Monday, November 13, 2006

The State of American Politics

One of the things many of us have learned in the last year is just how dominated by Big Money the Republican Party is these days. Oh we already knew the Republican Party was dominated by money; we've known that for thirty years. And even the Democratic Party has allowed itself at times to be dominated by Big Money, but it was never on the scale we have seen the Republican Party demonstrate in recent years.

As I recall, George W. Bush, a man with a poorly defined public record, amassed over $200 million for his campaign a full year before the 2000 election; his campaign war chest defined his dominance of the primaries before a single speech was given. Excessive money does strange things to a political party; for one thing, such a party has to look for a platform because no voter is going to vote for wealthy billionaires angling for political favors. And such a party may be too eager to look for a folksy front man who may or may not know what he's doing. The results can be strange, and unfortunately, as we have seen, dangerous.

E. J. Dionne Jr. of The Washington Post had a column on election day that did a fine job of defining the political demise of the Republican Party:
One verdict from the 2006 election was obvious before a single vote had been counted: The Republican Party no longer has a coherent governing philosophy. Republicans who care about advancing a consistent set of ideals are already at each other's throats and are likely to stay there. True, most Republicans still describe themselves as "conservative." But it is no longer clear what that word means.

When they have nothing else to say, Republicans will always accuse Democrats of harboring secret plans to raise taxes. But the tax issue just sits out there, unhinged from any logical approach to how revenue and spending should fit together in a sensible budget.

Then there is Iraq. Republican foreign policy realists saw the war as a disaster going in. Neoconservatives who supported the invasion increasingly blame the Bush administration for botching the job. The administration's approach to Iraq is an orphan -- only President Bush and his closest advisers claim it as their own.


The lesson of 2006 is that the past five years have aggravated every contradiction on the right to the breaking point: religious conservatives against libertarians; neoconservatives against foreign policy realists; pro-immigration conservatives against immigration critics; big business against working-class conservatives; compassionate conservatives against . . . hmm, how do you describe the other side on that one?

One of the problems with Republican politicians is that they have been so busy doing favors for wealthy contributors who don't need the favor (what's another hundred million dollars or two when you already have billions?) that they haven't been paying too much attention to a rapidly changing world nor to an American economy that needs to focus more on creating decent paying jobs.

In The New York Times today, Paul Krugman had some useful thoughts:
And it wasn't just macaca, or even the war, that brought [Senator Allen] down. Mr. Allen, a reliable defender of the interests of the economic elite, found himself facing an opponent who made a point of talking about the problems of rising inequality. And the tobacco-chewing, football-throwing, tax-cutting, Social Security-privatizing senator was only one of many faux populists defeated by real populists last Tuesday.

Ever since movement conservatives took over, the Republican Party has pushed for policies that benefit a small minority of wealthy Americans at the expense of the great majority of voters. To hide this reality, conservatives have relied on wagging the dog and wedge issues, but they've also relied on a brilliant marketing campaign that portrays Democrats as elitists and Repubicans as representatives of the average American.

Keep in mind that the marketing campaign that Krugman talks about was bought and paid for by the same wealthy elite that dominate the politics of the Republican Party. The danger is that if the Republicans continue to fall, this same elite will be attempting to buy the Democrats. Still, a wave of populist Democrats heading for Washington in January is a good sign.

Bob Herbert of The New York Times says the Democrats have a huge task ahead of them (one that Bush will probably make difficult):
... [Democrats need] to respond to the anxiety of the electorate about the state of the nation. Americans are worried about the war, the political and economic situation here at home, the way the U.S. is perceived by the rest of the world, and the direction in which the country is heading.

The Democrats didn't win the off-year elections, the Republicans lost them. And I'm convinced that the Republicans lost beause while they were in charge ("Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job") millions of Americans began to lose confidence in those things that had moved them about America—its awesome power to do good, its ethical underpinnings, and most important, that incredible array of qualities that fell under the magical, mystical heading, the American dream.


The elite now send other people's children off to fight and die in wars that are unwinnable. On the home front, a two-tiered economy has been put in place in which a small percentage of the population does extremely well while a majority of working Americans are in an all-but-permanent state of anxiety about job security, pensions, the economic impact of globalization, the cost of health care, college tuition and so on.

For perhaps the first time in history, there is a large swath of Americans who are worried that over the long haul their children will not fare as well as they have.

Our democracy belongs to all Americans, not just those who can pay for it and cling to economic privilege without participating in the hard work of moving our nation forward. Republicans will continue to use wedge issues to divide Americans and distract attention from wealthy me-firsters who are not nearly as competitive and creative as they would like to believe (if you doubt me, look at the MBA presidency). If people work hard, the laws of our nation should not be rigged against average Americans by those looking for a quick buck by way of political favors or political scams.

We need two parties in our country but the recent election has left a Republican Party in place that is even more right wing than the one that existed the day before. Kevin Drum of The Washington Monthly shows the result of the election (check out the graph on his site):
There are a couple of interesting things to note. First, even before the election there were essentially no centrist Republicans in the House. In the three bars [of the graph shown] closest to the center-right, there were a grand total of three Republican incumbents. So there were really no centrist Republicans to target.

Second, the Republican losses were pretty evenly spread. The absolute most conservative Republicans all survived, which isn't surprising since they generally come from the absolute most conservative districts, but aside from that the losses came from across the spectrum of the Republican caucus. When you do the arithmetic, it turns out that the Republicans who kept their seats were slightly more conservative than those who lost their seats, and the end result is that the Republican caucus, which was already far more skewed to the right than the Democratic caucus was to the left, is now skewed even more to the right. But only slightly.

The absolute most conservative Republicans all survived.... If there is to be real change in our nation, if we are to return to a rational and healthy two-party system, the Democrats need to win in 2008 and the Republicans need to reform their party instead of relying on a perpetual and divisive marketing campaign and politics from another era.


Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Don't be surprised if Republicans have to experience an extended period of losses, with a serious falling off of funding resulting, before they will really reform their party.

Before any of that happens, I look for them to raise and spend more money and to conduct themselves more ruthlessly.

One thing to keep in mind is that the far-right neoconservatives who took over the GOP arose from a relatively small, hard-bitten core of old-time hard liners. They had been a special interest/pressure group. When they took over the party, they continued to operate as a special interest/pressure group.

That means they were more narrowly focused, more disciplined, more vicious and a lot less worried about offending unhelpful and disliked segments of the population.

I think for a time there was an assumption they would become civilized and respectable, evolving into a new version of the big-tent Republican Party. That didn't happen.

8:30 PM  
Blogger Seven Star Hand said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:05 PM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

I suppose it figures that someone hell bent on shameless self-promotion wouldn't be the least bit shy about wasting lots and lots of someone else's space.

Peace off, spammer.

11:30 PM  
Anonymous Craig said...

S.W., thanks for the comments. I think you're right about the Republicans who dominate their party right now. I just hope that Karl Rove is still taken seriously two years from now. There are strong signs he doesn't learn from his mistakes any more than Bush does.

There are also strong signs that Republicans can't reconcile their many contradictions. But they'll be doing everything they can to win power back. I really hope Americans are paying attention and realize that if they don't want another fiasco like the last six years, they need to wait until the Republican Party reforms itself.

P.S. The spammer, as you can see, has been removed.

6:26 PM  

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