Friday, December 03, 2010

The next Republican president

About fifteen years ago, as I've recounted perhaps one time too many, I read a biography of Eisenhower and it dawned on me that a) for Democrats to win every election was not only impossible but undesirable, and that b) my political perspective had hitherto been rather limited, since I not only had never voted for a Republican for president but could not imagine doing so. I began mentally testing myself: could I vote for a Republican? Under what circumstances? (Asking myself the same question now, looking back on my life as a voter, I could make a strong case for George H.W. Bush -- who expertly helped feather down the Soviet Union, rolled back Saddam's Kuwait grab, and took a major step toward the balanced budget achieved in the Clinton years.)

My timing was spectacularly bad.  I don't recall if this little epiphany occurred before or after the 1994 election and the full Gingrichization of the GOP.  But in the intervening years, the GOP has hardened into the party of unlimited tax cuts and unlimited deficits, reckless unilateral warmongering, relentless immigrant-bashing and destruction of core civil liberties.

In recent weeks, as I've watched Obama go into post-election remission while the Republicans seize the whip hand on the Bush tax cuts and shamelessly hold New Start hostage, a kind of mirror-mantra has taken shape: the country can't afford another Republican president.  That is, not until the GOP has been chastened by further electoral setbacks and forced to acknowledge a few elemental truths: you can't fix the structural deficit without increasing tax revenue, democracy can't survive nonstop further concentration of wealth, the U.S. can't remain the world's sole wealthy country that fails to offer universal healthcare or afford to leave medical inflation untamed, our response to every threat abroad can't be a unilateral preemptive strike, and our civil liberties can't survive long-term when the government sanctions torture and shreds the fourth amendment (Obama has helped sustained the latter outrage, but as long as Republicans bay relentlessly for terrorist blood, Democrats will never roll back  the all of Bush's infringements).

Such a movement to restore Republican sanity is not going to happen any time soon.  Candidates now at the front of the Republican pack would all make George W. Bush look like  moderate -- if not by personal proclivity then by the imperatives of appealing to their base (cf. Romney: double Guantanamo! Trash New Start! Repeal  Romneycare the PPACA!).  The United States can't afford another George W. Bush -- the first one left the country reeling economically, discredited internationally, and terrorized by terrorists into abandoning core civil liberties. Yet the odds are good that soon we'll get someone worse. If Obama holds on in 2012, will the madness be cooled by 2016? 2020? How?

Ergo...I take the possibility that 9/11 precipitated a permanent U.S. decline more seriously than I did a few months ago, before the Republican electoral tsunami took full shape. I would be less worried if President Obama showed any awareness that he is up against a completely irrational and implacable, malign opposition and showed any indication that he would block their insane initiatives as relentlessly as they have blocked his modest and moderate ones. But as of now, it looks like mendocracy is in process of enabling a new wave of fiscal recklessness, militarism and authoritarianism. Electorally, it's the fire next time.

1 comment:

  1. As a former Republican (Bush, Clinton, Bush, Kerry, Obama was my voting path from 1992-2008), think you are right on, Andrew. I am regularly surprised that my Republican friends have little apparent sense of the degree to which their GOP is radicalizing. I think your list of necessary "wake-ups" is terrific: tax increases will be needed; income inequality is life-threatening to democracy; controlling healthcare costs is essential and cannot be done fairly until we all have coverage; patient, persistent diplomacy pursuing identified mutual interests is almost always more effective than war, or threats of war; civil liberties can, in fact must be maintained and doing so will actually enhance our power; and we must finally notice that how we characterize our terrorist enemies (Evil or Al Qaeda) makes a huge difference in whether we end up terrified or thoughtful and confident in choosing our counterterrorism strategies. And I know...I am not holding my breath. I suspect a real thrashing in 2012, which could happen, will cause a serious slice of the GOP to rethink.

    A question: Do you really think Obama is unaware that he faces an implacable and irrational opposition? The assumption seems to be that were he aware, he would draw up the battle lines, declare his opponents the Enemy, and begin an identifiable war. Isn't that what the Right wants, a clear, self-evident war, where Good fights and conquers Evil? And their deepest dream is that Obama, when finally pushed beyond his limit, will become the Angry Black Man of Reverend Wright caricature and fame.

    I believe Obama is fully aware and he continually refuses to cede his power to the Right by accepting their narrative frame. Remember Ali vs Foreman in Africa. Ali looked befuddled and helpless through most of the fight, and then he clocked the exhausted Foreman and won the fight.

    Jesus said in Matthew: "Be gentle as a dove and shrewd as a serpent," which is precisely what I believe Obama is doing. Stay awake. Recognize the Enemy. Smile. Take the punches. Stick to your core values. Pick your opening. Then move.