I shall get to the GOP in a minute. First, however, I must urge everyone to pray that Barack Obama and Joe Biden stay miles apart and that both are not flying at the same time. For if they both die or go down at the same time, Speaker of the House John Boehner, the man who cannot preside over his majority party caucus in the House of Representatives, becomes the next president of the United States. And that way lies anarchy or perdition.
Which is not to endorse Obama. Indeed, I have been highly critical of him since his first months in office, to the dismay then and the silence since of his Democratic-liberal-progressive supporters. What prompted my early disaffection with his leadership was his almost immediate demonstration of his lack of it within months of his inauguration. Obama urged Netanyahu to stop establishing or expanding settlements in the West Bank; Bibi ignored him; Obama did nothing. Everyone understood that Obama was mostly or all talk and little or no walk.
Others already knew what I learned. I think that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for all the man’s small mind, mean spirit, smut mouth, and DNA-coded racism, knew first-hand that Obama is weak. After all, McConnell had four years’ experience with Obama in the Senate and probably took his measure and witnessed his weakness. That knowledge, added to the racist rejection of a black president and the perversion of the minority party’s role as “loyal opposition,” added to GOP leaders’ and schemers’ agreement on inauguration day to delay or deny presidential appointments and Democratic legislation as a matter of overarching political strategy. They knew that Obama would not punish them for resisting his choices of people and policy. They have been correct in this assessment from the beginning.
Good for them. Although Obama’s personal charm and rhetorical skills maintain a level of popularity, the GOP has succeeded in obstructing his efforts to lead, such as they are, and thus tarnishing his leadership. But it has succeeded in discrediting Obama only because he has been discrediting himself. The result is that, as Chief Executive, he has lost the respect of friends as well as foes, for all have come to recognize his weakness. I suppose that most Americans would agree that Obama is fit for the seminar room, the think tank, or the speaking circuit, but not for the Presidency.
Meanwhile, the GOP strategy to ensure Republican success is to ensure Democratic failure. By focusing Americans’ attention on what is wrong with, or unpopular about, Democratic principles, policies, and programs, it deflects their attention from what is wrong with, or unpopular about, Republican principles, policies, and programs. It needs to do so because it knows that a majority of Americans favors Democratic positions if no partisan label is attached to them and if no inflammatory claims are made about them.
An example is Obama’s “signature” achievement, the health-care legislation passed in 2009. Today, almost four years after passage, a majority of Americans opposes “Obamacare.” The GOP has succeeded in scaring many that the program is a “big government,” or socialist, takeover of American health care; involves rationing of care (including “death panels”); and—remember this point for later in this discussion—empowers government officials instead of doctors to make health-care decisions for individuals. However, a majority of Americans favors the “Affordable Care Act,” and a larger majority of Americans favors most of its provisions.
Which gets us back to the GOP and the question which arises from its reputation as the party of “no”: what does the party want to do for, if not to, America or Americans? I find the question virtually impossible to answer because the party is so fragmented and so dysfunctional not only on specific issues, but also on general principles or values. Indeed, its incoherence is dynamic, multi-faceted, and multi-dimensional, with no intellectually cogent, not to mention emotionally appealing, political rationale in sight.
For the GOP’s decades-long internal conflict between two groups with different emphases, one on economic, one on social, issues has dramatically intensified. Both groups agree on small government—by which they usually mean federal, not state or all, government. Both also agree on the need for a government big enough to do big things like protecting the national defense and responding to large disasters. They also agree that it should not be big enough to provide public benefits of safety, health, and environmental regulation; economic and social safety net programs; and Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Both sides see small government as some assurance of personal freedom and, with it, personal responsibility.
Yet, depending on the issues which divide them, they make exceptions. The economics-minded group wants government big enough to intervene in the “free market” to collect taxes (or forego them) as subsidies or allowances, or to reduce business costs, often by limiting liabilities or insuring against losses. The social-minded group wants government big enough, say, to deter or deny abortion as a choice.
Both sides have reasons to stress a greater role for state government. Both sides enjoy more success at the state level when the GOP controls the governor’s mansion and both houses of the legislature. Both enjoy more success in reducing state programs with public benefits; both enjoy more success in limiting the franchise of voters—non-whites, women, seniors, students, the poor—who might otherwise favor those programs and their benefits. On the fraudulent claim of voter fraud, GOP-dominated state governments are rushing to restrict voter registration and voter access to the polls. Such efforts, of course, defy GOP professions favoring individual liberty.
More notably in GOP-dominated state governments are laws undermining the Supreme Court’s decision that women have the right to abortions, subject to state regulation. Those regulations should, but do not, bear some resemblance to matters of the safety and health of the mother first, the unborn second. Some, like those attached at the last minute to the Ohio state budget and approved without discussion or debate, would endanger both. GOP-dominated state governments are not only imposing regulations intended to curtail the exercise of women’s right to an abortion, but are also are doing so in ways which are involuntary physical violations of women’s bodies by medically unnecessary procedures intended to be painful and humiliating—in a word, state-mandated sexual penetration. As bad in a different way are laws requiring doctors or other providers of medical services to indoctrinate woman seeking an abortion, even with falsehood. This legal compulsion of the medical profession and health-care providers to serve, not the patient, but the state, discredits both. GOP governors and legislators supporting and enacting such anti-abortion have become the new barbarians, indifferent to fact—many of these laws reflect false science—, to decency, and to respect for human beings.
Such behavior adds up to gross disparities between GOP professions and GOP practices, especially when the GOP gets power. These disparities reflect a lack of coherence in their governing philosophy. A big question is a simple one: if, according to GOP philosophy, infringements on personal freedom and intrusions on individual liberty by the federal government are objectionable, what makes infringements and intrusions by state governments less so? The GOP has never answered that question, in large part because American history suggests that more states than fewer are inclined to abuse than advance human freedom and liberty.
These disparities also call into question their willingness to govern democratically. For example, on two major questions of the day—jobs and gun control—the GOP has taken uncompromising positions to ignore the one and to prevent the other, although polls consistently show Americans by large majorities want Congress to act to create jobs and control guns. On two other major issues of the day—immigration and gender equality—the GOP is struggling to subvert the will of the majority of Americans without appearing to do so.
Indeed, the GOP’s disregard of national popular opinion and its hugger-mugger abuses of democratic procedures raise two large and important questions. First, does the GOP think it politically wise to alienate large and growing groups of voters if it wants to survive as a national party? The answer appears to be “yes.” GOP legislation seems intended to infuriate large numbers of people. I can imagine that even many Republican women will join Independent and Democratic women at the polls in 2014 to “throw the rascals out.” And, given its accelerating efforts to suppress the votes of minorities, I can imagine that they will also turn out in larger numbers than in the past to the same purpose. Second, a question which follows from the first, is the GOP committed to democracy at all? The answer appears to be “no.” Otherwise, the GOP has a lot of explaining to do. I doubt that many will believe it.
The GOP fools few and fewer people every day. The GOP base is, indeed, base, but it is not fooled; it requires no cogency or coherence except for unifying anger at everything which threatens it: demographics, morbidity, mobility, modernity, science, education—the list of their fears is long. Meanwhile, it fails to fool more and more people every day. Those majorities who want jobs and gun control; a pathway to fairness, justice, and citizenship for immigrants; and equality for all regardless of race, gender or gender orientation, creed or religion, ethnic background or country of origin are going to recover their voting rights or continue to exercise them to repudiate the GOP. Its efforts to rouse the base and repress the rest may have scattered and short-term success; in the end, in not too many years, it will be swept into the dustbin of ignominious history. As I began: grand, no; old, yes; party, over.