The admirable Daniel Larison explains the eclipse of the GOP as follows: Of the three GOP factions he identifies, social, economic and national security conservatives, he blames the national security conservatives. The GOP in power under Bush did little or nothing for the social conservatives, and followed corporate welfare policies, not economic conservatism or libertarianism. It did, however, follow hawkish policies--war in Iraq and Afghanistan, worldwide interventionism, heavy spending on defense, and so forth. These led to its decline in popularity, the election of Obama, and the fall of the Congressional GOP.
As an aspiration, Larison’s hope that the GOP will “break with the aggressive pursuit of hegemony that has so ill-served American interests” is admirable but probably vain.
The truth is that for all the sound, fury and hatred that abounds, we have two political parties that peddle what Huey P. Long called “high populorum” and “low popahirum.” The former was taken from the bark of a tree from the top down, the latter from the bottom up. As Huey said, “The only difference I’ve found in Congress between the Republican and Democratic leadership is that one of them is skinning us from the ankle up and the other from the ear down.”
Indeed, the political boundaries that seemed to have grown wider between Reagan and Bush 43, have now been thoroughly fudged. During last Fall’s financial hysteria, Bush and the Democrats joined to promote the ill-considered and disastrous TARP bailout. Initially, the House Republicans, closer to the grass roots, resisted. After the market tanked for a few ways and major arm-twisting, they caved. We now have government control of the world’s largest insurer and its largest banks, whose profligate leaderships remain largely intact. Socialism? Well, when enterprises lose money, hell yes!
Bush’s predecessor, the “centrist” Clinton, had Robert Rubin, formerly of Goldman Sachs, and afterwards of Citigroup, as his Treasury Secretary. Bush ended up with Henry Paulson, alumnus of Goldman, Sachs. Obama, the “leftist,” has as his advisers Boy Geithner, protégé of the same crowd, and the aging boy wonder, Larry Summers, grown fat with speaking and consulting fees gobbled at the Wall Street trough.
Nevertheless, some people still think Obama is a Bolshevik and Bush a conservative paragon. Obama may be more of a statist on a few matters, and appeases different constituencies from the GOP on the sexual issues, abortion and the gay agenda. He’s more urban and bicoastal than the old white guys in the GOP, but if there are differences they are more of diction and dress than on anything fundamental.
Where does this leave the GOP? At the moment, stymied.
However, the worm will turn, as it always does. The Great Recession may be entering a phase of greater decline, but the recovery, if it comes at all, will not come soon and will not be pretty. Bonds, upon which the whole stimulus and rescue program depends, will get harder to peddle, and inflation will come out of the jungle roaring as a lion. We are still up to our necks in Af-Pak, as the pundits now call it, with no particular end in sight, and things in Iraq are touch-and-go. Zionism continues its peculiar brand of vileness, when only several sharp jerks of the chain will prevent a disastrous Israeli assault on Iran, with unpredictable and dangerous consequences.
The Democrats in Congress, meanwhile, are a sorry bunch of hacks, and that fraction of the public that follows such matters can see that for itself.
All of this suggests that peace and joy will not reign forever in Barackistan, and the GOP will have a revival, not because of its virtues, but because it’s out of power and the public wants to throw the rascals out. The dearth of talent evident at the moment is unimportant. The GOP always finds a standard-bearer somewhere--a victorious general, an eloquent over-the-hill actor, the simpering scion of a transplanted New England dynasty.
The sad part is that so far the Stupid Party has learned nothing. To shackle itself to fiscal probity after the Reagan and Bush deficits is sheer deception. There appears to be no appetite for anti-corporate populism. The party has never had much stomach for the sexual issues, riddled as it is with closet cases and serial adulterers. Patrioteering is mother’s milk to the GOP.
Thus, although the political worm will turn so long as the poor Republic persists, we can expect nothing particularly new or improved.
I wish I liked politics less. I could learn a language, read a classic, take a hike, and cultivate my garden. Each of these pursuits seems more promising than hoping someone will remake the GOP into something that might offer a bit of hope to the Republic.