Imagine a traditional Republican of thirty years ago, perhaps a church-going, small-town lawyer in the Midwest, interested in and curious about social, cultural, and scientific trends in the larger society, but suspicious of the Democrats' social engineering and put off by the excesses of the Sixties. Put him to sleep Rip-van-Winkle style in 1976. What would such a traditional Republican think of his party if he woke today?
When he went to sleep, his party had just suffered through the Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Nixon, but he was confident of the rightness of the GOP's fundamental principles and proud to call himself a Republican.
His party stood for good, efficient government, government that did no more than necessary, but did the essential jobs of government well.
His party stood for fiscal prudence, for government that spent no more than it took in and spent those dollars wisely.
His party was cautious in foreign affairs---especially cautious in the application of American military power abroad---in contrast to the liberal internationalism of most Democrats.
His party believed in the wise use of natural resources and had played a major role in enacting the initial environmental laws to protect the nation's air and water.
The Republican party had its lunatic, right-wing fringe, of course, but that fringe was generally under control. The GOP was the party of business, big and small, but that didn't prevent it from paying attention to other interests and needs. The party was generally conservative, but not exclusively so. It was sufficiently conservative that you didn't expect it to address the nation's major social problems---that was the job of liberals, mainly in the Democratic party. Nonetheless, the GOP provided a useful---indeed essential---corrective when expansive liberal experiments, both at home and abroad, went awry. Republican government wasn't exciting---Republicans weren't exciting---but who needs excitement in government. Republicans were stewards, not innovators. You could go to sleep during Republican administrations and wake up to discover that though nothing much had changed, nothing had gone drastically wrong.
No more. Something happened to the Republican party as it crossed the bridge to the 21st Century. The last national Republican to come from the old tradition was Bush I, and he was already an anachronism, defeated for re-election partly because of the anger of his increasingly radical party at his co-operation with Democrats in restoring a measure of fiscal discipline after the supply-side excesses of the Reagan administration. Our Rip van Winkle would wake up today astonished at the nightmare his party has become.
Good, efficient government? The Republican party today believes that the best government is no government at all, and they prove the point by providing none, by staffing the federal government with hacks and incompetents---remember Katrina---who are sure to make the party's point that big government doesn't work.
Fiscal responsibility? The Republican party of today believes in the fiscal insanity of cutting taxes regardless of circumstances, even as they turn much of the federal government into a mechanism for shoveling money as fast as possible to their big-money constituencies.
Caution in foreign policy? The GOP has been captured by neoconservative triumphalists who believe in American hegemony in the world and in the universal efficacy of unilateral American power. 9/11 unleashed them, and their gift to the rest of us has been the mess in Iraq.
Environmental stewardship? The Republican party believes that the answer to all energy problems lies in the extraction of fossil fuels---damn the environment---despite the clear evidence that both national security considerations and global warming require us to start weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels.
The Republican party of today serves two masters: big-money interests and wealthy Americans, who fund the party's campaigns and whose short-term greed, never satiated, but always served by Republican policy, threatens the very foundations of our society; and fundamentalist Christians, who are the core of the party's voting base and who seek to have government promote their small-minded religious agenda. What would our Rip van Winkle think of a party that has utterly abandoned his cherished principles in favor of serving these two narrow interest groups? What would he think to find that his party routinely denies facts that conflict with its ideology, as when the party, to serve its corporate masters, denies the evidence for global warming and when it denies evolution by natural selection because that scientific fact threatens the belief structure of its fundamentalist base?
Our Rip van Winkle's response to this news might be something like this: "Such a tragedy! The party of Lincoln abandoning its principles to serve a radical, know-nothing ideology. But political parties don't last forever---the Republicans replaced the Whigs, you know. Surely these Republicans have been wholly discredited. What's replaced them?" And now would come the greatest shock, when Rip is told that these radical Republicans haven't faded away, but have run America for the last six years, and under the leadership of President George Bush, have run it into the ground.
His head reeling, Rip splutters, "Bush? You mean the head of the party under Nixon? But he must be over 80 by now." Not that Bush, Rip is told, though he was President for a single term from 1989 to 1993, a survivor from the generation of Republicans you knew before you went to sleep. That Bush's son is the President now.
This son and his gang, aided and abetted by Republican majorities in the Congress, have supervised a dangerous and un-American concentration of power in the executive, trampling on long-held principles of American jurisprudence and law and hiding their actions behind a veil of secrecy unprecedented in American history.
This Bush gang deceived the country into a war of choice in Iraq and then did no planning for the occupation, with the consequence that any chance of a positive outcome has been buried beneath the rubble of their incompetence.
This Bush gang encouraged the mistreatment of prisoners held by our military and intelligence agents, even tolerating torture.
All this has led to a diminution of America's reputation and credibility to the lowest point since our emergence as a superpower after World War II.
Under the Bush gang, a thirst for unchecked power has combined with a toxic brew of overreaching, secrecy, arrogance, and incompetence to produce disaster in Iraq and paralysis at home. Yet there is something even worse. The Bush gang and the Republican party---aided and often led by strident voices in the mad-dog right-wing press---have so debased political discourse in America that there isn't any sensible national discussion left.
How can there be a discussion of fiscal policy when the Republican party responds to every question with sound bites about how "the people know how to spend their money better than the government" or "tax cuts increase government revenue"?
How can there be a discussion of reasonable and proper restraints on government eavesdropping and treatment of detainees when all disagreement is caricatured as "they're opposed to eavesdropping on terrorists" or "they're opposed to questioning terrorists"?
How can there be a discussion of Iraq policy when the President's press secretary declares, "You can't say, I support the troops, but I hate the cause, because that's why they signed up."?
How can there be a discussion of Iraq policy when the President puts forth the formulation that he would withdraw the troops if he thought we couldn't win, but that the only way to lose is by withdrawing?
How can there be a discussion of Iraq policy with a President who touts his "plan for victory" when all the evidence is that we must now choose the least disastrous way to extricate ourselves from the mess he and his gang have created?
It is important to think hard about and to formulate carefully one's ideas and positions on the issues facing the country, but it is pointless to discuss the issues with the current generation of Republican ideologues. The only effective response to the Bush gang's inanities is satire, ridicule, and scorn. The President and his gang are a joke, a very bad joke, to be sure, but a joke nonetheless. The sooner everyone gets the joke, the sooner the President and his party are made the objects of ridicule and scorn, the sooner the Republican party will reform itself to become again a sensible force in American politics.
At this point, Rip interrupts, "Thanks for the tirade, but aren't there still elections in America? Can't you just vote these scoundrels out? Heck, even I would vote for a Democrat under these circumstances."
Rip, you're right. It just so happens that tomorrow is the day of the 2006 midterm election. This election is a national referendum on the Bush administration's failed policies at home and abroad. We have a chance to deliver a clear repudiation of the Bush administration and a clear rebuke to the Republicans in Congress who have sustained the administration.
This election is all about and only about removing the Republicans from power, thereby giving Democrats an opportunity to expose what the Bush gang has been up to, to start holding them accountable for their actions, and to begin the long process of recovery from the years of Bush gang mismanagement. We must send a message, and it must be loud and clear.
There will come a time to vote for Republicans. Indeed, it is essential that such a time come, because we need two sensible political parties, but it will come only when the Bush ideology, with its twin pillars in radical economic and social conservatism, is so thoroughly repudiated that the Republican party offers something else. For now, it doesn't matter how good or how sensible you think your Republican representative in the Congress is. For now, Republicans have to be voted out of the Congress, in numbers as large as possible, so that this election sends a message of repudiation to Bushism and sends that message loud and clear.
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