Michael Stafford, 12/8/2011 [Archive]

The Republican Crisis

The Republican Crisis

By Michael Stafford

"These are the times that try men's souls" wrote Thomas Paine during the darkest days of the American Revolution.Today, the GOP is facing its own crisis.It has reached an intellectual and spiritual nadir.And this is a crisis that tries not only men's souls, but also their political allegiance.

The Republican presidential primary has been a celebration of ignorance- from the early rise of Donald Trump in the polls due to his embrace of birtherism, to Michele Bachmann's comments about vaccinations and autism, to the collected utterances of Herman Cain during his brief transit across the national stage.

Simply put, at a moment of national crisis, from deep within its dark bowls the Republican Party has vomited up one of the most appalling and inadequate collections of presidential candidates ever seen in American history.

The debates have essentially been a traveling political carnival show - which is fitting given the caliber of the candidates.And those attending the performances have displayed a shocking cruelty of spirit- cheering capital punishment, as well as the death of the uninsured.

The progression from Trump, to Rick Perry, Cain, and Newt Gingrich, along with the behavior of the debate audiences, highlights a fundamental problem within the GOP.

A few decades ago, Tip O'Neill called the GOP "the party of ideas."Today, that well appears to have gone dry.Instead of new solutions, or fresh perspectives, we get regurgitated slogans from the late '70's and early '80's, indefensible policy positions, rigid ideological dogma- and anger, lots of anger. The GOP has become more intellectually impoverished even as it has grown increasingly shrill.

As a result, in today's GOP, government is always bad, and the "free market" is always good.The economy would improve and everyone would have jobs again if we'd just eliminate regulations that prevent businesses from polluting the air and poisoning the water.People are unemployed because they are lazy.Wall Street bears no responsibility for the housing bubble, the financial crash, or the recession- that was all Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's fault.Global warming is a vast conspiracy to enslave and impoverish Americans.The theory of evolution isn't proven, and it's perfectly reasonable to think our ancestors walked the earth with dinosaurs.Access to adequate and affordable health care isn't a fundamental right, but access to an unhealthy dessert is.The way to fix the federal budget deficit is to take services and benefits away from poor people and the middle class.Taxes can never go up.And all of this has somehow been ordained by God and the Founding Fathers.

The Republican "base," we're told, demands this "red meat"- the bumper-sticker slogans masquerading as "ideas" and hallucinogenic fantasies streaming forth on a daily basis from conservative entertainers on talk radio and television.But the so-called red meat on which the base feasts is poisoning the GOP.Take a closer look at it.The meat has turned and spoiled- it is now covered with maggots.Eat that, and you will become ill. Eat enough of it, and it will probably kill you.

The great American conservative thinker Russell Kirk once wrote that some catastrophes "compel society to re-examine first principles."America is still reeling from such a catastrophe.Yet this has produced no self-reflection within the GOP, nor any honest re-examination of principles or policy.Instead, we've witnessed the emergence of the political equivalent of the "rage virus"- a dangerous and virulent pathogen against which conservatism seems to have no natural defense that thrives in the fetid stew of fear, ignorance, and anger that characterizes today's GOP.

This stands in sharp contrast to what has occurred on the political right in the United Kingdom and Canada.We have no domestic equivalent to the "Red Tory/Blue Labour" discussion in England, nor to Prime Minister David Cameron's "Big Society" initiative.And we've radicalized and moved further right even as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party have demonstrated the success that comes with moderation, sustained outreach to minority voters, and the embrace of social justice as an authentically conservative value.

The GOP has weathered previous crises. Today, the work of conservative intellectuals like David Frum, and leaders like Jon Huntsman, is keeping the light on in the Republican Party- and sustaining hope that the conservative movement might rediscover its rich intellectual heritage and reform.Until then, however, the GOP and its conservative base have the presidential candidates that they deserve.

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©Copyright 2011 Michael Stafford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Michael Stafford is a former Republican Party officer and the author of "An Upward Calling." Michael can be reached at anupwardcalling@yahoo.com

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.




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