I've written and rewritten this post a number of times over the years. I think the first time was in 2002, when the original Daily Weasel was kicking ass and taking names and it's still true. The GOP is largely dead. If it seems as if it's taking a long time for the current incarnation of the GOP to die, look in the mirror, folks. If not for the political incompetence of progressives, we could have shut the door on the GOP far right in 2004 at the latest. Really, if we had any political chops at all, we could have gotten Carter a second term and never had to deal with them in power at all.
I'm not sure many progressives understand what's actually happening with the Republican Party these days. Progressives love to whine and complain about what they call "Blue Dogs," and their seemingly poor fit in the Democratic Party, but the fact of the matter is, we can't do anything about them until we get rid of the current Republican leadership. What you don't understand is that Blue Dogs are a sign that there is only one viable party for reasonable people these days. With this version of this column, I hope to begin to tell you how to make the current incarnation of the Republican Party go away for good, and save this country from the extremists who control so much of the debate.
The first step is to stop calling these people "conservative."
Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh are conservatives. Orrin Hatch was a conservative back when he was Ted Kennedy's closest friend in the Senate, and now, in order to win, he's become a right winger. Idiots like Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Rush Limbaugh, Jason Chaffetz, Michele Bachmann and Caribou Barbie (Sarah Palin) are certainly NOT conservative. They are "right wingers," and if you really have to label them at all, use that one; we must stop referring to these idiots as "conservative." Doing so insults actual conservatives, with whom we disagree, but with whom we can negotiate in good faith.
There is no middle ground with a right winger. Right wingers are convinced they're absolutely correct about everything, and everyone else is wrong. Their idea of "compromise" is to declare what they want and to threaten to shut down the entire government if they have to, just to get their way. In short, they're irrational.
The current right wing ideology (or "movement," as they laughingly call it) that has enveloped the Republican Party is actually pretty much the opposite of conservative. It was built largely upon lies and deceit, largely because the Republican Party needed a reliable "base" upon which to rebuild after Goldwater was soundly trounced by Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Johnson (and Kennedy, for that matter) was a true conservative who saw the writing on the wall and adopted the inevitability of civil rights for blacks, and the need for the government to do something about the rampant poverty that continued to thrive in pockets all over the country, mostly in the South.. For that, he was inaccurately labeled "liberal," and the neocon deception was under way.
The Goldwater defeat motivated Republicans to regroup and attempt a different strategy; one in which they held the same beliefs as before, but couched them in more "acceptable" language, so as to hide their true intent. In addition, they also adopted very subtle but very strong racist overtones that they hid behind "code words." Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" was a blatant attempt to exploit the racism in those who objected to the federal government's actions regarding the civil rights of blacks. The "Southern Strategy" (a phrase coined by Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips -- yes, THAT Kevin Phillips -- see how far right the GOP has moved?) used the code "states' rights" to secure the Southern states as a stronghold for the Republican Party. The entire "Southern Strategy" was basically dishonest, because it was a wink and a smile to Southern racist elements, in language that couched its true intent, which would never have been found acceptable to most reasonable people.
Essentially, the entire "movement" was based on a wink and a nod to racists and other extremists, and before long, these people became the Republican Party's "base" of support. Prior to Goldwater's numbing defeat, most of these extremists had been relegated to the fringes of both parties. In the GOP, they were derided as the "Taft Wing." The Taft Wing wasn't generally racist, just pro-corporation and anti-poor. Sound familiar?
In the pre-1964 Democratic Party, the right wing fringe were considered to be reliable voters because they considered the "Party of Lincoln" to be race traitors for freeing slaves, although they never trusted them with the keys to the party. That's why Democrat Strom Thurmond was forced to run on a third party "segregationist" ticket in 1948; the Democratic establishment thought he was a loon, and while you might let a loon wash your car, you rarely let him drive it. Before 1964, the loons were split between the two parties, and their influence was severely limited. Non-racist loons were kept on the fringe of the GOP, while racist loons were kept in check inside the Democratic Party.
But when the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act passed, the racist elements of the Democratic Party felt like they had been betrayed. So, when the GOP enticed them to come in and join with the Taft Wing in the hopes of winning more elections, they jumped at the chance. In this new incarnation of the "Party of Lincoln," all wingnuts had found a home. This basically gave the Republican Party new life.
The new neocon-influenced Republican Party's strategy became one of lies, half-truths and euphemism, so as to appeal to the average non-racist, non-bigoted voter without giving away their actual intent. This strategy had long been practiced by racists in the Jim Crow South, and it became the key to the Republican Party's resurgence.
