Thursday, November 13, 2008

Republicans are “A White, Rural, Regional Party.”

So says Virginia Congressman Tom Davis. Sure. But this has been coming for a very long time.Since the early-1970s, to be precise, that being the period in which Robert Grant first began efforts to mobilize the Christian community for concerted political action. Grant turned out to be far too bigoted himself to play in the same sandbox even with his putative allies. He famously said that the Religious Right was compromised by being run by "three Jews and a catholic" (apparently referring to Terry Dolan, Richard Viguerie, Paul Weyrich and Howard Phillips). This high-spirited gibberish promptly led to the creation of the more broad-minded and vastly more effective Moral Majority.

The strength of these groups lay in the recognition that the average rank-and-file Republican was insufficiently fervent to engage in the boring day-in, day-out nuts and bolts work that the Party had to do in all those off-election years. But the Christian community didn't lack for fervor and they believed in follow-through. Decades of intra-mural struggles in their church committees and oversight boards had taught them a near-perfect grasp of the hothouse atmosphere and political infighting prevalent in the local and State Republican organizations. So they volunteered for the boring, inglorious and unrewarding committee work, they manned the phone-banks and licked the envelopes for the direct mail efforts. They demonstrated a breath-taking foresight and devoted special efforts to get their members elected to school boards.

And they turned out to vote. Voted as an act of religious observance. The Religious Right has been a feature of American politics for so many years now that it is easy to forget how awesome their turnout was at the time. In 1980 they claimed that they had provided Ronald Reagan with his margin of victory, and it was no idle boast. The 1980 election definitively demonstrated that the RR was an important bloc - but still only a bloc- in the Republican Party.

I had a good friend, now deceased, who was quite active in the Republican Party in Oklahoma and, later, Texas. In the 1980s he had begun to complain that the Evangelicals were moving very rapidly from licking the envelopes to writeng the posiition papers and staking their ground on policy matters. Not being a Republican, I thought his hand-wringing was quite amusing. "You don't understand," he said. "These people are crazy."

Indeed. All of that was almost thirty years ago, though, and during that time the conservative Christians went from strength to strength within the Party they had chosen as a vehicle. To be sure, they were much weaker in the electorate as fact they were, as David Crosby used to sing, "King Midas In Reverse". They lost the culture war and the consequent political and legal battles on every front - abortion, stem-cell research, right to die, gay marriage, pornography - all hopelessly, irretrievably lost causes. Today, in the wake of their razor thin margin of victory in California's Proposition 8 contest, civil unions are. by default, the preferred conservative fallback position.There has been no progress at all on abortion. This is political power? It suggests complete impotence.

However, even as their influence waned in the Nation it grew within the party. And, in much of the Bible Belt where their numeric concentration was greater, their power was nothing less than monolithic, assisted somewhat by residual rancor towards the Democrats for the Civil Rights era. The 2008 election shows clear evidence that even here their authority may be fraying at the edges. The manner in which the RR and other social conservatives who are, with every passing election cycle more and more the true base of the Republicans, respond to their setbacks is illuminating. They call for the exile of those they deem RINOs - the ideologically and spiritually impure. And their ideological litmus tests do not, as the Presidency of George W. Bush demonstrates, include ones for fiscal austerity, for international modesty, or for restraint of government power. Athe very time that the Republican base stands in desperate need of broadening, the impulse is to narrow it. This is the sclerotic reaction of an entity on the verge of a terminal collapse.

Notorious RINOs Christine Todd Whitman and Robert M. Bostock say:
Unless the Republican Party ends its self-imposed captivity to social fundamentalists, it will spend a long time in the political wilderness. On Nov. 4, the American people very clearly rejected the politics of demonization and division. It's long past time for the GOP to do the same.

It is difficult to see how the party frees itself from "it's self-imposed captivity to social fundamentalists". How do you free yourself from yourself? The Republican Party is in the position of a junkie trying to kick. If it tries to do without the poison that is killing it it will go through a period of not being able to funtion at all. Every cell in it's body will scream for relief. The withdrawal could last for a very long time. And that's assuming that the junkie has the guts to take the cure.

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