When a political thesis, a set of myths and values which has lasted for a generation, starts to collapse, when the balloon starts to come to Earth, it is always fun to see who or what the failing side kicks out as ballast.
The last time this happened, 40 years ago, Democrats tossed out the Cold War. While Vietnam and the Cold War were separate in fact, Republicans had been making Cold War Absolutism the center of their appeal for 20 years, and seized the connection for power’s sake. People ask what those last 23,000 casualties died for in Vietnam. They died so Republicans could maintain power. They died for a Thesis of Conflict which has held from that day to this.
But now that Thesis of Conflict, inherited from Richard Nixon, is falling apart under George W. Bush. So who will the Republicans toss out of their balloon?
The mainstream wants to throw out the so-called Religious Right, the Values Voters, the Culture Warriors. They want to do this with a nudge or a wink, but the leaders of that movement are not fooled. While doing this, Rudy Giuliani — and more important his supporters — are linking themselves even-tighter to the other key legs of the Republican Majority triangle — the Military Right and the Business Right. Both groups are engaging in increasingly-extreme rhetoric, which the mainstream is embracing. Dissing religious extremists is seen as a price of victory, even though kicking anyone out of a coalition which can only count on 51% of the vote when they’re all together is suicide.
There is one notable exception. Ron Paul (above). Paul has been a practicing whackjob for over 30 years but he is willing to throw the neocons out instead of the religious right, and so he has gained traction. Back when I was playing The 1966 Game I called Tom Tancredo the Eugene McCarthy of 2008. (I misplayed Reagan as Oprah Winfrey when it was really Al Gore.) Well, I know the right answer now, and it’s Paul.
Ron Paul is the Eugene McCarthy of 1968 because he’s willing to toss out a stand the grassroots want out which the establishment does not want out, namely the Holy War of Terror.
It’s funny that the neocons, whose move to the Republicans gave them power for a generation, are now the grassroots’ favorite to toss aside, but there you go — politics is always funny, grassroots politics is even funnier, and, well, payback’s a bitch.
Fred Thompson looked attractive this spring only because he, alone
among the possible candidates, was unwilling to toss anyone overboard.
(Think Humphrey in 1968, only with a sourer disposition.) He echoes all
the rhetoric of the Religious Right, the Business Right and the
Military Right. He even says his lines well, when he has good lines in
front of him. Unfortunately the early parts of any Presidential
campaign contain a lot of improv work, which he can’t carry off.
What will prove even more interesting than the present race is what
happens when they all drown. Right now all polls show the Republican
Party, as a whole, is drowning, is dieing, is committing political
suicide. The Democratic candidates for President are, in fact, no more
impressive than such candidates have ever been, but they look like
giants next to the Republicans because their rhetoric resonates with
people now. People agree with them, and are only trying to decide how
much — a little (Clinton), a lot (Edwards) or just pretend (Obama).
Something, identified by press and public as the Republican Party,
is going to emerge from the wreckage in 2009. It will be a minority
party throughout the country, except perhaps in the Deep South, where
large black minorities lock whites in an unthinking Republican embrace.
It will be a collection of tribes, each blaming the others for their
collective failure, each believing the party must now become "more like
themselves" to succeed.
It’s that search for the Republican McGovern I’m most looking forward to.