The Sad Demise of the GOP?

I was an active, committed Republican for 35 years. I worked in a Republican city administration; I ran for Congress as a Republican, and I was “mainstream” enough to win a four-person primary. That was in 1980.

Over the years, the GOP drifed ever further from the principles that had attracted me. A principled concern with limiting the authority of government morphed into a belief that government could and should do nothing. (The sole exception being the imposition of conservative Christian prohibitions on personal sexual and reproductive behavior.) Wariness about large-scale government welfare programs became full-throated support for corporate welfare and welfare for the rich at the expense of the most vulnerable. Belief in separation of church and state disappeared. 

I just read that, in Alabama, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne got himself into trouble by publicly stating, “I believe there are parts of the Bible that are meant to be literally true and parts that are not.” This evidently was enough to derail his statewide campaign. Byrne has since backpedaled, assuring voters, “I believe the Bible is true. Every word of it.”

Why in the world is a candidate for Governor even talking about his religious beliefs? Absent a belief in ritual murder or something similar, what difference should it make to voters?

Over at Political Animal, Steve Benen recently reported on the ever-more-radical Tea Party contingent of the GOP. ”

Today’s Republican establishment is, as far as this crowd is concerned, a bunch of sellouts. Just as the Republican Party has become as far-right and stridently ideological as it’s ever been, this still-fringe “movement” insists even conservatives aren’t conservative enough.

We’re talking about a well-intentioned, passionate, and deeply confused group of people — the folks who believe Democrats are “fascists,” the president is Hitler, and programs like Social Security and Medicare are socialist, unconstitutional boondoggles that need to be abolished — who are now intent on dragging an already far-right party over the cliff.

There’s nothing wrong with passionate citizens getting involved in the political process. But the American mainstream may not appreciate the fact that uninformed crazies — who think death panels are real, but global warming isn’t — intend to take over the Republican infrastructure, more than they already have.

Under normal circumstances, the American mainstream would see this and be repelled in the other direction. A Republican brand that was already in tatters after the extraordinary and spectacular failures of Bush, Cheney, DeLay, et al, would suffer in the eyes of the public as the right-wing fringe gained more influence.

But that’s what makes 2010 dangerous — the mainstream doesn’t realize the radical nature of the Tea Party “movement”; Democratic voters feel underwhelmed by the pace of progress; and the electorate may very well reward radicalization.

The consequences of the rise of nihilists are hard to predict, but the possibilities are chilling.”

He’s right, but even if the radical takeover of the GOP has the more likely effect of keeping it a minority party for the foreseeable future, America will have lost something really important. We need both parties. We need reasoned disagreement over policy. We need an effective opposition party that keeps the party in power on its toes. We need grownups participating in the political process.

I can still remember when being a member of the Republican Party was respectable, but my grandchildren don’t.


  1. I don’t know, Sheila. At the federal level, the two parties look awfully similar to me. Oh, for a GOP 6 years ago who, with the majorities and WH, would have really been for gov’t doing nothing in, say, education (think: No Child Left Behind), and might have cut budgets and the size of government rather than growing them faster than LBJ ever did.

    Then, I look at Iraq, Afghanistan, perhpas Yemen, and Pakistan, and don’t see a dime’s worth of substantive difference between Bush and Obama. Stylistic difference aplenty, but the policy is essentially the same- war.

    War on drugs? Same. Patriot Act? Same. Presidential power? Same. Indefinite detention? Same. Wiretapping US citizens? Same. Corporate bailouts? Same. Printing money to hide the cost of war? Same. Those aren’t small items. They are major policy issues.

    Now, when you look at the kind of folks who were protesting the war under Bush (where are they now?), one found every bit as many signs comparing the president to Hitler, and profuse use of swastikas and Hitler moustaches drawn on Bush. Just stepping foot inside DC became offensive to me, seeing so many swastikas (every Washington Times newspaper box had several, for instance). I was at anti-war rallies, and at tea parties, so I have a basis for comparison. My opinion is that the fringes get the ink, but the centrists and compromisers- not the idealogues- of both the Ds and Rs, are bringing us exactly the lamentable sameness I cited above: A desire always to grow the size and scope of government; always an interventionist foreign policy; and always civil rights come a distant second, especially in light of ‘national security’. How about Obama ‘reaching across the aisle’ to pass that military funding? Rah-rah compromise and moderation! These are the ‘grown-ups’ at work!

  2. Mike–I certainly don’t agree with the Democrats–nor Obama–on every policy. And I must say that the current administration has failed to move as aggressively as I would like on certain issues. That said, I also understand how difficult it is to make genuine changes to entrenched institutions. And I cannot agree that there are no significant differences between the parties. You can find areas where that is true–and you’ve alluded to some of those–but there are also areas of significant difference, from the hot-button social issues to their approaches to economics and the need for a social safety net.

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