Poor Troy Senik.
He’s a Republican, so everyone knows he’s stupid.
He used to write speeches for George Bush and Newt Gingrich, so everyone avoids him at social gatherings.
And now all his clients are getting handed their pink slips, so he’s gonna have to start earning his living the honest way for once.
But that’s not even the worst part of it.
The worst part is that just he published a piece entitled “Republicans Agonistes”, which ended with this paragraph: “The time for the Republican Party’s existential crisis is coming to a close. Now is the hour for a new generation of innovative, optimistic, and principled leaders to see this moment for what it is – an opportunity to renew a proud movement and lead it towards future victories.”
Then, the very next day, Arlen Specter showed us precisely where the party’s existential crisis really is at, after all. (Hint: It’s not exactly “coming to a close”.)
Indeed, not only is this meltdown not ending now, it is only just beginning. But I will give Senik credit for one thing. He has correctly labeled this as an existential crisis. He’s right about that. This is no garden variety rough patch in the road. This could well spell the end of an institution in American politics that has been around since Lincoln, and this country’s national party structure of the same vintage.
Mockingly, Senik opens his essay with a wee taste of right-wing sarcasm: “The Republican Party is dead. Haven’t you heard? Despite winning seven of the past 11 presidential elections and controlling at least one house of Congress for 13 of the past 15 years, our salad days are over. The ascendancy of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama has shipwrecked the GOP in perpetuity. Those of us who fought the good fight will now have to go back to country clubbing, Bible thumping, and war mongering in the private sector. To add insult to injury, we’re the only major institution that has failed in the last year without receiving a generous taxpayer bailout.”
Heh-heh. Those regressive cats sure are good at comedy, eh? Now if only they could do it on purpose, maybe they’d be getting somewhere with their show business careers.
Senik goes from there to chronicle all the previous near-death experiences of the Party – 1964, 1974, etc. – that turned out to be greatly exaggerated reports of the GOP’s demise. The point being, of course, that this kind of thing happens all the time. He therefore argues that, “The question for Republicans, then, is not if they can come back, but rather when and how.”
That’s actually quite wrong, though. The real question for Republicans is, instead, whether they will survive as a rump regional party of maniacal Troglodytes, or not at all.
Everything is going against the Party right now, ranging from demographic shifts to leadership vacuums to loss of control of every institution of American government to the massive popularity of the new president from the other party. But these are small potatoes compared to the two real problems that are rapidly dragging the party toward the precipice of oblivion.
The first monstrous problem for the GOP is that they’re so good at winning elections. Or at least they were. They’d have been great if only they hadn’t actually governed. Had they just stayed over there in the weeds, carping incessantly about taxes, weakness abroad, taxes, homos, taxes, spending and – did I mention taxes? – they could have gone on forever getting enough votes to continue on as America’s Perpetual Pain in the Ass Party. Unfortunately, though, they made the mistake of actually winning. They got so good at sliming their opponents and stealing elections and employing fear to get votes that, the next thing you knew, they were actually in charge.
Big, big mistake. Americans have seen what Republican government looks like. It’s seriously ugly, and that’s even when it doesn’t produce a crisis. All the more so when it does produce one, and far more yet when it’s six or seven, simultaneously.
I know, I know, it’s weird. But, just the same, Americans just don’t seem to want economies plummeting, debts exploding, cities attacked by terrorists, other cities drowning, endless wars based on lies, cronyism, nepotism, looting, environmental disasters, alienated allies, wrecked national reputations, or snarling vice presidents on their television sets. Nor do they want congressional legislation, enacted by a president flying across the country to sign the bill, that tells Americans how to handle their individual family medical tragedies. Like I said, it’s weird. I guess Americans are just quirky that way.
Well, okay. Then it would seem like the logical thing for the GOP to do would be to move away from the baggage of its radical albatross and return to the days of Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller, back when the right wing of the party was considered scarier than a 3-D Hollywood horror movie even by the other members of the same party. Well, it would seem. But, you see, that’s the GOP’s second gigantic problem. It cannot do the one thing that could possibly save it.
