Monday, May 22, 2006

The Hare and the Tortoise: Why the GOP is in Trouble

Allow me to make something perfectly clear--especially to those who may have misunderstood my earlier post:

The Republicans are in trouble.  Serious Trouble that is definitely going to cost them.  No doubt about it.

But in order to understand how to take advantage of that fact--and why this statement does not contradict my previous piece--one must understand WHY they are in trouble.

But wait, you say.  "I already KNOW why they're in trouble," you say.  "I see it on the news every day!" you say.  "The Corruption, the Incompetence born of Indifference, the War, the Economy--hell, the Everything!"

Indeed.  But these things are too easy.  These are merely the symptoms--the outward signs of decay that mask the inner rot.

And ONLY by understanding the root of the current Republican rot can we begin to understand WHY they're in bigger trouble than they think they are--but also why we have less comfort to take in that fact than we ought.  

The Republican problem is one that hearkens all the way back to Plato.

It was Plato, in his dialogue The Protagoras, who stated the controversial principle that benevolent dictatorship is suprerior to democracy.  He placed possible governments on a continuum from benevolent dictatorship to malevolent dictatorship, with direct democracy squarely in the middle. The idea behind this principle was as follows:

--In a benevolent dictatorship, the wisest (the philosopher-kings) rule nobly over the citizens, making good and just decisions without interference.  Everything operates beautifully for the greatest good of the people, without bureaucracy.

--In a democracy, however, decision-making is slow and inefficient.  Factions argue, and little gets done.  The saving grace of democracy in Plato's mind, however, was that democracies functioned adequately well--and their very inefficiency meant that they were not apt to do much harm.  Winston Churchill paraphrased this best when he said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

--A malevolent dictatorship, however, was the WORST possible form of government.  A leader (or leaders) looking out only for themselves and without the best interests of the citizens at heart--and unable to be stopped--was the worst of all possible worlds.


And this is the perfect metaphor for the Democratic and Republican parties.  Their very names even suggest it.

For the moment, let us disregard what Republicans have done to America.  They have been horrible, true.  They have run roughshod, true.  But voters have an uncanny willingness to be led to vote against their own interests.  If we have learned nothing else by now, we have certainly learned that the American electorate will vote for parties and candidates that look like they have their act together--regardless of how well they have actually governed.

Let us look instead, therefore, at each party through Plato's framework--and we'll see what this has to do with that story by another greek, The Hare and the Tortoise.


For the longest time, the Republicans have acted--not for America, but for themselves as a closed group--like a benevolent dictatorship.

Their message discipline has been impeccable.

Their party meetings are well-structured.

Their leadership structures have been as top-down as they come.  

They have been REMARKABLY efficient.

They have created a vast empire catering to their interests.

And above all, they have taken care of their own.

As long as you were a rich Republican, the Republican Party has done extremely well by you--and you, by contrast, were a loyal and unquestioning footsoldier to it.

The Democrats, meanwhile, have acted like--well--a Democracy, by contrast.  And many would argue--somewhat rightly, I believe--that this is inherent to the very meaning of being a Democrat.

Our message discipline is not only undisciplined--we don't even HAVE a consistent message.

Our party meetings are chaotic.

Leadership structures are often ignored in favor of a plethora of jealously-guarded fiefdoms.

Inefficiency is the operating word for Democratic organizations.

Our VLWC is barely getting started.

And we have done a piss-poor job of taking care of our own--and one has only to look at the fact that georgia10 has yet to be hired (while the likes of Ben Domenech get snapped up) to see that.

To understand just how true this is of the Democratic party, you have only to read Crashing the Gate by Markos Moulitsas himself.

The corollary of that, however, is that we usually have GOOD PEOPLE.  And the results of the jumbled mess of our party are usually GOOD POLICIES, whenever we are in power to put them in place.

On the other hand, we don't appear to be able to win an election to save our lives lately.

Until now.


The reason the Republicans are in trouble, however--and in bigger trouble than they think--is that they have transformed themselves from a benevolent dictatorship to a MALEVOLENT one.

And don't get me wrong--they've ALWAYS been horrible for the country.  We're just talking about internally, as party, here.

As we are extremely well aware, there has been a coup in the Republican party.  As bad as the Gingriches and the Doles are and have always been, they pale in comparison with the criminals that have taken over.

Out on their ears went the old guard, mostly through pressure and primary challenges, as the remarkable book Off-Center details so well--and in came the New Guard.  Which often, as in the case of the former Nixon aides, looked like the REALLY Old Guard.

The Santorums and the Brownbacks.  The PNAC cabal of Cheney, Rummy and Wolfie.  Tom Delay.  Bush Junior.  Karl Rove.

Out went the old guard of Barry Goldwater, Bush Senior, Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, and the rest.  This Republican party has no place for Eisenhower.  Or Jim Jeffords.  Or even, very soon, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

This crowd has seized the reins of power unto themselves, and will not stop until they have total control.  They have been completely willing to throw old friends--from Treasury Secretaries to Anti-Terrorism officials--completely under the bus at their convenience.

And they have demanded unswerving loyalty from their increasingly but quietly wary followers.

AND THEY HAVE BEEN A TOTAL DISASTER.  Because this cabal is in it only for THEMSELVES--and NOT for the good of the Republican party.  Every day that Rove doesn't resign for the good of the party, it becomes clear to Republicans that they've been had: that the only #1 for Karl Rove is, well, Karl Rove.  The GOP be damned.


But now there's very little the Republicans can do about it.

Their unflinching loyalty to this cabal means that now they are nothing more than Brand W.

Their top-down structure means that dissent is forbidden.

The authoritarian controls mean that they have to stay on message--even if the messaging is as disastrous for their chances as trying to destroy social security or use immigration as a wedge against themselves.

They are like the Light Cavalry in Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade: riding stupidly to their deaths, because they can only take orders, and refuse to question the authority of an incompetent cabal that cares not a whit about them.


And under these circumstances, even a party as encumbered, lethargic and inefficient as the Democratic Party can win out and defeat them.

Because by contrast, our Democracy has its shit together FAR better than their Malevolent Dictatorship--And the Voters can Figure That Out.  They can sense it--if only on the vaguest level of Platonic forms.


But herein also lies the great danger--and where the Hare and the Tortoise comes in.

The Democratic party is like the Tortoise: slow and lumbering toward its objective.

The Republican party is like the Hare: quick and efficient, but easily distracted and stopped in its tracks through descent into Malevolent Dictatorship.

And perhaps, for 2006, our tortoise may just cross that finish line first.  It may well be that their hare will be stopped in its tracks throughout the Bush years just long enough for our lumbering tortoise to take advantage.


The problem, however, is that politics doesn't have one set finish line.  Politics has multiple finish lines, again and again and again.

So while we may rejoice as our tortoise--possibly--lumbers to victory past the mired hare, we celebrate in a fool's paradise.

Because that Malevolent Dictatorship Hare WILL clean house.  It WILL rid itself of its leaders, and get new leadership.

And when it does, it's going to bound along faster than ever--and leave our tortoise in its dust.

And in order to stop that from happening, we MUST become more efficient.  We MUST acquire consistent and effective messaging.  We MUST get a little party discipline.


So don't get me wrong--the GOP is in serious trouble.  This is our Kairos.

The only question is whether we will be content to lumber along to that finish line and pray for victory--or whether we will get some jackrabbit legs under us, and leave the Republicans permanently in our dust.

Fortunately, the choice is ours--and the opportuntity ours to take advantage of, or not, as we will.

[Front-paged at the Booman Tribune]


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