Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Economist: Republicans in Big, Big Trouble

After a long six and a half years of watching almost helplessly as the Republican Party loots, rapes and pillages everything from the Constitution to the middle class to non-threatening countries overseas, it's always satisfying to see rats call a spade a spade and jump off the pirate ship known as the modern GOP.

But rarely has the sense of schadenfreude been more poignant to me than when reading the latest Economist article today about the woes of the Republican Party and American conservative movement in general.

Today's article, titled The American Right Under the Weather, is but one piece in the new overall issue covering the leftward shift of American politics in recent months. As anyone who has read the magazine knows, the editorial staff of The Economist is certainly no friend to Democrats, favoring a decidedly corporatist agenda valuing "free trade over "fair trade" and a foreign policy usually at odds with progressive values. As a result, however, they find themselves increasingly at odds with the social conservatives who have all but taken over the Republican party's activist base: in fact, they say so directly in the cover article:

The Economist has never made any secret of its preference for the Republican Party's individualistic “western” wing rather than the moralistic “southern” one that Mr Bush has come to typify. It is hard to imagine Ronald Reagan sponsoring a federal amendment banning gay marriage or limiting federal funding for stem-cell research. Yet Mr Bush's departure hardly guarantees a move back to the centre. Social liberals like Mr Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger are in a minority on the right. On the one issue where Mr Bush fought the intolerant wing of his party, immigration, the nativists won—and perhaps lost the Latino vote for a generation.

As a result, The Economist's temporary post-mortem on the enthusiasm and dynamism of the American right is a strange mix of joy and tears: it contains equal doses of worried regret, tempered with palpable glee at the overreaching failures of the social conservatives whom they blame for much of popular rejection of Republican ideology. But it's nothing if not utterly brutal--and well worth the read.

The sheer numbers are staggering. Some key statistical points from the article include:
  • 40% of Republicans think that Democrats will win the next presidential election, compared with only 12% of Democrats who think the reverse
  • Q2 money to the Democratic presidential contenders nearly doubled that given to the Republican contenders
  • As has been frequently mentioned by Markos, the DSCC and D-Trip are vastly outraising the NRSC and NRCC
  • 61% of Democrats are happy with our choices of candidates, while only 36% of Republicans can say the same
  • Young voters and Hispanic voters are trending overwhelmingly Democratic
  • Registered Democrats and Democratic-leaners are now 50% of the population, while registered Republicans and Republican-leaners only comprise 35%--a strong swing from an equal 43%-43% tie in 2002.

And the list goes on and on. Things are so bleak for the pirates on Capitol Hill right now that many prominent Republicans are simply manning the lifeboats and looking for the best way to weather the storm. This little bit about former RNC chairman and self-hating closet-dweller Ken Mehlman is really poignant:

No wonder Ken Mehlman, a former Republican Party chairman who oversaw George Bush's 2004 victory, is now advising hedge funds on how to deal with a Democratic-leaning America.

Most intriguing, however, is the article's nearly ferocious rejection of the idea that GOP woes are entirely the fault of Bush, the occupation of Iraq, or the corruption of specific Republican party officials. Instead, the Economist is unafraid to lay the blame squarely where it belongs: the embrace of a hyper-conservative agenda of social moralizing, beyond-the-pale cronyism, an unhealthy dose of nativism and racism, corruption so blatant it has become institutionalized, a borrow-and-spend budgetary philosophy, and redistribution of wealth to the very rich that has appalled all but the Christianist right and some very wealthy allies:

In fact, the Republican Party in Congress is just as responsible as Mr Bush for most of the recent troubles. The Republican majority routinely appropriated more spending than the president asked for. It also larded spending bills with as much extra pork as possible. The number of congressional “earmarks” for projects in members' districts increased from 1,300 in 1994, when the Republicans took over Congress, to 14,000 in 2005.

The Republican majority also cheered Mr Bush all the way to Baghdad. Add to this the corruption of congressmen like Tom DeLay, a conservative hero, and the semi-corrupt institutional relationship that the Republicans formed with lobbyists, and you see that Mr Bush was only part of a much bigger problem.

Nor can conservatives claim that Mr Bush is a country-club Republican like his father. He has devoted his energies to giving “the movement” what it wants: the invasion of Iraq for the neoconservatives (who had championed it long before September 11th); tax cuts for business and the small-government conservatives; restricting federal funding for stem-cell research for the social conservatives; and conservative judges to please every faction.

This desire to pander to the conservative movement is partly to blame for the administration's practical incompetence. Mr Bush outdid previous Republican presidents in recruiting his personnel from the conservative counter-establishment. But this often meant choosing people for their ideological purity rather than their competence or intelligence. Some 150 Bush administration officials were graduates of Pat Robertson's Regent University, including Monica Goodling, who put on such a lamentable performance before a House inquiry into the firing of nine US attorneys. A more pragmatic president would surely have sacked many of the neoconservative ideologues who have made a hash of American foreign policy.

And as the editors astutely observe, the Republicans are now locked in a civil war for supremacy between their corporatist paymasters, the closely allied NeoCons, the Christianist base that actually mobilizes the votes, and the few die-hard libertarians who used to make up the bedrock of American conservatism and are the GOP's only hope of holding onto the rapidly changing West. Whoever prevails in that fight, however, two things are certain: the party will be weaker than it was before, andthe fight will be very, very ugly and very, very public. After all, there is no honor amongst thieves.

In the end, though, The Economist makes the excellent point that Democrats have yet to convince the American public that we are anything more than the lesser of two evils. Certainly, failing to stand up for progressive values such as we saw recently the with FISA capitulation won't do much to help that. Further, Republicans have always been more at home and more comfortable as a minority party than they have been in the position of actual governance. Like the moral and intellectual children they are, it's far easier to complain and snipe at those attempting to actually govern, than to attempt to put a failing ideology in place that gets the job done. Still, I would rather be in our shoes than in theirs. As the article correctly points out:

But even when you enter all the qualifications the right's situation is dire. It is a sign of weakness that the conservatives are retreating to their old posture as insurgents, and need a bogeywoman like Mrs Clinton to hold them together.

The Republicans have failed the most important test of any political movement—wielding power successfully. They have botched a war. They have splurged on spending. And they have alienated a huge section of the population. It is now the Democrats' game to win or lose.

Indeed. Things are looking extremely bleak for the GOP pirates, and it's fun watching the rats jump off the ship. Now all we have to do is stand for what we believe in and do the difficult work of holding ourselves accountable, standing in the way of Mr. 23% for the remainder of his term, and passing legislation that will benefit the American People for a change, rather than GOP monied interests.

Personally, I'm looking forward to the challenge.

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