The monicker “GOP” for the Republican Party is no longer apt.
The party is no longer grand. Instead, it’s small, selfish and mean-spirited. It is
old, about which much more later.
But it’s not really a political party. It’s a collection of single-issue extremists
. Except for obsessing over the deficit and trying to cut it too quickly, far sooner than the experts recommend, it has no coherent plan or program.
The nearest thing the GOP has to a platform is vague and squishy bumper stickers like “more freedom” and “less government.” Selfishness—cutting spending on infrastructure and social necessities without raising taxes—is not a plan. At least it’s not a rational plan that accounts for cause and effect.
Pundits looking at the recent election’s demographics attribute all this to race and ethnicity, old whites versus rising younger minorities. But skin color is just on the surface. What lies beneath?
Probe deeper, and you find age a much more powerful indicator of the GOP’s present and better predictor of its future without real reform. Despite Mitt’s virtuoso salesmanship, people under 30 preferred Obama by a 23% margin
. That’s a slightly greater margin
than in Lyndon Johnson’s never-surpassed landslide victory over Barry Goldwater in 1964. [click on year tab “1964”]
Why was that so? Well, there’s always the Occam’s Razor answer: Obama was the best candidate.
But why did older whites prefer the less qualified candidate? Are they all racists? Ask them, and most will tell you “no.” Of course there was and is plenty of unconscious racism, expertly exploited by Fox and Rush.
But it’s hard to believe that skin color is the whole answer. To better approach the truth, you must look at how college dropout Karl Rove
managed to assemble a majority for George W. Bush, likely the stupidest man ever to become our president.
Did Rove have a coherent rational plan for our national future? Did he have a blueprint for economic success, what business people call a “business plan”?
Not at all. What he had was a blueprint for success in electoral politics. It had nothing to do with policy.
Rove’s blueprint was based on emotion, not reason. He relied on analysis of cause and effect only in an emotional sense: manipulating people’s votes by pushing their hot buttons. Rove won for Dubya by instilling fear in a large segment of the electorate, precinct by precinct
. And the fear he instilled was based almost entirely on isolated single issues.
Rove spooked the religious right with fear of rampant abortions. He raised fanciful specters of religious freedom morphing into suppression of religion. He cowed families into thinking that gays marrying each other and teaching children would subvert children’s sexuality and somehow impair marriage generally. He scared small-town and small-state people with fears that Washington would control their schools and take away their Bibles and guns. And he spooked everyone with the fear that people speaking Spanish on the streets and in supermarkets would conquer our nation peacefully and destroy our culture.
Rove did not act alone. In all this fear mongering, Fox and Rush and other loudmouths were his eager handmaidens.
When President Obama mentioned small-town people “clinging” to guns and religion, he misspoke only in one respect. Their clinging was not a cause, i.e., an intrinsic demographic characteristic. It was an effect. It was a conscious and deliberate aim and the outcome of Karl Rove’s narrow electoral strategy.
In the years since 2000, the GOP has discovered and exploited new sources of fear. The attacks of 9/11 and Dubya’s “war on terror” gave it not only the first real national war on a noun
, but Islamophobia
Here Rove was hardly original. In exploiting fear of Islam and Muslims, Rove just copied the blueprint drafted for Communism by Joe McCarthy and perfected by Richard Nixon
There is no fear so durable or manipulable as the fear that your peaceful neighbors and compatriots are secretly your enemies. It worked for the GOP during the Cold War, and it nearly worked again in 2012.
Other sources of fear came with the decline of American manufacturing and the Crash of 2008. China, Rove told us, was taking away our jobs. So were Mexican immigrants. The poor and hungry masses that our Statue of Liberty once welcomed with open arms were going to destroy our culture and take the food from our tables. It was them or us. All this false fear distracted Americans from the real cause of their discontent: rampant gambling by unregulated bankers
But the politics of fear has two problems. First, it is irrational; it ignores consequences and fails to consider cause and effect.
During the Cold War, the politics of fear (of Communists) not only wasted enormous sums on world-destroying quantities of nuclear weapons. In October 1962, it nearly extinguished our species
The fears that Rove incited to win elections have had no such dire consequence, at least so far. But they have made governing harder. They’ve destroyed social cohesion and turned Americans against each other. They’ve produced gridlock in Congress. They’ve conditioned a class of arrogant GOP House freshmen who think they know all the answers and won’t listen to anyone, even senior leaders of their own party.
But worst of all, Rove’s fears have undermined the very values that once made the GOP “grand.” Its greatest leader was its founder, Abraham Lincoln, who fought our bitterest war to keep our country whole. He also fought to realize the ideals of Thomas Jefferson (a Democrat)—that all men are created equal.
But that credo doesn’t jibe with fear and hate. It’s hard to think of others as equal when you are taught to fear and hate them.
Rove-inspired fears of immigrants and foreigners even undermined a key pillar of GOP economic policy, freedom of trade. Progress in WTO talks has nearly stalled, and our rate of ratification of bilateral free-trade agreements has slowed.
If Republicans want to know why, they should look in the mirror. Then they should listen to what members of their very own Frankenstein monster, the Tea Party, actually say. While these worthies are bashing free trade, immigrants and foreigners generally, plus refighting the Cold War, foreign nations are absorbing the values that we and the Brits taught
and making deals without us.
The policy of fear is not just bad policy. Any soldier can tell you that fear kills clear thinking and makes any situation worse. In the long run, it’s also bad politics.
Why? Because fear is a facet of age, not youth. What we oldsters fear youth sees as bland fact or opportunity. They don’t fear the Chinese; they study Mandarin. African-Americans don’t scare them. They’ve listened to “black” music all their lives; they follow and emulate brilliant leaders like the President and Cory Booker. They admire Oprah Winfrey’s accepting nature and generosity of spirit. They don’t fear Hispanics in America; they learn Spanish, study the history of our Western Hemisphere and dance and eat salsa.
Since its last reasonable president (the senior Bush), the GOP’s political program has been based on fear. But like a bad flu, fear is self-limiting. The smart wise up, and the inculcated true fearers eventually die off.
Of course the GOP can continue to invent new reasons for overblown fear, just as it “pivoted” from Communism to Islam. But if it does so, it will continue to play best to aging native whites—aging because youth is fearless, and native whites because minorities, foreigners and immigrants are the inevitable targets of manipulated fears.
Out of all the GOP-spawned fears over the years, only fear of immigrants has a semblance of rationality. If we close the doors of immigration, our population
will continue to age, and the transition to majority-less demographics will take longer. We will look more like senescent Japan for longer than otherwise.
That might give the GOP a slightly longer lease on its now pointless life. But it’s hardly the fate that the youngest and once most energetic major power deserves.
Youth or age. Optimism or fear. These are choices that the GOP has made wrongly for a generation. Without fundamental reform it, like an old soldier, may just fade away, in an inescapable demographic landslide.