The Incredible Shrinking Party
Hooray for our side! Another one bites the dust. Of course, my celebratory mood has been brought on by the intelligent switch of Senator Arlen Specter, (D-Pennsylvania) – sorry, I just had to take the opportunity to type that D. It was the topic of the day yesterday, Obama’s 99th, and can be said to be the icing on the cake of the mythologically important “First Hundred Days.” But it was icing, nonetheless, and something for us to celebrate on our side of the aisle.
Now, there was plenty of nay-saying going on from both sides about Senator Specter. The Republicans, predictably, decried his defection as a personal political decision. Well, let’s not be silly about this. Every one of them made that same sort of political decision some years ago when they kissed up to Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and the like in order to get elected down south. How quickly we forget. And on the Democratic side, there was some grousing. Mrs. Jack, for example, spits every time she sees Specter, due to his brutal attack against Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. Being her consistent self, she spit again yesterday at the news. I had to point out that it was a good thing, and that not being enough, I had to remind her that Senator Specter has expressed his regrets about that matter. Other Democrats and pundits have rightly pointed out, as well as Specter himself, that he will not be a rubber-stamp Democrat assuring that 60th vote to break a Republican filibuster. Okay, that’s disappointing to me, but I’ll accept it.
The real news here isn’t necessarily how the newest Democratic Senator votes on the issues of the day, but instead what it clearly demonstrates about the state of the Republican Party. In a week where a new poll shows that only 21% of Americans identify themselves as Republicans, this was just another blow to a political party that has been staggered by the last two elections.
Think about it for a moment, 21% is barely more than one fifth of the voting population. In its wild careen to the right, the remainder of the Republican Party is losing more ground every day. Now, we Democrats and “lefties” shouldn’t jump up and down about this too much because that poll did not show a jump in our numbers. Those folks who left the Republican Party went to the center where the independents live. For the first time, maybe ever, independents outnumber one of the major political parties. This is not particularly good news for either party. But at least we held our ground despite Republican claims that “the people” are on their side. That kind of crazy rhetoric deserves a great big “BULLSHIT!” in light of this recent poll.
How did this happen to a party that just four short years ago – it seems a lot longer to me – looked to be unstoppable when they successfully re-elected one of the worst presidents in modern times when most everybody believed or suspected that to be the case? It comes down to two simple matters, one an old adage: Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. The other is that the GOP stumbled into the political bramble bush laid for them by the Religious Right coupled with a stealth racist movement in The South that hides behind the Religious Right. That’s right. I said it. I live here and hear the whisper campaigns that reach my ears because I’m an old white man who is often mistaken for “one of us.” It is a stealth movement because nobody admits to belonging to it, yet we saw it in full bloom at Sarah Palin rallies across The South as well as the rural Midwest. It may be quiet, but it is real. And the Republican party has shamelessly pandered to these vipers since the Nixon Southern Strategy raised its ugly head in the late 60s.
Fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party held their noses and waded into the mud in order to regain control over a government that they felt was “socialist” due to LBJ’s Great Society. Then in the 70s, Jimmy Carter brought religion into politics by making such a big deal of his “born-again” belief system, riding it to the White House where a different bunch of religious fanatics far away brought down his presidency along with the Shah of Iran. But by then the genie was out of the bottle, so to speak, and a few hypocritical evangelists seized the moment for their own greedy purposes and threw in with the Republicans citing “abortion activism” and the lack of forced Christian prayer in public schools as the reason behind their sudden interest in politics. The gay thing came later.
Reagan, a not-so-religious person, cozied up to his new support group, enjoying their votes on a ride to the White House against an incumbent president. Then the Religious Right really started flexing its muscles within the Republican Party, refusing to criticize President Reagan for not vigorously advancing their cause. Instead, exercising political patience and wisdom, they bided their time, slowly infiltrating the upper echelons of the party, eventually taking it over. Reagan’s Republican
successor, George H. W. Bush, gave only tepid lip service to the Religious Right and paid the price as they stayed home in droves on election night, passively giving the presidency to Democrat Bill Clinton. With their point made, the Religious Right tightened their stranglehold on the Republican Party causing it to launch an eight-year witch hunt against Bill and Hillary Clinton. And the only reason the Clintons maintained their position at the center of the bull’s eye was the fact that Bob Dole–Mr. Viagra–didn’t appeal to the RR either, and once again they stayed home in droves.
But by 2000, having not been raptured away, the Religious Right got busy again and rallied behind Baby Bush who had recently found religion when it counted. With a little help from a Republican-stacked Supreme Court–this is why Specter’s support of Clarence Thomas is still a sticking point today for many on the left–Bush rode a bungled election in his brother’s state of Florida past Al Gore. Now the Religious Right really had some street cred within their chosen party, and they used it every chance they got. They cheered as “their president” led the nation into a mid-East war in hopes that it would trigger their end game, Armageddon. These folks really are nuts about this. They believe it is their ticket past the undertaker and straight to heaven. But it can only happen after a war breaks out over Jerusalem. So this led to the followers of The Prince of Peace becoming shameless warmongers for their own personal agenda. And the upside for them was: even if Armageddon doesn’t come right now, we can at least force Christianity upon our poor misguided fellow citizens by making it the religion of state.
Re-enter the Republican Party, now led by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. Launching a war against a new villainous, pagan enemy gave them cover to impose their neo-con views upon an unsuspecting nation. But they needed their buddies in the pulpits of the Religious Right to fan the flames of fear and hatred, keeping them in power as long as possible. And that’s exactly what happened four years later when a very unpopular president was re-elected due to a huge turnout among religious conservatives boosted by anti-gay-marriage amendments on the ballots of critical swing states. Once again, the Religious Right had proven its power to the Republicans, so what had up to that point been lip service, turned into legislative action, which the Democrats managed to keep in check. Then came the strange case of Terri Schiavo, and the entire house of cards began to fall. It was slow but steady from that point on, with sexual misconduct uncovered on the part of several Republican lawmakers adding to the decline in support among many Christians who suddenly felt used by the GOP. Then, of course, Katrina led to the fall of the last “passionate conservative” card, as President Bush did an imperial flyover peering dispassionately out the window of Air Force One.
Since that ill-fated day the Republicans have been in complete decline as a national party, losing heavily in the last two elections. But like a giant anaconda, the Religious Right is maintaining its iron grip on the GOP, squeezing what little life is left from its gasping lungs. The confused and befuddled remnant of GOP leadership is stymied as to a course out of the bramble thicket. It knows that to abandon its social-conservative base will lead to an even smaller number in the next poll and sure defeat next year in the mid-term elections. But what alternative does it really have? The rest of the nation has rejected not only the GOP’s support of greedy CEOs and bankers who have stolen the life blood of our country, but also the mean-spirited social agenda pushed by the Religious Right. But in the grip of fear, the GOP careens farther and farther to the right, clinging to their toxic base unto death.
Being a great big “D” Democrat, I have little sympathy for the GOP. I feel they have finally been exposed as the narrow party they have been for quite some time; but a thriving democracy requires a minimum of two competing parties to keep everybody honest, at least most of the time. So it is my wish for the conservatives–that is the fiscal conservatives–that they either regain control over their party or move on to form a new party that reflects their views, leaving the religious fundamentalists behind. If the GOP wants to be that party, they are going to have to make the necessary changes to regain the respect of average middle-of-the-road independent Americans; otherwise, they are going to join the Whigs as a quaint footnote in American political history. It’s your choice to make, Republicans. Consider your options wisely.