Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Demise of Republican Credibility

In the 1960s, Republican conservatives and Republican moderates fought for control of the party. By 1980, the conservatives had won. By 1994, during the Gingrich revolution, conservatives began to lose out to the right wing fringe and the right wingers finally took full control in the 2002 midterm elections and gave us the Iraq fiasco, the oil crisis and a strange economy that resembles stagflation. For the Republican Party, it's been downhill ever since Bush came to town. E. J. Dionne, in Truthout, gives us his perspective on the unravelling of the Republican Party:
President Bush, his defenders say, has pioneered a new philosophical approach, sometimes known as "big government conservatism." The most articulate defender of this position, the journalist Fred Barnes, argues that Bush's view is "Hamiltonian" as in Alexander, Thomas Jefferson's rival in the early republic. Bush's strategy, Barnes says, "is to use government as a means to achieve conservative ends."

Kudos to Barnes for trying bravely to make sense of what to so many others - including some in conservative ranks - seems an incoherent approach. But I would argue that this is the week in which conservatism, Hamiltonian or not, reached the point of collapse.

The most obvious, outrageous and unprincipled spasm occurred Thursday night when the Senate voted on a bill that would have simultaneously raised the minimum wage and slashed taxes on inherited wealth.

Rarely has our system produced a more naked exercise in opportunism. Most conservatives oppose the minimum wage on principle as a form of government meddling in the marketplace. But moderate Republicans in jeopardy this fall desperately wanted an increase in the minimum wage.

So the seemingly ingenious Republican leadership, which dearly wants deep cuts in the estate tax, proposed offering nickels and dimes to the working class to secure billions for the rich. Fortunately, though not surprisingly, the bill failed.

The only quibble I have with Dionne is that right wing conservativism, rather than the ordinary kind, is dead. We haven't seen real conservativism for almost fifteen years; I don't agree with the conservatism of Reagan or Goldwater or even the elder Bush but at least it wasn't totally divorced from reality.

With each passing month, it becomes increasingly obvious that Republicans have nothing serious to offer the overwhelming majority of Americans. The Republican Congress of the last two years has been marked by gimmicks, by corruption, by fear mongering, by do-nothingism and by a general inability to connect with the facts of the day. This month, despite the many problems facing the nation, Bush and his Republican colleagues in Congress have gone on vacation. Maybe it's just as well. Everything Bush and his friends touch just seems to get worse.


Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Like most Americans, I always looked on our system of quadrennial presidential elections and biennial congressional elections as a source of stability. European-style parliamentary democracies seemed unstable by design.

The Bush years have had me looking longingly at a system that provides for relatively prompt dumping of a government that shows itself to be incapable of governing competently and in the overall public interest.

Going by the polls, if we had a parliamentary system, Bush and congressional Republicans would've been dismissed during the past 12 months.

One thing that haunts me is how powerful the compulsions to win and to poke a sharp stick in the opposition's eye are among those in Bush's political base of southerners, the religious right, angry white middle-aged men, gun enthusiasts, NASCAR dads, etc., plus the corporate and big-money crowd.

These people all have their own agendas, most of which hinge on selfishness, greed, control, denial of things others need and outright spitefulness.

Not long ago, neocons claimed they wanted to make government smaller in part by eliminating the Department of Education. They now control the whole federal government and could easily do that. Do you hear it even being discussed? No.

Clearly, these people aren't motivated by notions long advanced by what I'll call ethical, traditional conservatives. Americans of that description would surely have dumped Bush in 2004, for having bungled us into an unnecessary and badly executed misadventure in Iraq, if nothing else.

I think what we're seeing in the neocons isn't so much a political movement or party as it is an amalgalm of personal and social pathologies come together to acquire power, exert control and redistribute wealth in reverse-Robinhood fashion.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Poechewe said...

S.W., thanks for the comments. I suppose I should have added greed and just plain orniriness.

People like Rush Limbaugh, George W. Bush, Bill O'Reilly, Dick Cheney, Ann Coulter, Bill Kristol, Donald Rumsfeld and Tom DeLay have not brought out the best of America.

1:06 PM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Poechewe, those neocon/right-wing leading lights you mention certainly are opinion makers and policy makers. But we had better keep in mind that they couldn't be those things without the support of lots of ordinary Americans.

It's not too much to say they're also a reflection of the less-than-admirable traits and attitudes of many Americans.

4:07 PM  
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3:05 PM  

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