by Liberal Librarian
The spectacle provided by the GOP primary race is one that could dishearten anyone who believes in the salutary power of democracy. The race has come down to four candidates, only two of whom have any traction with what passes for the GOP base – and the traction is very light, even then.
One, Willard Mitt Romney, is a scion of wealth, running for the Presidency for no discernible reason other than because he feels it is owed to him due to his class prerogatives. He is a man of no values, of no core beliefs, other than a belief that as a wealthy man his assets should be well nigh untouched. When he ran against Ted Kennedy for Senate in 1994, he claimed to be to the left of the late senator. He failed in that race.
He succeeded in gaining the Massachusetts governorship in 2002, during which time he was able to enact comprehensive health reform, one that formed the basis for President Obama’s own successful effort; he now runs away from that worthwhile achievement, not because he thinks it was a bad reform, but simply because it is now associated with Obama’s own signature piece of legislation, and thus tainted with the imprimatur of the foreign, the socialist, the practically evil.
He ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, and lost quite badly to John McCain. But, unlike everyone else, he didn’t stop running after the primaries were over. He kept a low-level campaign going after the November elections, pressing the flesh, building networks, trying to create an air of inevitability around himself so that he could take on the hated Usurper in 2012 and restore America to whatever America needed to be restored to.
In that effort, as the GOP base has moved further to the right, consumed with its Obama derangement, wanting to stamp out the onerous stain of an African American man with a Muslim name in the White House – their house – Romney has moved rightward with it, to the point where he has turned himself into a rhetorical pretzel, disavowing everything he had ever done politically that smacked of moderation, of accommodation, of working, in some general sense, for the common good. There could be no compromise with the Evil that occupied the White House – possibly illegitimately, definitely with malicious intent towards the greatness of the United States and its traditions.
The base wants a rabid warrior, one who will smite all of its perceived enemies, extirpate them from the American scene, and restore the social order to its rightful arrangements. Romney has tried to refashion himself into that image, to fulfill that yearning; but, at heart, he is not a true believer; or, rather, what he truly believes in is in satisfying his own needs, his own desires. His desire is the Presidency, and if the voters of his party want a Berserker to take on Obama, then that is what he will give them, or try to. But his attempts are anemic, the motions of a poor actor with only a bare comprehension of the part. He brings no conviction to the role, and the base notices this; it leads to a much harder road towards the nomination, his inevitability as ephemeral as his convictions.
The other, Newton Leroy Gingrich, is a self-described intellectual giant, a bomb-thrower of the highest order, a race-baiter, a philanderer, a corrupt, failed Speaker of the House ushered in by the 1994 landslide which inaugurated the past 18 years of see-sawing control of Congress. Like Romney, he has an outsized ego, and at heart, like Romney, his only conviction is to satisfy his needs by any means at hand.
One could argue that he had no serious intention of winning the nomination: that it was all a PR ploy to push his books and films, get him more speaking engagements, keep his name in the public eye. (Really, before he declared for the GOP nomination, had anyone given a second thought to Gingrich in the recent past?) He had no ground game, had built no network of allies to push his candidacy in the first two contests. He had almost no fundraising apparatus, and even failed to get on the ballot in several states.
But then, almost by accident, he started to get noticed, started to get support as the anti-Romney. He had name recognition, his dirty laundry had long been hung out for everyone to see, and, unlike Romney, he played to the clamor of cultural resentment quite well. The Gingrich who made a public service announcement with Nancy Pelosi washed away, replaced by the Gingrich who claims that children raised in poor neighborhoods – read “black” for “poor” – had no work ethic, and that “poor” children in New York City could work part time as school janitors to instill that up-by-the-bootstraps mentality that their parents obviously lacked. Gingrich, wallowing in irrelevancy since losing his Speakership to a palace coup in 1998, suddenly mattered again, suddenly had an audience, and a man of his ego can’t let that go.
Maybe at first running for the nomination was a lark; but now, it’s deadly serious, and with every negative ad that Romney or his Superpac surrogates spend millions to air against the Gingrich insurrection, the more he becomes aggrieved, and the more he speaks the language the base truly wants to hear, that of a total culture war, of a crusade to remake America into what they remember, a fever dream of nuclear families with one breadwinner and one homemaker, where everyone knew their place and never dared question it, where being American meant never having to apologize.
So, yes, one could argue that a believer in democracy should be disheartened that such unserious, demagogic charlatans are vying for the most powerful elected office in the world.
I beg to differ, though. I think what we’re seeing is the quickening of a process begun in 2008 by the Obama victory. It is a corrective to the conservative dominance of the past 30 years. Just as liberals became bloated and unresponsive to change by the long, post-FDR liberal ascendancy, and were trounced by the Reagan Revolution, the conservative era is at an end. Obama had the prescience to see this, and everything he’s done in his 3 years in office has been to show the American people the utter bankruptcy and degeneracy of the conservative movement. It has no ideas to make the lives of ordinary people better aside from platitudes and a belief that coddling the rich will bring benefits to everyone.
(And don’t for a minute think they actually believe this. They don’t care if benefits flow down to those on the ladder beneath the rich. It’s just what they tell their benighted followers to keep the votes coming.) The conservative movement is a cesspool of corruption and pathology, becoming more extreme as it increasingly realizes that the world continues to change in spite of its best efforts.
And what do I mean by an “end”? I don’t mean another cycle of liberal dominance for two or three or four elections. No. I mean an end, full stop, as in this particular iteration of conservatism has run its course, and will wither away and die. Eventually a conservative movement will arise again; it always does, as it should. But the next conservative movement that arises will not be one that gets built up to undo the achievements of liberal governance; it will be a movement that will perforce accept the broad outlines of liberal programs; it will just claim that it can run them more efficiently, at less cost.
What Obama is doing is fulfilling the revolution that FDR began, which was only partially successful. He will win a second term, and if polls are to be believed, the Democrats are on their way to regaining control of the House. This sham of a GOP primary season is setting the pieces in place for a calamity on the order of 1936; the difference is that when conservatives finally do recover, they will be unrecognizable to the near-fascists who now dominate the movement. They will accept universal health care, strict regulation of financial markets and instruments, and the notion that while government cannot and should not guarantee equal outcomes, it should and will guarantee equal access to the tools to succeed, because the voters will expect nothing less from a party that wishes to govern.
Does the GOP realize it’s sowing its own destruction? I doubt it; it’s too blinded by its own prejudices to see that the sheer cliff is only a few feet away. But I can live with that. And, more to the point, the Republic will continue to live because of it.
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