The Problem Party

http://www.thechiefly.com/politics/modern-day-republican-gop-problem-party/

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I am a 27-year-old political science major who has been politically engaged since we invaded Iraq in 2003. I was vehemently opposed to the war and hated the George W. Bush administration with all my being throughout my teenage years. I was also a socialist. Then I went to college and learned about socialism, and predictably, I am no longer a socialist – far from it.

I am certainly not a Republican, however. I might be a conservative (probably not, although I did vote for Scott Brown over Elizabeth Warren), but I am definitely not a card-carrying member of the GOP, nor do I have plans to become one any time soon. Why?

Well, for the simple fact that, in my lifetime, this party has never valued anything on my own personal agenda. Education, diplomacy, and equality of opportunity should be at the heart of any government’s day-to-day work, and the GOP is mainly focused on growing GDP at all costs, helping rich dudes, forcing the government into our groins, and a foreign policy that essentially has been “What the hell are you looking at?” Plus, this group of mostly old, white, men have shown no interest in engaging my generation as anything other than a campaign prop for a few months every couple of years.

Losing The Popularity Contest

The Republican Party is as unpopular as it has ever been, why is that?

Could it be because 62% of GOP voters believe that the main focus of immigration reform should be on deporting illegals and securing the border? (Compared to 41% for the rest of the country, with 54% believing that a path to legal citizenship should be the top priority.)

Maybe it’s due to the fact that only 43% of Republicans believe in evolution.

Or maybe it’s because just 27% of Tea Partiers believe that climate change is happening (compared to 67% of Americans and 94% of voters aged 18 to 34).

62% believe that the Obama administration is “secretly trying to take everyone’s guns away” while 44% believe that an armed rebellion “might be necessary.” That could be it.

61% of Republicans believe that inequality has grown, but 48% don’t think that the federal government should do anything to close that gap. That same poll shows that 51% of Republicans believe that if someone is poor, that is due to a lack of effort on their part. Empathy is not this party’s strong suit.

Now, let’s play a game. I’ll name three Olympic hockey players: one Russian, one Finnish, one American, and you tell me which one is which.

van Riemsdyk, Pavelski, Orpik

Have your answers ready?

OK, I lied, James van Riemsdyk, Joe Pavelski, and Brooks Orpik are all American. The origins of those players’ last names are certainly not native to this country, but this is where all of those players have roots. And that’s the point.

The United States of America is not a plot of land, North America is. The USA is a philosophy, a magnum opus, a collective belief that part of every person’s life should be used to help support others in this vast, rich community of ours. The GOP seems to have forgotten this promise we made to each other, nearly abandoning the idea that government should be used to help those in need.

Sure, they believe that some government should be used to help some people, just not the ones that they disapprove of, at least not as much as the “good” people, the “Real Americans” (Vince McMahon’s depiction of the Tea Party as professional wrestling heels is one of the most mind-blowing things on weekly television, and further proof of the GOP’s staggering unpopularity).

The Republicans have lost their belief in a collective American “self” and instead have focused on a divide and conquer strategy where they attempt to impose the values of one subset of their party on the rest of society, regarding those who disagree with them as lesser individuals, all while espousing a worldview which can be described as mafia economics:

That which can be exploited for profit should be exploited for profit.

The free market is the greatest creator and driver of collective wealth the world has ever seen, but it’s not a panacea. It’s an absolute lie that it “allocates resources most efficiently,” like the GOP has been repeating nonstop for at least as long as I have been alive. The free market is just people, and we are not a species that specializes in efficiency.

Capitalism creates revenue in exchange for a product or service, that’s it.

There is no virtue to this prime directive, just utility, and that’s OK. The free market is a key part of life, but it’s not anything and everything. The Republicans have sold the American people a lie in order to create a simple campaign message (“We’re fiscally responsible because Capitalism! The Ronald Reagan Era was perfect and we should copy everything that happened!”) that can get them elected without ever having to engage us in a substantial discussion about our most pressing and meaningful issues.

European-Style Parliamentarism In America

The Republican Party has not attempted to establish a governing coalition in over a decade. Instead, they have used every trick in the book to bend the electorate to their will, and have tried to win only with ideas that come from their own narrow-minded camp. This is the very definition of the European-style parliamentarism that they deride so much (where representatives vote in lockstep with their party, as opposed to voting based on the interests of their constituents).

If the Republicans ever want to be competitive in a Presidential election again, they must accept that there are good ideas that exist which do not come from their camp. Until that happens, we’ll continue to live through this political cold war where the GOP says “it’s our way or the highway” (and then blocks the highway anyway). This isn’t democracy, it’s zero-sum warfare.

