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This Doomed Elephant Can’t Change Its Spots


The punditocracy has been abuzz for a post-election news cycle rife with the electoral stomping that Mitt Romney and the GOP took from minorities and women. Wonks and wags full of what it means for the future of the Republican Party. The answer is simple:

The Republican Party is dead. Long live centrist elitism!

American History tells us so. Taft Republicanism is still with us, but it is finally coming to its death throes.

Pundits like MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell and Rachel Maddow are just getting around to telling you the dirty little secret that I let you in on two weeks ago, after months of research and dozens of articles leading up to the semenal political event that never gets talked about:

There has been a very un-civil war brewing in the GOP. Two bands of extremists, the NeoCons, whose titular leader is Karl Rove, versus the Libertarian Teahadis of Grover Norquist and theDead Billionaires Club (DBC).

They’ve been slugging it out for control of a party losing control of its hold on an electorate that no longer is conservative and white.

We’re not just talking out of step with women, or having a minor fail in wooing hispanic voters.   We’re talking about a party that has whose blend of classic conservative elitism with the phobic tribalism and fear of the “other” of the white suburban and poor rural voter.

It has created a toxic brew that has pushed fiscally conservative moderates so far out of the party that the GOP doesn’t represent the majority of conservatives who now self-identify as “independents.”

Registered members of the GOP represents just two in ten registered voters, down from nearly 4 in 10 at the turn of the century.

The hard-cores, NeoCon or Libertarian, make up an even smaller slice.

Their strangle-hold on the operations of the party would be why the GOP is doomed.  History has provided a template for their repeated failures.

Elitism, more well known as the Right in modern parlance, has gravitated towards fiscal and social extremism several times in the history of the United States. It has been its undoing. The movement with many political faces only cobbles itself into political functionality when it can reassemble coalitions in the middle that represent enough mainstream conservatives to hold power.

The DBC and the Norquist faction have spent decades trying to overcome that boom and bust by remaking the college-literate white voter more in their image, and by restructuring the news and entertainment consumption of Americans to better control them. Grover Norquist, Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed, William Kristol and others were the missionaries of that New Conservative Grail.

The problem is that their traditional constituency, white men, has been a shrinking voting base. The GOP’s social extremism disconnects with fiscal conservatives tired of being dubbed by hard liners as “RINO” (Republican in Name Only), and with enough white women who otherwise are conservative because of the extremist because neither constituency are social zealots.

It is impossible to put that hard-Right GOP genie back into the bottle. The NeoCons and the Libertarians are both flavors of fascist (in its classic meaning) elitism.

They have spent decades reforming the core of the party to the point that anyone with a moderate or alternative point-of-view cannot get elected.    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s biggest enemy isn’t Barack Obama. It’s the big pocket groups like the Club for Growth and the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity who will sandbag him in a primary race. Recall the fate of Dick Lugar of Indiana, flushed in the primary to run the Tea Party religious zealot Richard Mourdock whose radical pro-Life stands proved his undoing.

A large part of the Republican Party have become significant Kool Aid drinkers. It was bad enough when they were trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the American public, but now they have become self delusional. Witness the election eve public melt-down of Karl Rove on Fox News, and the enormous spin that Grover Norquist has tried to put on the drubbing that they took.

We’ve had a few changes to the dance card of American political parties, but the core of the American political system, it’s primary splits, have not changed since colonial times. Whatever labels you slap on them, our two-party system represents the elitists and the populists.

Horrible students of our own history that we are, we don’t seem to realize that we keep reliving variations of the same political struggle between these two basic constituencies over the centuries. Different brand names. Radical changes in position. Same few versus the growing many.

The two original parties were the Federalists (elitist) and the Democratic-Republican Party (populists). The Federalists liked strong central government. They preferred strong ties to the Crown.  The Democratic-Republican Party’s populists found safety in a decentralized system where states held more power, because they feared that the elitists would use the national government to tie the young democracy down to the feudal system of England.

The War of 1812 saw the Federalists side with the British, which damaged their political future to the point they were politically done in 1826. Their policies lingered on, though, and it was the first real “great” depression in this country, the Panic of 1837, that did in the royalist elitists who had migrated to the Whig Party in 1836.

Runaway housing speculation caused inflation, then suspicion of the value of property, then banks becoming so restrictive fiscally they only took gold and silver for payment. The banks collapsed and a seven year down-cycle with stunningly high unemployment ensued.

Sound familiar?

Next the populist Democrats dropped Republican off the name. They were pro-President, anti-central banking, and anything else that would use the centralized powers of the federal government to give early industrialists the advantage over the average American. As memories of the Panic of 1837 faded, and the passions of pro and anti-slavery debates heated up, the Whigs collapsed by the Civil War.