Consider some of the terminology these people use. To the average right wingers these days, the terms "states' rights" and "federalism" are synonymous, even though they're essentially polar opposites. They love to toss around phrases like "fiscal responsibility" as they shrug at enormous budget deficits (only when they're in charge, of course) and throw billions of dollars in tax cuts at the rich and huge corporate donors. Consider the fight over the debt ceiling last year. Falure to raise the debt ceiling doesn't mean we stop spending money; it means we don't pay our bills. If you have a million in the bank, is it really "fiscally responsible" to refuse to pay for your car and your house?
They use the word "quotas" when discussing affirmative action, even though quotaactual s were outlawed by the Bakke case in 1978. When they discuss "welfare," they invariably invoke an image of a lazy, fat black woman living in a slum with a dozen kids, and they scoff at anyone who mentions that far more "welfare" goes to the rich and large corporations, in the form of legislative subsidies.
In other words, the current neocon movement was built on lies and deceit, and it has only achieved its current success through more lies and more deceit. There's a problem when you build a political "movement" on something that doesn't match your true intentions, of course, because, at some point, you have to perform. They don't.
The Republican Party finds itself in a predicament. Their governmental model is completely incompetent and unable to function in a public service capacity. Their ideology is all about winning and gaining power, with no thought as to what to do once they got what they wanted. Their entire political structure came from people like Frank Luntz and Newt Gingrich, who specialized in crafting language designed to manipulate public opinion. But they failed to invest the time, energy and money necessary to learn how to govern.
Forty years ago, it would have seemed inconceivable that a popular political movement in the United States could be led by the vile group of miscreants that has taken over the Republican Party. And frankly, their near-complete incompetence has led most of the "brains" behind the GOP's rise to bail over the past decade. That has left the current GOP to the dumbest group of imbeciles to ever lead a major political party. As a result, fewer than a quarter of Americans self-identify as Republicans, and that number looks to be dropping further.
For years, "real conservatives" in the Republican Party have been held hostage by a bunch of zealots who will say and do anything they wanted, just because they have power. Now, a large number of them have become independents or Democrats. The reason there are so many "Blue Dogs" is because conservatives who would have naturally gravitated to the GOP before - those who want to serve their constituents rather than be coerced into toeing the neocon party line - no longer feel welcome in a GOP that calls them RINOs and threatens them on a regular basis. The number of registered Democrats has dropped over the last 20 years, but the number of registered Republicans has dropped much farther.
The Republican Party is essentially dead. There is only one thing keeping them alive in the political arena, progressives, so listen up.
In the words of Pogo:
"We have met the enemy, and he is us."
Yes, folks. We progressives are keeping them alive. Neocons and hard core conservatives make up about a quarter of the electorate. Most polls put their number at about 22-24%. But they will vote for the rightest-leaning person, no matter what. They are a solid base, meaning they vote most of the time, and they only don't vote when they intend to send a message. Liberals and progressives usually make up about 18-21% of the electorate, which is pretty close to the size of the right wing. But though we think of ourselves as the "Democratic base," reality is, at best, a mixed bag. Blacks and other minorities and unions represent solid voting blocs. But the sad part is, statistics show that white, middle and upper class progressives can NOT be counted upon to function as any sort of "base." In other words, the white, puffy liberals and progressives who have the biggest mouths and make the most absurd demands of Democrats, are NOT part of the Democratic base, and haven't been for about 40 years..
And it's not just because these progressives can't be counted upon to vote. That is a major factor, but there's more to it than that.
You see, the right wing is negative on purpose. Their base loves red meat, of course, but the negativity also serves another purpose. Because the Republican Party is a minority party, one of their main strategies is to depress turnout among the voters in the center. You see, most voters who are neither far left nor far right want to hear positive things. They want to vote for politicians who can tell them how they can be fixed, and then to do it. When the overall atmosphere is negative, they stay away from the polls in droves.
Al Gore and John Kerry lost (and yes, I know there was cheating going on, but really; it shouldn't have been close either time.) not because Ralph Nader ran for president and got 3 million votes, but because, in both cases the Republicans' overall message was "Gore/Kerry sucks," and the message from the left was largely the same. The left's complete lack of enthusiasm, combined with an incredible negativity, caused a number of voters to just stay home.
Dukakis, Mondale and Carter all lost for much the same reason. Only three times in the last 30 years has the more progressive candidate won an election, and in two of those, Democrats were ably assisted by Ross Perot. Only twice in 30 years has the good side of the election won by a healthy margin. In 2006, after the Republicans showed themselves as royal screw-ups for six years, and 2008.