Look no further than the astronomical number of votes in the House of Representatives to repeal the Affordable Care Act as proof of the Republican’s staggering intolerance.

There is absolutely no legitimate argument that one can make against the validity of the ACA as law. It might not be sound policy, but it is legal.

Regardless of what the Tea Party says, the legislative branch passed the bill after plenty of deliberation, but don’t take my word for it.

Once the legislature passed the bill, the president signed it, but a challenge to the ACA placed it in front of the Supreme Court. All that happened is the conservative Justice, who doubles as the United States Chief Justice, served as the swing vote that upheld the law in a 5-4 decision (a lot of Supreme Court decisions since WWII have been 5-4 on party lines, especially major cases, that’s how American politics “works” nowadays; John Roberts certainly took this reality into account when he cast his vote).

And if that weren’t enough, we had an election where the Republican candidate made repeal one of the central promises of his campaign.

The American people made their decision in 2012, and it wasn’t for the man who promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act on day one. The ACA certainly was not the chief reason most people voted for Barack Obama but, needless to say, if the rest of the country believed that repeal of the law is as vital as many conservatives have stated, Mitt Romney would be President.

It is beyond hypocritical for all of these self-anointed “patriots” to clamor on and on about their reverence for the constitution and our legal model of governance while openly subverting a law upheld by all three branches of government and one electorate.

If these Tea Partiers truly respected our constitutional system, they would try to win the Senate and Presidency in 2016, and then repeal the law with a popular mandate and implement their own version of health care reform.

Trading the entire federal government for repeal of the ACA is a tactic only a weak and directionless party would take, and that’s where the Republican Party finds itself in the wake of their government shut-down last fall. It was very emblematic of the modern GOP; a self-defeating battle with an obvious ending led by angry, aimless Tea Partiers.

“We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this, and I don’t know what that even is.” Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind.

Close-Minded, Racist, Rigid, Old-Fashioned

Over the past five years, many Republicans have been wrestling with a gaping hole in their core logic: That their vision for what this country should be is ideal, and that it reflects what “Real America” wants. Well, if this was true, they would control more than one half of one branch of elected government right now. So what gives?

Given the fact that many of the bills the House Republicans do pass are either about abortion or repealing the Affordable Care Act, I think that it is safe to say that the far right has ceased to be a governing party. It looks as if it has turned into a social movement centered on two goals: the installation of a Christian theocracy on top of our democratic political structure, and the dismantling of the federal government.

It’s hard to be taken seriously as a political party when your solution to every single problem that we face is to cut taxes and slash budgets while making sure that young people don’t have sex until they get married (to the opposite gender, of course).

The College National Republican Committee published a study on the image of the GOP amongst young people. Among those who are “winnable” votes, they describe the Republican Party as “closed-minded, racist, rigid, and old-fashioned.” I have a few more to add:

  • Self-identified enemies of the state
  • Corrupt
  • Criminally cynical

Those who fight me on the word “criminal” must explain why the Senate now needs 60 votes to pass a bill, instead of the 51 written down in that document the GOP claims to revere so much. The Republicans are subverting the United States Congress through gross abuse of the filibuster, something that isn’t even in the Constitution. The gridlock is predominantly their fault because their legislative goal is to starve Washington of bipartisanship.

These two charts prove that the Republicans are motivated by political self-interest first, and public service later.

There is a false equivalency in our media that helps to perpetuate our current cycle of dysfunction.

In order to seem “objective,” reporters place equal blame for our problems at the feet of both Democrats and Republicans, then simply parrot each side’s talking points instead of reporting the facts of the situation (so they don’t piss off the hand that feeds them). It’s not news via journalism, it’s news via retweet.

Seriously, think of all the conflicts you have been a party to or seen in your life – has the blame ever been distributed equally amongst all involved? This moronic idea of “normal” keeps a handful of newsmen and women employed, all while the populace remains woefully uninformed, and maybe that’s the point.

All of this is not to say that Democrats haven’t made a large contribution to our problems, they have. Especially when it comes to health care spending, perhaps our biggest problem.

Check out nearly any democrat on OpenSecrets.org and you will find an insurance company or someone in healthcare among their top donors. U.S. health care costs are at immoral levels because powerful interests fix the system to make sure they stay that way, and it all comes at our expense (in literally every sense of the word).

Still, Republicans have a much larger share of blame for America’s historic drop-off in government efficiency. This is an indisputable fact as demonstrated by the two charts above. No one breathing has witnessed party intransigence like this in their lifetime.

This dysfunction extends beyond the halls of Congress and down into the bottom of the barrel of America.

