The Ghost of ’64

THE GHOST of ‘64

As we watched and listened to the Republican party publicly conduct its famous autopsy on what went wrong in 2012, and what they might be able to do to reverse course and actually play a role in governing, it occurred to us that the Republican National Committee doesn’t understand who’s running the show. Because it certainly isn’t.

For months on “Political Safari,” we’ve reported on the real phenomena enveloping the Republicans.

Briefly, that consists of politicians who for nearly fifty years have been in the wilderness but who are now returned to power, state by state, and newly installed in their state houses, often led by Republican governors, and who are devoted to the long-suppressed explosion of conservative ideology of yore, state by state.

We’ve focused on voter suppression techniques in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan. We’ve witnessed anti-union legislation being passed in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan. We’ve kept up with the punitive anti-abortion legislation passed in North Carolina, Kansas, Arkansas, and now in North Dakota. We’re aware of the struggle to close the southern border to Mexican workers in Arizona and Texas. We’ve been astounded by the Governor of Michigan with his Emergency Manager Plan that completely disenfranchizes that state’s voters.

We’ve been saddened by the lack of push-back from Democrats in these august houses of reason, but heartened by the repeals in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Reading about the RNC and listening lately to what it has now to present to voters, many of whom attended the recent conservative conclave called CPAC, what has become absolutely clear to us is that the RNC has become strictly reactive, not proactive at all.

The reorganization and regeneration of the Republican Party is not happening from the top down, but from the grass roots up. Newly white-hot members of state houses have resurrected political thinking from the fifties and sixties. It is they who are directing the RNC what tacks to take on immigration, on taxes, on health care.

Continual polling seems to be the RNC’s other guiding principle. With any reasonable amount of support recorded from voters to do want what it wants to do anyway, it has apparently decided that any view that represents an extreme is worth adopting.

The party makes a great show of listening, as opposed to dictating. Yet the party seems oblivious of the fact that it is being dictated to. The old white men at the top of the organization — albeit with the help of a few younger-looking faces atop old hearts and habits — haven’t the faintest idea that they are, at the most, a couple of years from being irrelevant altogether.

In our federal system, clearly and finally the states’ righters are on top. Republican governors and Republican majorities in state houses are telling the RNC what it will do, not to mention what won’t be acceptable to them.

One of the items that is going to cause the party more trouble than it imagines is naming national candidates. State houses are going to go for people they know, whom they trust, with whom they already agree. No more just accepting the next guy in line for the office, the next guy who’s been passed over or stood by patiently as others took shots and missed the target.

Red states are developing an entire list of yeses and no’s in terms of a platform, as well. No more conservative boiler-plate. They want what they want when they want it, and they’re not going to sit idling until the big boys decide it’s time to reward them.

No matter the new emphasis on Republicanism as a listening post. It seems clear that state houses and governors are no longer content to play second fiddle to the national concerns as laid out by the RNC.

And what do they want? They want the same things that sank the party in 2012. When Marco Rubio, one of their new leading lights, pronounces that the party doesn’t need new ideas, simply adherence to American ideals, CPAC was on its feet yelling agreement. That was not a good sign.

The party is no more amenable to compromise and moderation than it was last year, and it doesn’t see that it needs to be.

In fact, the rising figure of Rand Paul is vitiated by the equally ascendant Senator Ted Cruz who, thank God, was born in Canada and so has his presidential ambitions circumscribed.

If Senator Paul is clearly aiming towards 2016, Ted Cruz is staking out territory to make himself the party’s leading wild-eyed attack dog. While Paul is trying to sell a combination of Libertarianism and right-wing enthusiasms, Cruz has made the role of Senator Joseph McCarthy his own.

For his part, Jeb Bush, who really is the next guy in line, is having trouble navigating the territory, if it exists at all, between Paul and Cruz. Despite being widely respected as governor of Florida a few years ago, this Bush has already begun to paint himself into a Romney constructed box. Once a soft-spoken advocate of improving education and immigration reform, Bush now has trouble finding out exactly where his position on these topics should be in order to please most of the people most of the time.

Meanwhile the RNC makes pronouncements from podia across the country that are contradictory and demeaning to those millions of voters who remain unconvinced of its good intentions if not its actual abilities. The RNC, in short, is talking a good game, but walking in no one else’s shoes. It is still seen, and probably will continue to be seen, as the party of the rich. And Mitt Romney’s forty-seven per cent who cannot take responsibility for their lives are not going to be sold a lot of encouraging words without encouraging legislative action.

And legislative action, for the Republicans, is not going to be easy to achieve precisely because the party cannot and will not understand that what was is no longer good enough for the nation’s voters.

There is another dictatorial bloc, as well. And these guys are serious.

This crowd consists of the party’s silently generous donors. In 2012, it was enough for them to work at the local and state level during the endless session of primaries that took place. While that debating circus criss-crossed the country, each week another front-runner imploded. These silent billionaires were eying the crowd and selecting their own favorites. Many of these lost, a few won in 2012. But for 2014 and 2016, men like the Koch brothers are going to be calling in cards and laying down laws that are strict and unambiguous.

These guys got very little nationally for their money. That’s not going to happen a second time. 2014 and 2016 will be years of quid pro quos…take my man, or woman, or do it yourself. No more knee-jerk loyalty to a group of politicians who can’t walk straight. In other words, no more dough, unless our people are nominated and supported.

Democrats seem to understand that being liberal and white no longer is sufficient qualification for election.

Republicans still can’t believe they actually lost the election — how often do we hear them insist that their party won, just look at the majority in the House?

As for realizing that the United States is changing with every Latino, Afro-American, Asian-American born, the Republicans are still fighting for the goals of an under-appreciated but in his lifetime excoriated Barry Goldwater.

 

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Addendum:

 

For readers who do not remember who Barry Goldwater is — the Republican party’s nominee for president in 1964, running against Lyndon B. Johnson.  Goldwater was the most vocal conservative of his time, an articulate Marlboro man from Arizona, a senator.  He was also a Cold War hawk who was never afraid to shy away from confrontations with the Russians, which gave rise to the most famous political advertisement ever shown on television: a child picking daisies with a gigantic mushroom cloud behind her…if you wanted to vote for Goldwater, this was what you could expect.  Johnson won the election by a huge margin, although Goldwater’s campaign was sunk on the night he accepted the nomination. In this speech, Goldwater said” “Extremism in pursuit of liberty is no vice.  And moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”  This one line — heard by millions in front of their television screens — completely torpedoed Goldwater’s chances for victory.  As he aged, Goldwater not only became an endearing member of the Senate, but also “liberalized” many of his views.  In the end Goldwater fought the religious right on matters of equality of all sorts.  Today’s Right Wing of the Republican party has exhumed what he fought against and is running its campaigns on issues he would have scorned.

 

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