The anti-slavery Republican Party rose from its ashes. It adopted many of the Whigs’ economic policies, such as national banks, railroads, high tariffs, homesteads and aid to land grant colleges.  It benefitted after the Civil War from the new African-American vote in the North.  The ancestors of far Right Tea Party white Southerners went by the label “Redeemers” and infected the Democratic Party with their racist bile until Ronald Reagan came on the scene.

Early progressive politics were the dominion of the Republican Party. McKinley won with progressive stands on government regulation of railroads and large corporate trusts, protective tariffs, the development of labor unions to collectively bargain, the evolution of child labor laws, an overhaul of the banking system, tackling corruption in party politics which included a system of primary elections rather than party caucuses to select candidates and direct election of senators;  attempts to end racial segregation; the push to improve efficiency in government;  women’s suffrage, and immigration reform.

Most of which he had no intention of doing anything about really. Then he was assassinated by an anarchist, and Teddy Roosevelt, the great reformer, became the champion of the progressive movement. He executed that platform as the “Square Deal,” and added in national parks, the first attempt at conservancy of our natural resources as a national heritage.

Roosevelt left the White Wouse, watched Taft take the party in the wrong direction, then ran on the Bull Moose party ticket to put the GOP back on a progressive path. He split the GOP vote and handed the election to Woodrow Wilson.

Most importantly, TR failed to derail the Robber Baron Taft Republicans who still hold control of the GOP to this day.

That excess in the 1910s and 1920s lead to the second major financial catastrophe in United States history which most of us know as the “Great Depression.”  The banks melted-down again and the economy froze as they had two other times for exactly the same reasons.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt ushered in the “New Deal,” carrying the torch forward from the “Square Deal,” and Democrats moved to the lead American populism.

Our politics since the 1930s have revolved around the New Deal until 2008. The Reagan “revolution” and the inexorable tide of change that the Civil Rights era wrought from the 1950s to the 1980s fused poor white fundamentalism and racism with historic elitism of the 1% in the effort to finally defeat progressive politics.

That brew radically polarized a changing electorate that has gravitated into extremes as the white majority did everything that it could to make Mr. Obama, the Jackie Robinson of American politics, look like a fluke and a flop.

The RINOs will have their day. Moderates like Charlie Crist from Florida and Buddy Roemer from Lousiana and Gary Johnson out of New Mexico who were marginalized or purged are going to tap that huge mass of non-aligned voters.

Even Chris Christie’s calculation of embracing the center by way of his love fest with Mr. Obama during the Sandy mess shows that smarter figures in the party are ready to move away from Norquist and Rove and tap that vast socially moderate center again.

Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader in the Senate Mitch McConnell will continue to have a hard road ahead to corral the Tea Party extremists of their caucus, the Libertarian monkey wrenches put in place for being dogmatic and not prone to that most essential of American political agreements: Compromise.

The beauty of a belief as we pointed out, is that it doesn’t have to be grounded in the rational. Hopelessly lost in the reflections of their own American image, they will continue to miss the ground shifting out from under their feet.

Census data shows the makeup of the country moving even further away from the elitists to the populists. The GOP’s radical policy has left a huge swath of the voting public non-aligned. In California the GOP is so debilitated that they’ve changed their primary process to a top two of any party.

GOP pundits are giving lip service to broadening their reach, but, when push comes to shove, the hardcores are true believers that immigrants are bad, blacks are all welfare loafers, and women are all sluts defiling their bodies and thumbing their noses at the Bible and “traditional” values.

That is not just a dog that won’t hunt. That’s a dead dog.

My shiny two.

About Brian Ross

Brian Ross is a writer, screenwriter, political satirist, documentarian, filmmaker and chef. Ad hoc, ad loc, quid pro quo... so little time. So much to know!

4 comments on “This Doomed Elephant Can’t Change Its Spots

  1. Deborah Shlian
    November 13, 2012

    My understanding is the the Republican elites like Rockefeller, Edison and JP Morgan bought McKinley who was “their man”- pro-business and that they offered Teddy Roosevelt the VP job because they wanted to keep him from having any influence since they knew he favored trust busting, etc. The irony was that once McKinley was assassinated and he became President, these corporate elites got exactly what they tried to prevent. Am I wrong? Deb

    • Brian Ross
      November 13, 2012

      Quite right! Sometimes we fall upwards.

  2. Pingback: Can Speaker Boehner End the Internal Terrorism That is the Tea Party? « truth-2-Power

  3. Pingback: Truth-2-Power on the Boner | Seniors for a Democratic Society

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