the programs those taxes pay for. I see the nationwide ceiling of a pure libertarian movement (without social conservatism) being twelve or fifteen percent of the electorate. Meanwhile something has to appeal to the social conservatism of the Evangelical movement – and a socially conservative party that is open to social welfare – essentially a Southern Christian populism – probably wins more support, by numbers, than a purely libertarian movement.

The biggest problem that any new party would face – including a new, re-made Republican party – is that it is easier for Democrats to take a step to the center and become the moderate party than it is for Republicans to do the same. That is increasingly true as the nation itself takes a step to the left, and as moderate Republicans defect and become moderate Democrats. If moderates in the Republican party leave, Conservative Republicans are left to select increasingly unapalatable far-Right candidates in their primaries.

It’s ironic to hear the radical Right comparing Obama to a Nazi or a fascist (they use those terms interchangeably). The things that made the Nazi party dangerous were extreme racism, rabid nationalism that excluded many residents of the country from the national identity, the willingness to use violence or physical coersion as a political tool, and ambitious militarism. None of those things are remotely characteristic of Barack Obama’s policies – indeed they are policies and sentiments that Barack Obama specifically and unambiguously opposes.


1 Comment »

  1. Comment

    This sums it up nicely:

    “The range of views they’ll approve of are exceedingly narrow, and simultanneously vague.”

    I’m not sure that we will look more like modern Europe in the future (to whatever extent that we are relatively dissimiliar) but I say that with more of an eye on economy and demography.

    Comment by sleepyreaderz — May 1, 2009 @ 6:11 am | Reply

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