Look at 2008, folks. Senator Barack Obama decided to run for president. Progressives loved him, even though he ran as a moderate, and he won by a mile. Progressives couldn't wait until he took office. But once he got there, the whining started, because he turned out to be a moderate. Within a matter of months, when it was clear that 40 Republican Senators were going to block every measure that came down the pike, the progressive whining became intermnable. Because "Black Jesus" Obama didn't just walk into the White House, wave a magic wand and turn the entire country progressive in a month, or even a year, progressives turned on him, and they turned on the entire Democratic Party.
President Obama was handed the worst pile of garbage that any president has had to handle since FDR, and he had several obstacles that FDR didn't face. When FDR took office, the Democratic Party had a super-majority, and by the time FDR took office, the economy had already crashed and burned, and had been bad for about 3 1/2 years. The Depression didn't end until FDR was into his THIRD term before he saw an unemployment rate under 12%. And that was a much smaller, less complex economy.
Progressives have been riding Obama and the Democrats from day one, and we have acted much like the right wing, politically speaking. And as a result, we a few elections. Losing Ted Kennedy's seat should have served as a wake-up call. Instead, progressives whined about it. Even now, with a Republican House voting constantly to kill the Affordable Care Act, to ban abortion and abrogate women's rights everu chance they get, and to cut every program they can get their hands on, many "progressives" are still on the fence about President Obama, and they're stil whining and complaining about Blue Dogs. Really? If you think Blue Dogs are our biggest problem, you really don't understand the problem. We have an opportunity to annihilate a major political party that has been taken over by extremists, and who will not stop until they dismantle every single program that might make our lives better, and a number of progressives are worried about the "purity' of some Democratic candidates?
As President Obama said numerous times during the campaign;
"WE are the ones we've been waiting for!"
Politics is a team effort. Our job is to SUPPORT him. If you wanted single payer or a public option, you should have worked for it. It's not HIS job to get you single payer or a public option; it's OUR job to sell it to the public so that HE can sell it to Congress. If WE could have convinced the public that a public option was the greatest thing since sliced bread, he could have championed it and won. Instead, we demanded it, even though few progressives could even define what they meant by it.
Progressives love to cite the film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" as the ideal movie about one man against a system. But look at it closely. Jeff Smith didn't win because he did it all himself. It wasn't until he received the support of the people in his state that he was able to do the right thing.
We can build a progressive country. But we can't do it if a significant number of liberals and progressives are expecting someone else to do it for them. And we also have to realize that dismantling 30 years of neocon damage will take time, and a lot of work. It will also entail following a logical progression to get to that point.
But the first step to any kind of progress is to get rid of the neocons. Put aside your claimed "principle" and help to push their ideology back to the fringes where it belongs. At this point in time, the electoral system doesn't consist of right and left, but right and wrong, and we have to get rid of the wrong before we can move the country left.
Only after we bury the neocons, can we begin to realign the electorate based on liberal and conservative again, the way it used to be. But we have to do it in concert with moderates and conservatives, and stop acting as if we and we alone know all the answers to everything. Most of the loudest progressives in this country are white, they've never been poor, and their self-righteousness about what they consider to be "issues" is irritating as hell to most voters. And irritated voters don't show up at the polls, which is why we lose.
How long do progressives have to sit on the sidelines before we try to get into the game? If you want to add a public option to the ACA, or move toward a single-payer health system, you have to win elections. If you want Citizens United gone, you have to USE Citizens United to win as many elections as it takes to overturn it. If you want to make sure we don't attack Iran, and you want there to be greater safeguards on the drone program, then you'll have to make sure Republicans never win again for a while. As long as they're in, none of that will happen.
Negativity doesn't win elections for us, only for them. For us, it's really bad politics. Swing voters are not motivated to go into the voting booth by liberal promises of gloom and doom, any more than we're motivated to go to church by the people declarations of the end of the world. What the vast majority of voters in the real world want to know is what can they look forward to if they vote for someone.
Protests and marches are a great way to draw attention to an issue, but they cannot be anything more but a beginning. At some point, most issues will require a change in policy, and that requires that we win, politically.
The "win elections" approach will require a major sea change for a lot of progressives. There's a reason people can't stand liberals, and it's not because the right made it into a dirty word. It's our fault. People don't like us because many among the loudest contingent of liberals is always whining about something. The Republican Party is on the ropes. We have to finish them off before we can go to the next step.
We CAN get rid of this right wing ideology. We just have to play it smart.
The Republian Party is dead. Let's stop propping it up.