Friday, February 24, 2006

What Has Happened To The Republican Party

As a fan of Star Trek, I know there's nothing worse than a "warp core breach". This happens when the matter/anti-matter interaction that powers Enterprise gets out of hand and "superheats" (to put it in early 21st century terminology) to the point where the core (think carburetor or perhaps cylinders in a car engine) will actually explode. There's not much you can do if a breach is imminent except to eject the core from the ship and try to get far enough away to avoid the damage when it does in fact explode.

Sometimes I wonder if the Republican Party isn't headed towards a warp core breach.

I'm almost done with an amazing book called The Right Nation: Conservative Power In America. Written by two Brits who don't seem to have a dog in this fight, it chronicles and explains the conservative undercurrent that exists in this country. Here's a fair comment from the linked Amazon review:

My fear is that people will see it as just one more "exposé" of the evil right-wingers and their malevolent influence on the country.

If that's what you're looking for, you're bound to be disappointed. This is, in fact, a thoroughly researched and marvelously fair look at the rise of conservatism as a political force in America. More than that, it's a fascinating look at why America is a fundamentally conservative place, and why even liberal Democrats -- on the far Left by U.S. standards -- would be centrists, or even conservatives themselves, in Europe. While this last may be an unpleasant idea for the American Left to have to entertain, even readers on that side of the political spectrum will find a lot in here to recommend it.

Totally agree. The only word missing is "Tocquevillean", a term which would certainly apply.

I've often had a hard time wondering how small-government conservatives could, in the next breath, care what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes. This book explained it to me. But before I explain it to you, allow me to relate the following "Ask Amy" column. I'll assume the writer is a conservative, probably Republican, based on her location and actions. Yes, I'm stereotyping here, and I'd like to be wrong and find out the woman is on the boards of both the ACLU and Amnesty International, but my fear is she's more likely a member of Focus On The Family.


Monday, February 20, 2006; C12

Dear Amy:

My husband and I have lived in our quiet suburban Denver neighborhood for six years.

About two years ago two young gay men moved in across the street. They've taken the ugliest, most run-down property in the neighborhood and remodeled and transformed it into the pride of the street.

When it snows, they shovel out my car and are friendly, yet they mostly keep to themselves.

Last month I went out to retrieve my newspaper and watched them kiss each other goodbye and embrace as they each left for work.

I was appalled that they would do something like that in plain view of everyone.

I was so disturbed that I spoke to my pastor. He encouraged me to draft a letter telling them how much we appreciate their help but asking them to refrain from that behavior in our neighborhood.

I did so and asked a few of our neighbors to sign it.

Since I delivered it, I've not been able to get them to even engage me in conversation.

I offer greetings but they've chosen to ignore me.

They have made it so uncomfortable for the other neighbors and me by not even acknowledging our presence.

How would you suggest we open communications with them and explain to them that we value their contributions to the neighborhood but will not tolerate watching unnatural and disturbing behavior.

Amy answers the question the way I would:

You're lucky that these gentlemen merely choose to ignore you.

Your neighbors could respond to your hospitality by hosting weekly outdoor "gay pride" barbecues and inviting all of their friends to enjoy life on our quiet suburban street.

I can hold out hope that they will choose to do this, but I'm spiteful in that way. Your neighbors sound much more kind.

In your original petition to these men, you basically stated that while you value them when they are raising the standard on your street and shoveling your driveway, you loathe them for being who they are.

The only way to open communication with your neighbors would be to start by apologizing to them for engaging your other neighbors in your campaign. Because you don't sound likely to apologize, you are just going to have to tolerate being ignored.

The Right Nation authors separate the Republican Party into two wings, working independently of each other while still operating under a big tent. One wing is the Southern Wing, the social and religious conservatives; the other was the Western Wing, the small-government, individualist conservatives. During the Reagan years, this so-called Western Wing was prominent. However, the Southern Wing is now ascendant--see the Ask Amy column above. This social conservatism explains how a Republican presidential administration can spend (non-defense) money faster than a drunken sailor in an Asian port.

The Right Nation
authors have a chapter called How It Could Go Wrong: Too Southern, Too Greedy and Too Contradictory. I've already highlighted "the Southern problem". The greed is exemplified by the need to have a Porkbusters group. Power corrupts, and all that rot. Too contradictory? Toss in tensions between libertarians and traditionalists, and between religious conservatives and fiscal conservatives, and you've got injection manifolds that are frozen in the full-open position. For you non-Trekkers, that means we've got the makings of a warp core breach. And that's bad.