Indeed, not only can it not, but it doesn’t want to. And not only doesn’t it want to, but it doesn’t even get that it must, or even should, if wants to have any hope of surviving. It’s truly amazing. I’ve talked to, and read pieces written by, regressives who seriously argue that the GOP’s problem is that it hasn’t been conservative enough. Indeed, I saw one young lady from the Heritage Foundation make the argument that neither George W. Bush nor William F. Buckley were real conservatives. That’s pretty hysterical if you think about it (something regressives never want you to actually do). But consider the main programmatic commitments of the Bush administration: wars overseas, huge military expenditures, lopsided bias in favor of Israel, arrogant unilateralism towards the UN and all other countries, massive tax cuts, anti-gay legislation, Social Security privatization, deregulation, anti-abortion policies, blocking of stem-cell research, environmental degradation, massive expansion of the wealth gap, erosion of the separation of church and state, and so on.
Which of these, I’m curious, don’t come right out of the contemporary conservative (pardon the obscene oxymoron there) play book? Sure, you could say that regressives are upset because Bush expanded Medicare (although the more accurate way to put it would be that he expanded the profits of insurance and pharmaceutical companies through the vehicle of Medicare), and that he doubled the national debt (which is kinda inevitable if you massively increase expenditures whilst slashing tax revenues; See Reagan, Ronald W., and the Tripling of the Debt). But let’s be serious, shall we? No one can credibly argue that George W. Bush was not a conservative. No one, that is, except the certifiably insane freaks on the right, who, mercifully, are finally becoming again the laughingstocks they once were in American society, and for precisely this reason.
Nevertheless, they continue their relentless march to the Land of the Ludicrous. I mean, just how amazingly silly is it to claim that George W. Bush wasn’t a real conservative? How insane do you have to have become to argue that this is why the party is losing elections? How completely bonkers do you have to have gone to prescribe a turn further to the right in order to do better from this point forward?
The Specter purge – and make no mistake, though it was his decision, it was no more ‘voluntary’ than the choice to exit a burning building – would represent the leading edge of a departure trend that would rock the Republican Party, except for one small problem: There is really hardly anything left of a moderate wing of the party anymore. Specter would be leading the disaffected droves out of the party, but there are none left to speak of, at least at the national level. It is not unfair to say the Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both senators from Maine, are the only remaining moderate Republicans in Congress today.
At least one of them is really unhappy, too. Snowe penned an article in the New York Times this week, entitled “We Didn’t Have To Lose Arlen Specter”, in which she vents a bit of her anger at the radical right for driving Specter and, a decade ago Jim Jeffords, out of the party. Specter’s own announcement speech was even more hostile, and remarkably candid for a politician. He spoke clearly about how the Club For Growth and other orthodox elements of the radical right have made it almost impossible for center-right Republicans to survive in office. Even if they can survive the threat of a far-right challenger in the primary, or the indifference of the party base such as greeted John McCain last year until he brought on the Palin abomination, they are then too wounded to win in the general election.
Snowe takes aim at social conservatives for purifying the party right down to its unwinnable essence. But what is most remarkable is that she – an angry moderate – gets her party’s crisis almost as wrong as the looney fringe. Reacting to the capture of the party by the social conservatives, she writes:
“It is for this reason that we should heed the words of President Ronald Reagan, who urged, ‘We should emphasize the things that unite us and make these the only ‘litmus test’ of what constitutes a Republican: our belief in restraining government spending, pro-growth policies, tax reduction, sound national defense, and maximum individual liberty.’ He continued, ‘As to the other issues that draw on the deep springs of morality and emotion, let us decide that we can disagree among ourselves as Republicans and tolerate the disagreement.'”
Quite laughable stuff, really. It’s as if the only sin of the right has been its insistence on emphasizing abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research as key Republican issues. Imagine how far gone these people are when even their moderate champion, writing in anger about the far right, doesn’t begin to address their core dilemma. Yo, Olympia, I have some really awful news to give you, to go along with the bad news you’ve already received. Here it is: You guys have been wrong on EVERYTHING!!
