If President Obama wins reelection, and the Democrats retain the Senate and make inroads in the House, (and I believe there is a very good chance this will all happen) it will be a crushing blow for the Republican Party. I don’t often agree with right-wing agitator and media personality Ann Coulter, but I will concur with her opinion that if this sequence of events occurs the GOP should totally revamp or go out of business.
Let’s forget the right or wrong of ideology, for a moment. It’s my contention that this country needs a vibrant two-party system, and that when one party finds itself too firmly entrenched on the losing side of too many issues and increasingly irrelevant to too many segments of the population, it jeopardizes this system. And that, I believe, is where the GOP will find itself if it is unable to gain any significant political ground against an incumbent administration as politically weakened as Barack Obama’s.
There are lots of folks – myself included – who agree with many traditional Republican ideas and values. Strong defense. Limited government intervention in our lives. Lower taxes. Family and middle class values. Safety nets and hand-ups for the poor, disabled and struggling rather than inefficient and poorly administered handouts that might actually encourage dependency. But the GOP has allowed these ideals to be corrupted by inartful politicians and influential donors into a litany of extreme and increasingly unpopular positions relative to economic, social, and international affairs issues. Positions that they now seek to make a litmus test for being a ”true conservative,” whatever the deuce that means.
I believe the Republicans need a new manifesto. One that says you can be for a strong defense without agreeing to adding trillions of dollars to the military budget just to keep things rosy for the military-industrial complex until the next war. That you can believe in “American exceptionalism” and still admit that America has made some mistakes in its foreign policy in the past and should act cautiously, with a better understanding of the needs, problems, and internal politics of other countries and their governments in the future. That you can praise and encourage adoption of the democratic principles we hold dear without forcing them down other people’s throats. That you can affirm the Judeo-Christian values that our country was based upon without belittling every American who has a different religion – or no religion at all -- a different culture, and those who feel strongly that a firm barrier should be kept between sectarian religious beliefs and government. (Even the most strident Republicans agree that the mixture of government and religion as practiced in the Middle East is bad. Why do they think it’s a good idea here?)
This new manifesto or creed should affirm that our capitalist economy works best when taxes are kept at a minimum, but also acknowledge that a fair tax system that doesn’t punish success still should require those who succeed financially to pay their fair share, and that tax breaks and deductions should reflect a national goal of helping all our citizens improve their family’s economic stature, not just helping the well-to-do increase their level of prosperity. (And by the way, rationalizing that they are the “job creators” fools no one!) It must also affirm that some level of government intervention is required in our complex society to keep our food and workplaces safe, our financial and communications institutions secure, and to maintain services and infrastructure related to sustaining the four freedoms Americans cherish – freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from want and fear – which are most effectively and efficiently provided at the national level. In short, the Republican Party’s prescription for every national ailment cannot continue to be limited to just three courses of action: lowering taxes, increasing defense spending while talking tough to both our allies and rivals, and weakening the social safety net.
Furthermore, the Republican Party needs to end the demagoguery of so many of its leaders on the issues of immigration, health insurance, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps, abortion, education, gun control, voter suppression, global warming, Israel and Palestine, the national debt, racial prejudice and affirmative action. These are all serious issues on which well-informed people can have significant differences. But they will require serious discussions and compromises by politicians who are unafraid to offer details and workable plans to resolve them rather than grandstanding to please opinionated donors and special interest groups while using specious “slippery slope” arguments to incite hysterical true believers. And if the Republican Party’s goal is really to keep government less involved in our daily personal lives, it should take an equally less intrusive position about governmental oversight on women’s reproductive issues and who can marry who. (Democratic politicians, of course, are perhaps equally guilty of disingenuousness on many of these issues, but a future Republican party that refused to continue with the “monkey see, monkey do” and “tit for tat” style of politics currently practiced by both parties might be able to gain some ground quickly with a population that has grown weary of this pattern of “more talk but less results” from its government representatives. The Democrats would then be forced to respond in kind, and our country would be much the better for it.)
Many smart young Republicans already understand that, win or lose this year, the Party cannot continue to let our nation’s changing demographics and changing popular opinion and attitudes overtake it. The percentage of Americans who are okay with gay marriage is steadily climbing, as is the number who admit that global warming is not the mere mass hallucination of liberal scientists. The number of Americans who identify themselves as single females, or of black, Hispanic or mixed racial origin is growing at a much faster pace than the demographic segments that, in all honesty, the Republican Party has traditionally pandered to. And as the overall U.S. population grows, the urbanization of America also progresses. As these trends continue, the Republicans will cease to be a truly national party (national Republican office holders are already an endangered species in the northeast!) as they will watch more and more states go blue on the electoral college, Senate, and House of Representatives map. (Sure they’ll pull back Indiana, North Carolina and maybe Florida this year; but next time around they could lose all these plus Arizona and Missouri, and if the Democrats ever put another white southerner at the top of their ticket the results in states like Georgia and Texas could give the Grand Old Party a real wake-up call!)
But if you‘re not a Republican there’s no need to lose sleep worrying about the demise of the two-party system in America. For, as history shows, another party will rise to fill the gap. Perhaps it will be a party that is fiscally (yet compassionately) conservative, but manages to be nearly as socially progressive as the Democrats. They might find that some of the demographic groups that are breaking so heavily Democratic now are not as monolithic in their allegiance as they fear. I’d like that, and a John Huntsman could take a new party in that direction. And while I would find it less attractive personally, maybe the Paul faction that’s very popular with young Republicans will lead a party movement, and throw in some of its isolationist and libertarian dogma. The Tea Party? No chance. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some of its members, with the scent of political power now in their nostrils, try to take part in the Republican reformation or even in the development of a viable new national party.
Chances are that an Obama reelection will embolden and convince the GOP’s most extreme right wing that, to paraphrase conservative icon Barry Goldwater,” moderation in the pursuit of the Presidency is no virtue.” (It’s too bad that more neo-conservatives fail to also remember the many Goldwater quotes that eloquently warned against and rejected the growing influence of intolerant religious zealots, urged reductions in the military budget, favored a government-run healthcare system and funding education exclusive of property taxes, and supported gay rights!) Conservative extremists and theocrats, are going to claim that the problem with Romney was that he wasn’t a “true conservative” and demand a more right-wing candidate next time. If they go that route, all you have to do is remember who competed with Romney for the nomination to get a peek into how truly dismal the prospects would be for the Republicans in 2016. And how that could provide the ignition for the formation of a third party that could wind up forcing the GOP to finish third and then fade as quickly and surely from the national scene as the Whig Party did after the 1852 election.
Many economists feel that the housing market and employment have already begun a true recovery and all the next President will have to do is 1) not mess it up and 2) take credit for it. If that is true, it will be even more difficult for a Republican to make a better national showing in 2016. And remember again, Romney was perhaps the most moderate of the candidates that the Republicans considered for their nomination!
It can also be observed that the Republican strategy of blocking every Obama initiative to make him look bad and improve their chances of making him a one-term President has failed miserably. If they continue that strategy for a second term it would probably be even more self-destructive. And congressional inaction to one or two crisis situations could result in even more voter dissatisfaction with the Republicans rather than less. In any event, for all of the next four years the demographic clock will continue ticking.
And the sands in the Republican hour glass could be running out.