Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Never Enough Dissolving Parties Department

Watching the Republican National Convention, with its well-funded glitziness and fawning support for their Boy King, you'd never guess that the Republicans are in deep, deep trouble.

First, there's the matter of Alan Keyes, who in a matter of days has (a) accused Fox News journalist Walter Jacobsen of, of all things, being in the pay of the Democrats, largely due to the fact that Jacobsen caught Keyes claiming that automatic weapons were legal in Illinois and questioned him on that statement; and (b) called Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter Mary a selfish hedonist and a sinner. Note well that, for a high-profile Senate seat, Keyes is the best the GOP could do to counter the articulate but unexperienced Obama.

But Keyes is just the hottest potato in the basket, so to speak. There's the little matter of the GOP using moderate speakers to put a "compassionate" face on the most radical Republican platform ever, glossing over the problem of having too many conflicting interests under the GOP "big tent". Indeed, Republican moderates largely feel slighted by the Party's shift to the right. Stem cell research, environmentalism, fiscal responsibility, abortion, and gay rights are but a few areas where moderates feel the Republican leadership has abandoned them. Their reactions are varied--some stay the course, hoping to convince the leadership of the urgency of a more moderate point of view. Then there's the Log Cabin Republicans, who are running TV ads to force the Party to step back from its platform, which not only calls for a Constitutional amendment against gay marriage but also action against any attempt to grant gay couples rights akin to marriage, such as civil unions.

Right now, it seems that the only thing holding the Republicans together is loyalty to the party, not ideology or common causes. And, as David Brooks of the conservative Weekly Standard has pointed out, if Bush loses, not even party loyalty will prevent sectarianism that will make the Democrats look unified, coherent, and strife-free. Of course, Brooks sees a potential path to salvation in what he calls "progressive conservatism"--and what that means is anyone's guess. Perhaps it's just a matter of co-opting progressive language and welding it to conservative thought--or vice versa, a sell-job to conservatives of the need for progressive policy. But I have doubts it will work.

The biggest problem the Republicans have is that, for decades, they have relied on the Cold War as a launching point for paranoia and psychopathy wrapped in patriot's clothes. As long as the Republicans could be seen as hard on Communism, they could contrast themselves with the more reasoned, measured, but usually unwavering realpolitik of the Democrats. They could then cast attempts at progressive policy as tax-and-spend fluff which didn't solve any real problems and sapped precious dollars from hard-working taxpayers, with the occasional "Commie" accusation coughed under breath.

The problem then is clear--Republicans have built themselves up as the anti-tax, anti-progressive party. To twist around and become progressive without a better means to raise government income is to alienate their base. As Michael Moore pointed out in his recent op-ed piece in USA Today, many Republicans are "RINOs"--Republicans In Name Only. In other words, they largely support progressive policies, except for their resistance to taxation. If the Republicans wish to become "progressive conservatives", they will need to find a better means to raise revenues for funding progressive causes, or else deal with another few decades of alienation. And that will be tough.

It won't be impossible, however. It's quite possible to argue successfully, for example, that raising fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks will result in savings later on in terms of less energy consumption and smaller environmental clean-up costs. Again, the problem is how to explain this gigantic flip-flop to millions of Republicans who were convinced by conservative pundits that progressive and expensive are synonymous. It won't go down well with evangelicals who think Armageddon is right around the corner, and certain fossilized business sectors will recoil in horror at the notion that their selfishness won't result in any invisible hands saving the day. All in all, it looks grim for the Republicans in the long haul.

And I'm sure that Republican-bashers will be wiping their hands in malicious glee at the thought of the GOP being in deep waters. But I'm not a Republican-basher--or, at least, I don't think of myself as such. Hey, I like John McCain and Bob Dole, amongst others. I may disagree with some of their positions but I like them as people, and think they tend to have higher standards than, say, Newt Gingrich or John Ashcroft. To be blunt, if the Republicans did become more progressively-inclined, I for one would feel a lot better about the political process, and the future of this country.

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