Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sodom Has Always Gotten Bigger Headlines Than Gomorrah


I just started re-reading Max Blumenthal's "bestiary of dysfunction from the dark heart of the Republican party," Republican Gomorrah. Blumenthal's introduction starts with a letter he uncovered from one of the last good presidents-- and certainly the last good Republican president-- Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower, a big fan of Eric Hoffer's The True Believer, was worried that Americans could turn to the kind of fascism being offered by far right Republicans like Joe McCarthy (R-WI) because it offered them a way to abdicate civic responsibility and avoid the stresses inherent in free choice (democracy). In the 1959 response to a dying veteran, Eisenhower wrote “I doubt that citizens like yourself could ever, under our democratic system, be provided with the universal degree of certainty, the confidence in their understanding of our problems, and the clear guidance from higher authority that you believe needed. Such unity is not only logical but indeed indispensable in a successful military organization, but in a democracy debate is the breath of life.” He went on to explain to the vet that Hoffer had pointed out "'that dictatorial systems make one contribution to their people which leads them to tend to support such systems-- freedom from the necessity of informing themselves and making up their own minds concerning these tremendous complex and difficult questions.' The authoritarian follower, Eisenhower suggested, desired nothing more than insulation from the pressures of a free society." In a 2009 NY Times OpEd, Blumenthal explained Eisenhower's prescience in seeing the takeover of the GOP by the Tea Party.
Alluding to Senator McCarthy and his allies, Eisenhower pointed out that cold war fears were distorted and exploited for political advantage. “It is difficult indeed to maintain a reasoned and accurately informed understanding of our defense situation on the part of our citizenry when many prominent officials, possessing no standing or expertness as they themselves claim it, attempt to further their own ideas or interests by resorting to statements more distinguished by stridency than by accuracy.”

...In closing his letter, Eisenhower praised Biggs for his “fortitude in pondering these problems despite your deep personal adversity.” Perhaps it was the president’s sense of solidarity with a fellow soldier that prompted him to respond to Biggs with such care; and perhaps it was his experience as supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe that taught him that the rise of extreme movements and authoritarianism could take root anywhere-- even in a democracy.
Four years on an "Eisenhower Republican," David Brooks, a kind of a duck out of water in GOPville, refuses to accept that the fascist elements have taken over the GOP. He called for A Second GOP in his Times column yesterday. Brooks starts with the irony of Bobby Jindal-- currently abolishing a progressive income tax for a regressive sales tax in his state while whining the GOP must not continue to be the party that gives things to the wealthy at the expense of everyone else-- calling on Republicans to stop being the stupid party, to stop insulting the intelligence of the American people. Brooks wants to embrace opportunists and ideologues like Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz but even he recognizes they're at the bottom of what ails the party, not a part of a real solution to Republican dysfunction.
[S]o far, there have been more calls for change than actual evidence of change. In his speech, for example, Jindal spanked his party for its stale clichés but then repeated the same Republican themes that have earned his party its 33 percent approval ratings: Government bad. Entrepreneurs good.

In this reinvention process, Republicans seem to have spent no time talking to people who didn’t already vote for them.

Change is hard because people don’t only think on the surface level. Deep down people have mental maps of reality-- embedded sets of assumptions, narratives and terms that organize thinking. Since Barry Goldwater, the central Republican narrative has been what you might call the Encroachment Story: the core problem of American life is that voracious government has been steadily encroaching upon individuals and local communities. The core American conflict, in this view, is between Big Government and Personal Freedom.

While losing the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, the flaws of this mentality have become apparent. First, if opposing government is your primary objective, it’s hard to have a positive governing program.

As Bill Kristol pointed out at the National Review event, the G.O.P. fiercely opposed the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law but never offered an alternative. The party opposed Obamacare but never offered a replacement. John Podhoretz of Commentary added that as soon as Republicans start talking about what kind of regulations and programs government should promote, they get accused by colleagues of being Big Government conservatives.

The next problem with this mentality is that it makes it hard for Republicans to analyze social and economic problems that don’t flow directly from big government. For example, we are now at the end of the era in which a rising tide lifts all boats. Republicans like Mitt Romney can talk about improving the overall business climate with lower taxes and lighter regulation, but regular voters sense that that won’t necessarily help them because wages no longer keep pace with productivity gains.

Americans are still skeptical of Washington. If you shove a big government program down their throats they will recoil. But many of their immediate problems flow from globalization, the turmoil of technological change and social decay, and they’re looking for a bit of help. Moreover, given all the antigovernment rhetoric, they will never trust these Republicans to reform cherished programs like Social Security and Medicare. You can’t be for entitlement reform and today’s G.O.P., because politically the two will never go together.

Can current Republicans change their underlying mentality to adapt to these realities? Intellectual history says no. People almost never change their underlying narratives or unconscious frameworks. Moreover, in the South and rural West, where most Republicans are from, the Encroachment Story has deep historic and psychological roots. Anti-Washington, anti-urban sentiment has characterized those cultures for decades.

It’s probably futile to try to change current Republicans. It’s smarter to build a new wing of the Republican Party, one that can compete in the Northeast, the mid-Atlantic states, in the upper Midwest and along the West Coast. It’s smarter to build a new division that is different the way the Westin is different than the Sheraton.

The second G.O.P. wouldn’t be based on the Encroachment Story... Would a coastal and Midwestern G.O.P. sit easily with the Southern and Western one? No, but majority parties are usually coalitions of the incompatible. This is really the only chance Republicans have. The question is: Who’s going to build a second G.O.P.?
The GOP needs more than a difference akin to a Sheraton and a Westin to appeal to normal voters and if Brooks took over his blinders long enough, he might realize that the conservative force he's asking for is, alas, Obama's Democratic Party. But David Frum and some of his pals decided to take up Brooks' argument and run with it. "The new and more thoroughly conservative Republican Party," he asserts, "is not a healthy beast."
Some data points:

In the six presidential elections of 1968 through 1988, the GOP averaged 52.5% of the vote. In the six presidential elections of 1992 through 2012, the GOP crossed the 50% mark only once.

The grand Republican win of 2010 was the product of unusual circumstances: more than one third of all votes cast were cast by voters over 60, the oldest electorate in any election since 1982. That circumstance was unlikely to repeat itself in 2012, and it didn’t.

In 2012, the GOP ran on the most conservative platform since 1964. It lost the presidency by almost 5 million votes, just under 4% of the popular vote. It lost the Senate. It held a diminished majority in the House only grace to gerrymandering: Democratic House candidates won more total votes than Republican candidates.

Predictions are difficult, especially about the future. But we can say this. Republicans draw their voting strength from categories likely to shrink in the years ahead: voters born before 1952, non-Hispanic whites, voters without a college degree.

The new, immoderate Republican Party is therefore unlikely to succeed better in the near future than it has in the recent past.

Wasserman Schultz & Israel-- Brooks doesn't need anything more conservative than these two clowns

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