Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Republican Resurrection

The election continues to reverberate throughout the media. It's been the top story for months and the media and the political junkies who consume it, like me, can't stop being in election mode just like that.

The election is also still being discussed because it revealed interesting new things we are eager to understand about the new, more diverse America that's taking shape. The election results raised questions about the Republican Party and its future, about the Democratic Party, about politics in America, about money in politics, about the media itself. About Fox News. People wonder what President Obama will do now, and about the looming "fiscal cliff" and how the two sides will fight over it.

One of, if not the main topic being discussed is the future of the Republican Party. What shoud it do now? Why did they get their asses kicked, with all the money they have and after their stunning success in the 2010 mid-term elections? How could they be so stupid? Why did they so firmly believe Romney would win when the vast majority of polls said he wouldn't? Has the party reached a dead end?

Some people are even wondering out loud if there will ever be another Republican president.

Frank Rich of the New York Times in his latest column really lays out what is one of the main theories about the problem with Republicans. It's about their disdain for reality. We are not as much of a fact based society as we used to be, he says, but the Republicans are an extreme manifestation of this phenomena. Business Insider has an article, The Republican Party Implodes, about how they got their strategy so wrong, and CBS News has one about how the Romney campaign in particular blew it.

On that day in 1974 when Richard Nixon, after defending himself against the Watergate Scandal for more than a year, addressed the nation from the Oval Office and said "I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow," I remember someone predicting that there would never be another Republican president. That prediction was hopelessly naive, but the Republican Party was at a very low point. Democrats controlled the House and the Senate and the Supreme Court, and not just Democrats but Liberal Democrats. The nation was riding the crest of the Countercultural Revolution that had been set in motion by the Civil Rights and Womens' and Anti Vietnam War movements and by the Chicano and Black Power and Gay Rights movements, a revolution in attitudes and behaviors and styles that was rapidly reshaping America in many ways.

The someone who made that naive prediction was me. I remember the day the news that Nixon would resign came out like a crisp, clear black and white photograph. I heard the news on my car radio as I was leaving work at Bethlehem Steel in Burns Harbor, Indiana, in my tan-colored '63 Dodge 330 slant six automatic former family four-door sedan. It was all that was on the radio as I drove the 25 miles up US 12 along Lake Michigan to my lake front small town hometown just across the state line in New Buffalo, Michigan.

I stopped by some friends' house, my Irish Catholic Democrat drinking buddies. They were watching the news coverage on the TV. The mood was not celebratory but kind of quiet and subdued. We had enjoyed the months of Nixon and the Republican Party being pilloried every day on TV and in the newspapers. That was now over with. This was new territory. Tricky Dick Nixon was finally getting what he had coming to him, but it was just so odd, the idea that the president of the United states was going to resign.

The rest, of course, is history. It didn't take long, just one election cycle, for the Republican Party to regroup. Democrat Jimmy Carter had won the next election, but four years later Carter lost to Ronald Reagan, and Reagan would put the nation on another course, just as radical as the Counterculture had been but in the opposite direction, a conservative more Capital friendly course when, under the tutelage of his mentor, Margaret Thatcher, he launched Neoliberalism, which would be the vehicle for undoing the tremendous gains in living standards achieved by he post World War II working class. The gains made by the Civil Rights and Women's all the other movements would come under attack and have to be defended.

Just like that, the Republicans were back. Just as it had transformed itself from the party of Lincoln that ended slavery, to the party of the Capitalist elite, it transformed itself to what it is now, a clearinghouse for Neoliberal trued believers and racist and reactionary working class whites who were never able to accept the societal changes of the 1960s and 70s.

Reagan is loved dearly by traditional Republicans simply because he brought their party back from the purgatory Nixon left it in. The great irony is that Reagan was elected because of the coming to fruition of Nixon's so-called Southern Strategy, whereby Republicans pandered to Southern whites who had been solidly behind the Democratic Party until it embraced the principles of the Civil Rights Movement. Nixon, who had lost a presidential election to John F Kenedy in 1960, at the beginning of the nation's turn to the Left, had seen the need to reconfigure the party and saw a way to do it.

All that's required now for the Republican Party to rejuvenate itself is for it coalesce around a strategy to make themselves palatable to a sufficient number of working class voters. Party leaders will tell the tea baggers to shut up, and the tea baggers, whose interests aren't liberty and freedom but their racist opposition to Obama and the Democrats, will shut up. They will tell the religious right to shut up, and the religious right, whose interests aren't abortion and traditional marriage but to continue the dominance of the white male, will shut up.

Unless the Democratic Party takes advantage of the opening it has to once more be the universal party of the working class, or until something else forms that does what the Democrats should be doing, the Republicans will be back in control before you know it.

Unless you accept the premise that the struggle for justice never ends, that it's a lifelong battle for anyone who is interested in justice, that's a depressing thought.

Once And Future Democrats

It was Jimmy Carter, a Southern fiscal conservative, who started the move to deregulate Capitalism on a large scale, that is, to "get government off the backs of business," that set the stage for Ronald Reagan. Bill Clinton ended "welfare as we know it," pushed through the NAFTA and WTO "free trade" treaties, and signed into law the financial deregulation that led to the 2008 economic meltdown. Barak Obama is often described as a moderate Republican in the former sense of that term. He's pro Neoliberal economic policies, pro military industrial complex and anti environment.

The majority of Democrats now in office at the national level, while they may occasionally mouth slogans about preserving programs like Social Security that define the social welfare state created by post World War II Liberal Democrats, are participating with Republicans in the process of dismantling it. Remember the debt ceiling debates of 2011, when  the only difference between Democrats and Republicans was how much would be gutted from social programs.

If you listen closely, the two parties are saying exactly the same things about Social Security and Medicare. Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, who authored the plan for dismantling Medicare by converting it to a voucher system, talked on the campaign trail about "preserving" and "saving" and "protecting" Medicare. Here in New Mexico's First Congressional District, the Democratic candidates for the US House and Senate seats, Michele Grisham and Martin Heinrich, use the same language to talk about Social Security and Medicare. Nothing either has said commits them to preserving Social Security or Medicare in their current forms. Nothing. When it would be easy and to their political advantage to pledge to uphold programs so popular with the public in their current form, they won't do it, and that can't be a coincidence.

As the Democratic Party leadership is configured now, you might say that it doesn't matter if the Republican Party comes back or not.

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