I support President Bush's foreign initiatives. He's an excellent leader in the Global War on Terror. Honestly, I'm glad he's at the helm. However, it won't do us any good to revere the captain when the Enterprise is torn apart by a matter/anti-matter explosion. When that happens, it's bad. Very, very bad. Think Republicans-in-the-election-of-1964 bad. Think Michael Dukakis bad.

Federalizing airport screeners by creating the TSA, the most useless government agency this side of the levee boards in New Orleans. Prescription drug benefit fiasco. These are not good. Not warp core breach bad, but pretty bad.

Harriett Miers. The Dubai port deal. The war in Iraq. How many times in the last 5 years have we heard that the President has good proposals, he just needs to get out there and sell them to the American public? I'm sick of hearing it. You'd think that someone in the White House--maybe even the big guy himself--would get a clue and start doing this. But no. Instead, they wait until there's a crisis of confidence in the country, often inflamed by a hostile media, and then try to play catch-up.

The economy is humming right along, the War on Terror is proceeding, Iraq isn't a rose garden but its institutions as well as its infrastructure are being built before our very eyes--or they would be before our eyes if the press would actually cover them. These are positives. But I haven't heard from the President since his State of the Union address.

Sometimes it seems to me that the Administration is on autopilot. Unfortunately, that autopilot has no setting for "make sure the American people are behind this" or "the public may not understand this, or if they do understand it they may not stay behind it unless they're repeatedly encouraged to do so". I'm reminded of all my lessons about leadership and being in charge--follow-up is key. This administration does not do the required follow-up with the American people, and it does so to its peril. Well, maybe not to its peril, since it's going to be around for 3 more years no matter what, but to the peril of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

What happened to social security reform? What happened to immigration reform?

What has happened to my Republican Party? How do we bring the Western Wing back to the forefront?

To paraphrase Simon and Garfunkel:

Where have you gone, Ronald Reagan
The nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
Woo woo woo.

Update, the next morning: I finished the book after typing this post, and came across a glimmer of hope. Perhaps I shouldn't hope for continued Republican control of both the White House and the Congress--maybe the House should switch back to the Democrats for a couple years, just to slap some reality into the Republicans. They were a much better minority party than they are today. Perhaps a couple years in the desert will bring about a purification.

But here's the glimmer of hope. From page 383:

Nowadays, American liberalism has fragmented into two remnants: a collection of single-issue pressure groups (the teachers' unions, abortion rights activists, etc.) and an inchoate leftist protest movement, furious abou the Right Nation's advances.

Pretty much sums up the libs to me.

Update #2, and it's still morning: The BBC gives the Republicans more cause for hope.

So why is it that Democrats can't move on? The answer is that they don't know where to go.

Update #3, 2/27/06 6:54 am: Here's an article in The Nation that says pretty much the same thing I did.


EdWonk said...

Well said!

Lillian said...

I'm with you on this one, Darren.
I just posted a very un-deep statement to the effect that Republicans have become arrogant in their position of power.
You just might be right about our party possibly needing to lose it's majority status, and allowing our so-so-conservative members to be slapped back into reality.
We were much more sensible back in those days. Being the underdog does have it's merits. On the other hand, Democrats don't seem to learn that when they're the underdogs, which is why being an arrogant conservative is still far better than being an arrogant liberal.

Anonymous said...

Good book. I read it last year.

Anonymous said...

In regards to the Ask Amy column - I was appalled! I am a conservative - but, am not unaccepting of gays.

This is an issue with most conservatives that bothers me very much. Conservatives LOVE to say they "tolerate gays, but don't approve of them" - I think this is equivalent of liberals saying, "I support the troops, just not the war."

Most conservatives DON'T tolerate gays, they just pretend to say they do as to not seem "hateful" or "homophobic". They like to say, "they can do what they want, I just don't want to see it."

But, if a man kisses his wife in public, that's ok. A man holds his wife's hand in public, that's sweet. But if a committed man kisses his partner in public, that's not ok and you should get all the neighbors to sign a petittion. Yeah. I'm sure if someone sent me a petition for kissing my husband good-bye for work in our driveway, I would be outraged!

Amy's answer was RIGHT-ON! She's lucky all they did was ignore her. If it were me, I'd totally throw a gay pride party on the FRONT LAWN.

Darren said...


Like I pointed out, it's the difference between social conservatives (the so-called Southern Wing of the party) and individualist/economic conservatives (the Western Wing).

I think the guys are doing far more damage to the writer's psyche by ignoring her than by throwing a Gay Pride barbeque. They've got the high road, and the writer knows it.

And it's making her squirm.