In 1968, when LBJ left office, the country was in turmoil and the Democratic Party was in a state of decline, due to a lack of established leaders in the party, constant in-fighting (unions vs. students vs. catholics vs. blacks vs. traditional southern democrats vs. …..) and a general state of distaste in the mouths of the political center towards the Democratic Party. For the past 40 years (with the minor blip of Carter – only as a result of the corruption of the Nixon administration), the Democratic Party has been fighting to recover from where the Party was at in ’68.
I posit that the Republican Party is in a similar state, and is quite possibly only at the beginning of a downward slide in their influence over American politics.
(Interesting side note, having little to do with my thesis, but presenting a great opportunity for a dig at the Bush administration: while LBJ left the country and the Party in a state of turmoil, he did have some significant accomplishments during his term, not the least of which is the Voting Rights Act. Looking back over eight years of GWB, not one single accomplishment. Not one.)
The current Republican party has based it successes since 1980 on a handful of fronts: fiscal conservatives, evangelical Christians, military hawks, conservative intellectuals and, for lack of a better term, “Joe-the-Plumbers.”
Even before this election cycle began, portions of some of these groups were seen heading for higher ground.
Fiscal conservatives, while still slow to vote for Democrats, became increasingly uncomfortable with Republicans who had shown a complete lack of fiscal conservatism, and the constant baiting for evangelical Christians made them nervous as well.
Evangelical Christians were tired of having lip service paid to them by their politicians, only to fail to pursue their core issues once elected.
Conservative intellectuals have been jumping ship for about five years.
As the election cycle proceeded and McCain became the nominee, both the fiscal conservatives and evangelical Christians were more put off, despite McCain’s attempts to change his tune towards each of these groups who he had distanced himself from in the past. Further, many within the military community were turned off by his opposition to the recent GI Bill and other slights toward not only current military, but veterans groups.
But at least the “Joe-the-Plumbers” were still with them, and McCain still had an excellent shot at taking the middle-of-the-road independent voters. Had that occurred, and given the fact that very few in the fiscal conservatives, evangelical Christians or military hawks were jumping for joy over the prospect of voting for Obama, the odds are strong that McCain would have held onto Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and possibly Ohio and Pennsylvania, and walked away with a fairly easy victory.
However, in an attempt to “rally the base,” McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, apparently neglecting to notice that it wasn’t really the base that was going to be the difference in this election, but rather the independents, the swing voters. Sure, inspiring that base to vote in large numbers was a fine goal, but the ideal candidate for McCain would have been one who would have been palatable enough to the “base” to not drive them away while still appealing to the independents.
Needless to say, Palin not only did not appeal to independents, she was also just terrible enough to siphon off voters from the fiscal conservatives and completely drive the rest of the fiscal conservatives away.
Now, in the aftermath of a completely winnable election, the in-fighting that has been occurring for the past several years is out in the open. Conservative talk show hosts (which I like to refer to as the idiot wing of the Republican Party) are trying to start a witch-hunt among Republicans who have had the gall to cross Sarah Palin, trying to isolate her as the future of the Party (which is every comedy-writer, Youtube-addict and DNC staffer’s wet dream). Sane Republicans are trying to distance themselves from her and return to a platform that can appeal to a large portion of independents, while not selling out the traditional supporters of the Republican Party, and everyone (except perhaps that ol’ idiot wing) is trying to distance themselves from the Bush administration. Irony of ironies is that perhaps the only hope for unity in the Republican Party at this time is a united front against the failed policies of the Bush administration.
Now, certainly all of this can come across as little more than premature congratulations over what could just be a temporary stumble by the Republican Party. Obama certainly couldn’t have chosen a tougher time to be elected president. The economy is certainly going to get significantly worse before it gets better. He has one war to extricate us from and another to re-engage. He has to patch up alliances lost around the world. There remains a looming environmental crisis and no gains have been made on the energy front in eight years. We still have significant threats from enemies around the globe. The Constitution must be re-assembled from the scraps it has been left in. But this is precisely the time when the country needs good strong leadership from an intelligent executive. As Obama and the Democratic Party begin the march back from the precipice, embracing some of those things that Republicans claim to stand for and disowning much of what they actually do stand for, America will march back with them.
There will be setbacks, but the pendulum has swung. Forty years of paying lip service to conservatism in this country is done. May the next forty re-establish America as a beacon to the rest of the world.