Beat the Retreat

Two pieces – one by David Frum, the other by David Brooks – speak to the ongoing frustration they and other respected conservative writers are having with the Republican Party.  To tell you the truth, my heart goes out to them. You can almost feel their desperation. Times being what they are, I’m surprised we haven’t seen a hanging.

In “Are Moderate Republicans Useless?” Frum reminisces about an era when the Republicans actually accomplished something significant.

Between 1969 and 1983, they repealed New Deal regulation of civil aviation, trucking, shipping and railways; New Deal regulation of consumer banking and finance; and a vast swathe of controls of energy production and pricing. They stopped the construction of public housing, replacing it with Section 8 vouchers. They closed Great Society programs like the Office of Economic Opportunity and Model Cities. What have the immoderate Republicans of the Tea Party era accomplished? Bupkus.

What went wrong? Many things, but start with this: Tea Party Republicans terrified the country. In 2011, they came within inches of forcing an entirely unnecessary government default. In 2012, they campaigned on a platform of ending the Medicare guarantee for younger people (while preserving every nickel of it for the Republican-voting constituencies over age 55) in order to finance a big tax cut for the richest Americans. Through the whole period 2009-2012, senior Republicans engaged in strident rhetoric of a kind simply not used by major party figures since the demise of Burton K. Wheeler and Alben Barkley. “Death panels” and “Ground Zero mosques”; Michele Bachman, Herman Cain and Donald Trump taking turns as the Republican front-runner; speakers of state legislatures praying for the death of the president and a former speaker of the House denouncing the president as a Kenyan anti-colonial alien to the American experience—we could fill this page with examples of important Republicans currying favor with their voting base by behaving in ways that the non-base would regard as reckless, racist, or just plain repellent.

A fairly honest and thorough exposé. Frum has never had any trouble leveling criticism on the GOP.

Brooks, in a piece titled, “A Second GOP,” longs for the formation of a “new wing” of the Republican Party, so that it can be more competitive in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic and Rust Belt states, all regions that are either heavily Democratic or trending that way. Such an offshoot would not be nearly as extreme as the current party has been. 

Americans are still skeptical of Washington. If you shove a big government program down their throats they will recoil. But many of their immediate problems flow from globalization, the turmoil of technological change and social decay, and they’re looking for a bit of help. Moreover, given all the antigovernment rhetoric, they will never trust these Republicans to reform cherished programs like Social Security and Medicare. You can’t be for entitlement reform and today’s GOP, because politically the two will never go together.

Well, allowing for the obvious biases that both men possess, my problem with the pieces has nothing to do with their take on where the Republican Party currently is. You’d have to be blind not to see it.  The real issue is one of denial. Neither man can bring himself to accept the brutal reality that the Republican Party that once was a major political force in the country and is now no more than a shell of its once former glory, is incapable of extricating itself from its self-imposed fate. [Though in the case of Frum, I suspect he’s a lot closer to reaching an epiphany of sorts than Brooks, who, more often than not, is far too lofty and ethereal for my tastes.]

I mean, really, when Richard Nixon is the reasonable Republican in your argument, you know you’re grasping at straws. The sad truth is you’d have to go all the way back to Eisenhower to find a reasonable Republican who wasn’t a megalomaniac and who could add and subtract. That’s not much of a track record, especially when the next stop on the reasonable bus lands you right at the turn of the last century. That would be Teddy Roosevelt.  If this is the Party that Frum and Brooks are longing for they might want to set their Wayback Machines before they go to bed tonight. That’s one helluva journey.

But let’s for a moment indulge them and grant that there are “moderate” Republicans out there and that they are capable of retaking the reigns and leading the Party to the Promised Land. Exactly who are these moderates and why haven’t we seen or heard of them before?

Perhaps Governor Bobby Jindal is that moderate. After all, didn’t he recently say that Republicans have to stop being the “stupid party?” Well that sounds reasonable. Except that Jindal also recently proposed eliminating Louisiana’s state tax and then, to pay for it, increase the sales tax. Yep, sounds like a reasonable Republican to me. Reward the rich at the expense of the poor.

Or maybe Paul Ryan can be that voice of moderation. He also recently had the courage to criticize his own party, though he opted not to call them stupid. Something about calling for prudence over spasmodic protest. Laudable. But then wasn’t Ryan the chief architect of the plan to turn Medicare into a voucher system? And then there was that whole thing about a path to prosperity – Reaganomics on steroids – in which rich people became even more prosperous and the middle class got screwed.

Or maybe Lindsey Graham. Certainly he’s a potential candidate for moderate Republican. After all, he’s part of bipartisan group of senators who are working on immigration reform, long a GOP bugaboo. But then old Lindsey went and stuck his foot in his mouth by saying that those who insist on including same-sex couples into any immigration reform bill are the same as abortionists. Did I forget to mention that a majority of Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade?

If these are the “reasonable moderates” that Brooks and Frum are speaking of, I can understand why both men are at their wit’s end. I’d be too if I had to look to these clowns for any sign of hope. The fact that they are further up the evolutionary chain than, say, Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann is no cause for celebration. In fact, when George Bush starts looking respectable to you, it’s time to run for the hills.

Think about it, the Republican Party recently held a retreat in which they were instructed how to talk to minorities and what not to say in public. Hint, words like forcible rape and illegal immigrant were probably tops on the list. Oh and by the way, the name of the place where the retreat was held was Burwell Plantation. That’s right boys and girls, the GOP held a retreat designed to help them appeal to minorities at a converted plantation. Words like irony just don’t cut it.

I’m sorry to have to break it to both Davids. There just aren’t any moderate Republicans out there. Not even Chris Christie, who recently vetoed what would’ve been a modest increase in New Jersey’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50. So much for that photo op moment with Obama. There’s never a natural disaster around when you need one. This party has gone so far to the right, Ronald Reagan would be seen as a socialist.

Frankly, the way I see it, the cupboard is bare and likely will remain that way for the foreseeable future, which is unfortunate. The country desperately needs a functioning two-party system. At the present, one party is currently doing its best to solve the nation’s problems; the other is locked in an insane asylum.


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Author: Peter Fegan

Progressive but pragmatic. Lover of music, die-hard Giants' fan and reluctant Mets' fan. My favorite motto? I'd rather be ruled by a smart Turk than a dumb Christian.

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