Do you really think, Senator, that if you just let up on abortion but continued to manufacture millions of unemployed homeless people out of the former middle class that you would start winning elections again? And do you really think that you would be allowed to let up on abortion by your party’s base – the same nice folks who were getting ready to purge Arlen Specter – even if you could make that deal?
Do you really think, Senator, that if your party could somehow drunkenly stumble its way into a humane and science-based position on stem cell research at home, while continuing to lie its way into disastrous wars abroad, that the American public would rally to your cause? And do you really think your base of reactionary voters would let you do it, anyhow?
Is it really your belief, Senator Snowe, that if only the GOP would let the queers have their freakin’ marriage certificates that the party could then continue to win elections on a platform of planetary destruction via environmental catastrophe? And do you think your lovely base of nice Christian conservatives would allow you to do this, anyhow?
What Olympia Snowe doesn’t get is how far gone it all is now. And what she also doesn’t get is how desperate the party is when it continues turning to Ronald Reagan to solve their problems, as if he were Jesus’s kid brother.
More and more Americans – especially the young, tolerant, left-leaning ones – don’t know Reagan from James K. Polk, and the GOP’s constant appeal to worship at the shrine of Saint Ron strikes them as exactly what it is – living in the past.
And it’s a mythological past, anyhow. Reagan raised taxes after he slashed them. He had a huge recession. He tripled the national debt. He signed a very liberal abortion bill in California. He sold missiles to Iran. He shredded the Constitution. He didn’t defeat the Soviets and end the Cold War, though I must admit, he did kick ass on Grenada (right after the hundreds of Marines he had stuck in Lebanon for no reason got wiped out, of course).
What Reagan did best, if you’re of the sort who falls for this kind of crap, is to talk happy talk about how good and right and powerful and moral we all are. But he didn’t live that life himself, he didn’t improve the country or the world with his policies, and nobody gives a shit anymore, anyhow. The degree to which the party faithful keep trotting this guy out like some deity is a perfect measurement of how little they actually have to offer. It’s pathetic beyond belief, and it’s no wonder those pesky elections keep going into the ‘L’ column, one after another, with no end in sight whatsoever.
Of course, there is a silver-lining to having ‘irrelevented’ yourself to such an extent that you now not only don’t control any institution of government, but you are about to not even be able to muster the bare minority you need in the Senate to filibuster a bill and block its consideration. That’s a pretty impressive trick, and the GOP is hardly done, I would say. To wit, they just lost a by-election in upstate New York where a Democratic candidate coming from outside the district, which leans heavily Republican, and having little help from either the president or the Democratic Party, nevertheless managed to beat the well-known Republican candidate who was fully backed by the national GOP and its clown chairman, Michael Steele. At this rate, my guess is that 2010 is going to be another blood-letting for the GOP, just like the last two.
But the silver-lining to these very stormy clouds is this: If actually winning elections and having to govern is the kiss of death for your party, then the GOP has at least been rendered to a place where it can sit on the sidelines and not continue destroying itself by actually making policy decisions.
Or, at least, not destroy itself quite so much. Its new job is little more than to criticize the other guys now in government. Whatever else you can say about Obama and the Democrats, they seem to be trying a bit to clean up the mess they’ve inherited, and they seem to be doing it rather gracefully, if half-heartedly, all things considered.
So what has the loyal opposition been saying? The president uses Teleprompters! He gave the Queen an iPod! He bowed to the Saudi king! He accepted a book from Hugo Chavez! Worse, still, he smiled when he shook the guy’s hand!
Not so impressive, eh? These goons can’t even do carping well.
They have no leaders, no constructive contribution to the debate other than shouting “No!”, and now so little power that they can’t even filibuster from the minority in the Senate.
This party is over.
And, surveying the wreckage of a once great country, not a minute too soon.
DAVID MICHAEL GREEN is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (email@example.com), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond.