Think of this as Volume 17, Number 18 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
Americans have always favored law and order, and opposed movements that dismissed it. The Republican Party spent a generation hammering Democrats for being “soft on crime,” from Spiro Agnew sneering at the “nattering nabobs” who enabled student protests in the 1960s to George H.W. Bush and his “Willie Horton” ad in 1988. Democrats were only able to break through when they went “yeah-but” on law and order, as with Bill Clinton's support of “welfare reform” and harsh sentences for drug crimes.
There are all sorts of crimes that Republicans just don't think are crimes anymore:
Financial crimes? No, if you wear a suit you can apparently steal all you want. Republicans don't want laws against it, and they certainly don't want cops on that beat.
Environmental crimes? No, Republicans don't want laws against polluters, and they certainly don't want such laws enforced. Whether you're talking about Deepwater Horizon or the recent explosion in West, Texas, where a fertilizer plant was sited opposite a subdivision, there's never anything to see here.
Street crimes? Republican opposition to all sorts of gun control means they are perfectly happy letting criminals, even terrorists, get their hands on weapons of mass murder.
At the heart of all this stupid is the Republican idea that government is somehow illegitimate. This anarchic attitude has been part of the ultra-right for ages. It's what drove Timothy McVeigh to blow up a courthouse in 1995. But now it has been embraced by the mainstream. It's been embraced across-the-board.
And it's killing the party.
The tipping point on all this is gun safety. We go all “hair on fire” when two brothers bring exploding pressure cookers to the marathon, but 1,000 people are killed by gun violence every month in this country and we do nothing. We do absolutely nothing. The Senate won't even close obvious loopholes in gun registration. Nor will they even allow the government to investigate the impact of illegal guns on our society.
Guns are used by terrorists every day. They're used by gun runners every day. They're used by criminals every day. They kill people, by accident and on purpose, every day in this country. They are the reason we have a higher crime rate than civilized countries, a higher murder rate, and a higher incarceration rate.
Frustration over this attitude is starting to show up in the polls. Kelly Ayotte was a fairly popular freshman Senator until she voted against background checks. Now her numbers are upside-down. Pat Toomey was a fairly unpopular freshman Senator until he co-sponsored background checks. Now his poll numbers are on the rise.
What Democrats have yet to do is what Richard Nixon did explicitly, tie all these issues together into a blanket charge that Republicans are “soft on crime.” It's a charge that would now stick, because every branch of Republicanism is now standing on the side of criminals and against law and order.
The Wall Street Republicans want no laws against financial shenanigans, a rigged market that's less fair than an Indian casino. The Main Street Republicans stand against enforcement of laws against hiring immigrant workers, against environmental laws, against laws mandating fair treatment of workers in wages and benefits. The libertarian Republicans stand against drug laws, against gun laws, against practically any law geared to making children safer, as intrusion into their perceived freedom.
And all these voices against law and order grow stronger every day within the Republican Party.
One reason Democrats fail to make the case they can make may be that it's such a surprising one to them. Vice President Biden was first elected in 1972, running against the Nixon landslide, and went through six terms of being called “soft on crime” by a generation of Republicans. There are just too many people too familiar with the past to wrap the party's head around the new reality.
But someone is going to. And when they do, law and order Democrats are going to sweep to victory, not just once but for a generation. Americans like to be safe, they like to feel they live in a civilized society, and they can take only so much abuse of the law, so much disorder, before they revolt.
That's how the Obama majority will be made permanent, through the simple issue of law and order. They have a lot of good news, and some bad news. What they need is some Agnews.