Not every Republican voter is a Rush Limbaugh groupie, but amongst the Limbaugh disciples (and there is a ton of stupid and angry people out there-as evidenced by Rush’s numbers), the Republicans have a sizable lead over the Democrats.

Show me the Michelle Bachmann or Rick Santorum equivalent on the left. There is no one that crazy or personally intrusive with that much power. For every airhead who peddles garbage like “the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery,” there are hundreds of other snake oil salesman on their way up, gaining steam within the Tea Party right now.

They are able to exist because conservative media provides them the oxygen.

The Conservative Infotainment Complex is so powerful, it even gives life to liberal media (outlets like MSNBC and Mother Jones have some good reporters, but a large portion of their content wouldn’t exist if conservatives stopped saying and doing ridiculously-stupid things).

The GOP is infected with people who are completely disconnected with reality, and sadly, they’re the ones who are running the show.

Many of the so-called “Republican Leaders” don’t even hold office. The College Republicans poll revealed that voters identified Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh as prominent voices in the party, in lieu of many elected officials.

Conservatives have allowed their ideology to become commoditized, which inevitably leads to a distorted and overly simple worldview, as capitalism’s central message is “buy now and make yourself happy!”

This cacophony of far right talking points is why those who are loud and defiant have an uncomfortably large measure of power over our government. These self-aggrandizing voice boxes of hatred are very good at stirring up anger and organizing the very worst that the Republican Party has to offer.

Votes For Talking Points, Not Action

The Tea Partiers are not Republicans, they are the drivers of a failed social movement.

The problem that real Republicans have with Obama is political; he is the head of the opposition and his agenda does not mesh with their own. This is a perfectly reasonable position to take when governing a country. The goal is to find common ground between policies, and frankly, divided government has been working pretty well since 1776.

The problem the GOP faces is that much of this Tea Party base has a philosophical issue with President Obama, and you cannot bargain with someone who has intangible desires. He serves as their symbol of everything they dislike about modern America.

This unceasing flow of anger towards the disappearance of “Real America” makes it easy for the GOP to rally this base, and because the people who run the Republican Party always act in their own political self-interest, “waging a war against the Left-Wing Bully in the White House” is simply a standard GOP response as the minority party. The problem is that the Tea Party bought the lie hook, line, and sinker, and they’re armed and ready for battle.

This simplistic messaging strategy may have been able to fly at a time when everyone got their information from just a few places, but now we can instantly fact check anything so long as we have a WiFi or data connection and a basic understanding of how the internet works.

In recent years, the Republican Party has become as unpopular as ever while talking points like these became more and more mainstream during the ascent of the Tea Party into the House of Representatives:

  • The budget deficit is solely a result of government spending – and not also due to the greatest economic catastrophe in a century (even though by the very definition of the term, it’s a two way street, and besides, we’ve run a deficit almost every year for our entire nation’s history and we’re still standing).
  • Every policy to the left of the Tea Party’s agenda will eventually lead us to full-scale socialism, or fascism, or something – I don’t know, they’re basically the same thing, right?
  • Everyone who does not consistently vote Republican is not part of “Real America.”
  • “Real America” must save this country from certain liberal and secular destruction.
  • God prefers America over all other countries.
  • Government must exert some measure of control over all female bodies.
  • Government is on a warpath of economic destruction.
  • Disagreement with any of the aforementioned points places your patriotism, morality, or both into question.

Simply saying “[somebody] is [something]” and walking away isn’t good enough to satisfy the majority of the electorate anymore. I don’t think that the people who run the Republican Party quite understand this yet because it still works on their rabid faction of Obama-haters (and the majority of individuals like that are people who are looking for anything to hate, President Obama is just an easy target).

So why does the Republican Party foster this fatalistic and authoritarian message of fear and division? Because they stick to an outdated and cynical electoral strategy, trying to win with an electorate that is no longer a majority, and shrinking by the day.

Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy,” one that was centered on exploiting rural whites’ fear and anger in response to the Civil Rights Act, helped land him in the White House in 1968. This was a smart political move based on the assumption that these disaffected, white Democrats in the south would revolt against their own party (and they did) and that the Republicans would benefit politically (and they did). It’s not that Nixon endorsed their abhorrent worldview, he simply saw what any politician would see: votes up for grabs.

The second major migration into the Republican Party came in the late 1970s and early 80s when Ronald Reagan was carried to the White House by a generation of politically active evangelical Christians.

Black and white worldviews do not mesh well with the many shades of gray that is politics, and that has resulted in the unrelenting authoritative messaging from the GOP, aimed at a base who is constantly beating the drums of war.

From 1968 to present, the GOP won many elections by trying to instill fear in their base while reinforcing its biases. This strategy worked because absolutists of any kind are vulnerable to having their anxieties exploited because by defining their belief system as indisputable, they are placing themselves into conflict with every differing worldview.

