Thursday, October 28, 2010


[Note: “Republicans 101” is a continuing series designed to help my liberal friends understand what conservatives think.]

A few months ago, when Rand Paul won the Republican nomination for Senate in Kentucky, I made a bet on the race with one of the few political insiders I know personally. This man (who I will call “Joe”) has worked in government most of his life in both Philadelphia and Harrisburg, and he knows far more than he would ever tell about who is doing what to whom in the world of Pennsylvania Democrats. Joe is an administrator and a technocrat---he's not an ideologue---and if he casually remarks on what, for example, a particular city councilman is planning to do, well, you can book it. He's been there. He's done that. He knows where the bodies are buried and he knows who buried them.

So we were discussing the Rand Paul nomination when I cautiously opined that there was a lot of sentiment growing about returning the nation to the principles on which it was founded, and that Rand Paul's win in the primary was just the beginning. There is a lot of anger about the direction in which Obama is leading the country, I said, and the growing tea party movement could represent a significant shift in the political landscape.

At this point, Joe laughed. “You can't pay any attention to nuts like this guy,” he said. “This will die down soon enough and that seat in Kentucky will certainly go in the D column.”

“You think this is nothing?” I asked.

“I'll bet you five bucks the Democrats win that seat.”

Rand Paul has never trailed in the polls against his Democratic opponent and now, five days before the election, the actual voting seems merely a formality. Yet Joe, whose experience in pragmatic, hard-nosed politics and government exceeds that of anyone I know, could not see this coming. The forces that brought Rand Paul to the fore in Kentucky were, to his way of thinking, a joke. The libertarian/constitutionalist movement called the tea party was something interesting for pundits to talk about, but it could have no real impact on electoral politics. He believed in the normal ebb and flow---since this was a midterm election with a Democrat in the White House, the Republicans would probably pick up seats---but the D's would still be D's and the R's would still be R's.

The insiders never see it coming. Once in a long while, the French Revolution happens, and Louis XVI doesn't get the memo. Every now and then, the serfs get kind of rowdy, and the Czar doesn't realize that this time they are really, really, really PO'd. Gorbachev probably saw the problems, but he was the last guy to understand that the Soviet Union could suddenly vanish.

I get the same sense from the elitist, insulated crew that runs our news media and our politics. They have no idea how angry Americans are. All of them, like Joe, see this uprising as a sort of hiccup. At this point, anyone who sees the polls must realize there will be a big swing in this election, but to the wise guys, everything will settle down once the elections are over. Repeal Obamacare? These jokers won't even defund NPR. Stop spending money nobody has? When have the Republicans ever done that?

And, of course, maybe Katie Couric and Barney Frank and Chris Matthews are right. Maybe nothing will change, and everyone will stop talking about the Constitution, and we will all settle back into our seamless transition into an atheistic European welfare state that will eventually be overtaken by sharia law. But I don't think so. The energized piece of the American electorate, once they have thrown out some of the bums and handed the Congressional reins to the Republicans, are going to expect some action.

It's a problem for Republicans because there is little evidence they “get it” either. The establishment Republicans have shown something less than enthusiastic support for the more doctrinaire tea-party Republican candidates (e.g., Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell, Joe Miller, Rand Paul). In addition, there is an embarrassing history of issuing endorsements to candidates that conservative Republican voters have soundly rejected. Charlie Crist, before he realized he was an “independent,” was endorsed by Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, John Cornyn and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Earlier, in the special election for New York's 23rd Congressional District, Newt Gingrich famously endorsed Dede Scozzafava, the liberal Republican who wound up quitting the race and throwing her support to her Democratic opponent.

Then there was “The Pledge,” a dreary 20-page document issued by Congressional Republicans in an attempt to suggest they are running on some type of national platform. Largely unreadable, as if written by a committee (which it was), the only news to come out of the Pledge was what it did NOT contain: a promise to eliminate earmarks.

Republicans will be elected on November 2 not because they have a coherent platform or philosophy, but simply because they are not Democrats aligned with Obama. But that doesn't mean the Republican Party will not have any responsibility to the voters who elected them. Democrats and the lefties in the media will never “get it,” but that's fine. Katie and Barney and Chris (and most of my friends and relatives) will call me a stupid racist homophobic nativist sexist lowbrow hillbilly until the end of time, and they will never pay a price for it among their supporters. The Republicans in the next Congress will have to fight my fight, however, or there will be no Republican Party in 2012. If the Mitch McConnells and John Boehners of the Republican establishment think there is howling now, just wait until they start voting for appropriations bills with earmarks in them, or trying to “amend” Obamacare. Republicans will have to be willing to shut down the federal government in their attempt to repeal Obamacare, or there will soon be no Republicans at all. Even if they fail, they must try.

Generally speaking, Republicans have no recent history of caring about the Constitution or acting out of principle, so there is considerable pessimism among us stupid racist homophobic nativist sexist lowbrow hillbillies that the new Republicans will be a heck of a lot different from the old ones.

In our national politics, Democrats have one argument that always seems to carry the day. If you are opposed to a program that will benefit some group the Democrats wish to favor, it is because you HATE the members of that group. If you wish to change the (insolvent) Social Security program, it is because you HATE old people and want them to pick food out of dumpsters. If you are opposed to gay marriage, it is because you HATE homosexuals. If you think it's good for society if everyone pays some taxes rather than just the top third of wage-earners, it's because you HATE the poor and want them to starve. If you think there are difficult moral issues regarding abortion, it's because you HATE women. If you think welfare programs, food stamps and the like tend to make people overly dependent on the government rather than on their own initiative, it's because you HATE minorities. If you are opposed to government-run healthcare, it is because you HATE everyone, and you want them to be dropped from their insurance programs and die in the street.

I don't remember the last time Republicans offered any rebuttal to this pathetic argument. Now, the future of the Republican Party rests on the ability of the GOP to do so.