Thursday, November 13, 2008

whither republicans?

Whither goest thou, o right wing of the right wing? Wither goest thou, o Republican?

As is fashionable moments after an election, Terribly Smart People have been performing a vivisection on the still-breathing (barely) corpus of the losing party, and their findings are...stunning. Stunningly hilarious in some cases.

But the way the groundswell seems to be forming, many people on the right think, against all logic, that it wasn’t that voters in this country responded negatively to the usual culture war nonsense they’ve been spouting more and more shrilly for a couple decades now, but rather that the Republicans aren’t conservative enough.

Yes, you read that right. People like David Brooks, a TSP for the WashPost laments the shift ever-rightward, kinda, in an article yesterday, but he thinks the battle between traditionalists and reformers is already won:

“To regain power, the Traditionalists argue, the G.O.P. should return to its core ideas: Cut government, cut taxes, restrict immigration. Rally behind Sarah Palin.”

And they have much-loved standard-bearers too:

“Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are the most prominent voices in the Traditionalist camp...”

Awesome. Well, delusion is as delusion does.

Let’s see how this might work, in the mind of a traditionalist: McCain got a bump when he picked Sarah Palin. Then the polls showed her popularity steadily declining, to the point where nearly 60 percent of Americans said she was unfit for the job of even VICE-president. And then we lost the election. So let’s double down and pump out more candidates like her: ignorant, proud rednecks with no curiosity about the changing world around them and the belief that God wants them to run for office to rule over a world he invented 6000 years ago. Oh, and sporting Neiman-Marcus and wearing make-up applied by $22,000-an-hour make-up artists, naturally, because that’s what Bubba and Mrs. Bubba shopping for diapers for baby number seven in Wal-Mart can relate to.

Really? But all I can think is, cool. Go with that. The party of, as William Burroughs put it, ‘...decent church-going women, with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces...’ resonated so well everywhere but in a band of red across the western Appalachians and the central South that you want to push those values even further? Go for it. We’ll look forward to 2012.

The idea that the economy is what wrecked McCain is another trope that gets trotted out a lot lately, but I think this is overstated. I think (hope) that the tired politics of meanness, hatred, fear, and demonization of ‘the other’ is largely played out, and that the bankruptcy of this tack is what sank McCain. Not saying that these tactics won’t ever come up again, just that this world is so much more connected and even cosmopolitan, at least through electronic connections, that the device of trying to scare the rubes in the heartland with images of the scary Other is fading in its usefulness. In this day and age, is a white family in rural Indiana really going to be that terrified by the image of a black Harvard graduate in a suit when their teenage son has been dressing like a wigger for years and belting out rhymes by 50 Cent?

But even the election results may not cow the rightest of the right, those brave culture warriors looking to convert the rest of us to their shrinking demographic. One thoughtful article I ran across today points out the similarities between the moment Republicans face today and what the conservative Tories saw back in 1997. Jonathan Freedland is a columnist for the Guardian UK, and in his assessment of how the Tories reacted to their plight when Tony Blair beat them soundly is a blueprint for what we can expect here with the Repubs:

“What might panicked Republicans learn from the Tory experience? That apparently the first response to electoral disaster is denial.... Under pressure from the Tory right in Parliament and the press, Mr. Hague (Conservative Party leader) adopted a “core vote strategy,” aimed chiefly at enthusing the Conservative base. He pressed the right’s favorite button, hostility to the European Union — the British equivalent of opposition to abortion — warning that Labor would abandon the pound in favor of the euro. The response was an electoral walloping nearly as brutal as the one the Tories had suffered four years earlier.”

I think we’re already strongly into the denial phase. Let’s start getting those ‘Palin/Limbaugh 2012’ posters ready!

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