Two of the most common talking points in the Republican Party are directed at both the racist caucus that entered into the party in the 1960s, and the religious absolutists that came to power afterwards (I’m not conflating the two in any way, just stating a fact that both are important to the GOP’s late 20th century coalition).

Coded language that effectively became the GOP’s “moocher” message was used to make rural whites fearful of inner city minorities living the “high life” off their hard earned wages. There’s a reason why Newt Gingrich tried to brand Barack Obama as “the food stamp president,” instead of something much more fitting and less racially tinged, like the “Inaccurate Drone President.”

And as society has become more secular, you can’t swing a dead cat in the deep south or the bible belt without hitting a Republican politician who won’t hesitate to remind you of how drifting away from our “Christian roots” had eroded this country’s values (to be fair, I do think that there is something to this idea if you substitute the word “religious” for “Christian”).

For a Republican politician in a red state or a red district, simply communicating both of these messages gets them at least half of the electorate. Even though the Democrats are typically branded as the lazy political party (many of them certainly have earned it), in reality, it’s the Republicans who are the apathetic ones. They don’t campaign on ideas, they campaign on the easiest message to convey in under thirty seconds: fear.

Then, once they get in office, they say they are there to “fight government” and simply oppose everything that comes to the floor, because it “violates their principles.”

They present themselves as soldiers for a disaffected class of people, fighting on the front lines of a war against creeping socialism. They talk to get into office, help their friends, then keep talking to stay in office, all the while doing nothing because that is their stated goal.

Rinse. Repeat.

While this might be a good strategy to win elections, it is a terrible way to establish a governing coalition. Fear doesn’t have an agenda, it’s a response to a perceived hazard. The problem is that when there is no realistic threat around, screaming “FIRE!!” continuously just kind of makes you sound like a crazy person, and that will be the shade of people you attract.

Change Or Die

There are plenty of sober and realistic factions within the GOP, but none that come close to matching the passion and turnout of the racists and religious absolutists (still not conflating them, 1+2 = 3, but 1 ≠ 2).

Just watch the progression of the Republican electorate from Eisenhower onward (a great Republican President, and a man who would undoubtedly be derided as a communist in today’s “thought-free GOP.” Also, that’s not my insult, I stole it from that hippie Bob Dole).

George Wallace saw Nixon’s southern strategy and raised him, running on a segregationist platform in 1968 and winning most of the deep South. Get the picture now? Let’s fast-forward to 2000, when New Mexico and Iowa served as the first cracks in the foundation of the GOP’s soon-to-be outdated electoral strategy.

File:ElectoralCollege2004.svg

File:ElectoralCollege2008.svg

File:ElectoralCollege2012.svg

The writing is on the wall for the Republicans. The past is gone. Change or die. 

California, Washington, Illinois, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine, New York, Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut

Those states are completely off limits for Republicans in Presidential elections because they are not part of “Real America.”

That’s 182 electoral votes already in the Democrats’ pocket before even having to go out and campaign (270 to win). And now Texas could potentially be in play as a swing state over the next decade. Even Rand Paul thinks it could happen. Texas!

This is a major problem for American democracy. Competition makes us better, and the lack of such makes everyone sloppy.

The GOP is filled with an abundance of idealism and over-simplicity on nearly every issue and it is holding the United States back.

Without two competitive political parties, much of our unique, American innovation slows to a crawl and our society becomes degraded by the bigotry of low expectations.

There is never one singular answer to any problem, no matter how small. Saying “government is bad” several thousand different ways allow your politicians to create talking points that conveniently fit on the back of a postage stamp, but this line of thought is destructively basic and it degrades the country and the GOP.

This nation was built upon the principle that free men (then 150-or-so years later, women) could band together to be more than the sum of their parts. Now the Republicans want to strip the car and sell the parts for cash to invest in the 7th tranche of a CDO built by J.P. Morgan himself.

Uniform policy across the board attracts simple-minded followers, which results in a simple-minded party with simple solutions in a staggeringly complex world. Perhaps no other chart in this entire story helps to serve as a metaphor for the modern GOP than this nearly-electoral map below.

Fear is a tremendously effective political weapon to help generate action amongst those whose lives are ruled by anger instead of reality. The image of the modern Republican Party can be summed up as this:

If you’re a Republican, you’re not crazy and stupid. However, if you are crazy and stupid?

You’re a Republican.

Jacob Weindling
Pure bred Coloradan with a dash of Masshole (go UMass). Sports and politics junkie. If I've learned one thing in life to this point, it's that stupid loses more games than smart wins.
Jacob Weindling
Jacob Weindling

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