There's an obvious parallel between the dire situation of the Republican party today and that of the Democratic party in the 1980s (I've already alluded to this). In both cases the "out" party is/was beholden to radicals whose views alienate the mainstream of the country; baffled by the enduring popularity of the "in" party's President (Reagan / Obama); and in deep denial about the real causes and likely cures of its electoral failures. Molly Ball at the Atlantic looks at the comparison and concludes that the Republicans have a long way to go yet before making the kind of moves to the center and electoral comeback which the DNC and Bill Clinton ultimately engineered for the Democrats in the early 1990s.
Beyond the general inertia Ball diagnoses, I see two factors that differentiate the Republicans of today from the Democrats of the 1980s, and will make it harder for the Republicans to make a similar comeback:
(1) Demographics. Everyone cites the gradual upward drift of the non-white (particularly Hispanic) percentage of the population; even more important is the rapid growth of the non-religious percentage (from about 7% to 20% in barely over a decade) and corresponding increase in acceptance of gays and even gay marriage. This is particularly marked among young people. In general, groups that lean Democratic are growing while groups that lean Republican are shrinking or at least aging. There were no such factors contributing to the Democrats' woes in the 1980s.
(2) Religion. Many of the radical Republican positions that turn off mainstream voters -- primitive attitudes about gays, women, science, and so on -- are rooted in the hard-line religious character of the party's base. Indeed, the main division between left and right in the US is no longer over economic policy or the size of the state, but is rather a secular-vs.-theocratic split. The problem is that religious fanaticism is far more resistant to change than ordinary political convictions are. For example, see the base's fierce push-back against recent RNC hints of a softening on gay marriage.
Point (1) suggests that a Republican comeback will require even more profound shifts in the party's stances and character than the Democrats needed in the early 1990s; point (2) tells us that any such shifts will be much harder for the Republicans to swallow than they were for the Democrats.
Republicans, meanwhile, remain mostly in denial. They talk hopefully of a "pendulum swing" back their way (though the growth of non-white population and the decline of religion seem very unlikely to go into reverse) and cite the old saw that "people get more conservative as they get older" (not true).
The Republicans aren't dead yet. Gerrymandering, vote suppression, and the low turn-out of off-year elections will hand them some wins for a while yet. Occasional Democratic blunders or scandals (real ones, not like the recent nonsense) will take down a candidate here and there. But such factors can't change the underlying fundamentals; at most they will mask the inexorable decline and perhaps even discourage a comeback by seeming to vindicate those on the right who claim no real change is needed.
Predictions of one or the other party's decline into irrelevance or extinction have been wrong before. The Republicans might make a genuine comeback. But I certainly see very little sign of it happening, and it's hard to imagine the base permitting the specific steps such a comeback would require.
When you've got some time and are feeling resilient, take a look at this link. You can skip the post itself and head for the comments -- where you'll find yourself sucked down into the maelstrom of the religious mind.
See twenty-first century humans talk about sin, a "fallen world" and even heresy as if these were real objective phenomena. See them assert the right and duty to "rebuke" and harass people of whose lifestyles they disapprove, for their own good. See them uphold the ignorant and befuddled scribblings of ancient Middle Eastern primitives as the ideal guide to life in the modern world. No summary can convey the flavor of it -- go see for yourself.
These people exist. They are out there. Not all people who self-identify as Christians actually think this way -- not even a majority of them, in modern countries -- but those who do are still a force to be reckoned with, even if a shrinking one.
(This is a Christian example, but hard-line Muslims, some groups of ultra-Orthodox Jews, and radicals of various other cults are just as scarily deranged in their own way.)
You cannot reason with people like this. The House quote is dead on -- if they were capable of viewing their own reality-bubble from the outside and rationally assessing it, they wouldn't be this way in the first place. All we can do is out-vote them, contend with them for the allegiance of the vast unaware middle, and keep our guard up. And keep an eye on them too, as I do by reading such websites from time to time, lest we start to forget or doubt how deep the madness really goes.
After a couple of weeks of the right wing desperately flailing at the deceased equines of Benghazi, AP, IRS/teabag, Marine-umbrellagate, and whatever else they can come up with, the American people have drawn their own conclusions. Those conclusions are not what the passed-on pony pummelers were hoping for.
Here's a summary of the relevant results from the latest CNN national poll. Obama's approval rating is at 53%, actually up a couple of points from the last poll in early April. The Democratic party's favorable / unfavorable rating has seen a net shift of 11 points in its favor, far outside the margin of error. The Republicans' favorable / unfavorable rating is 35-to-59, eight points worse than in early April -- and the worst unfavorable rating they've had since CNN started tracking the question in 1992. (Update: More analysis here.)
(And as noted in the last link round-up, Democratic candidates in Virginia and Massachusetts have even gotten a boost in the same period.)
As I've said before, if the Republican party were a centipede, it would still be running out of feet to shoot itself in.
There are already signs that right wing is starting to realize the scamdals aren't working. The Washington Post describes them as "falling apart". Skimming major wingnutosphere sites such as RedState, PowerLine, Breitbart, and PJ Media, at least at the moment I see far less front-page coverage of them than in the last week or two, though Hot Air is still giving them plenty of play. PowerLine even posts that the "narrative" on one scamdal "isn't compelling".
The tornado disaster in Oklahoma and Texas will probably provide a face-saving opportunity for the right wing to back down on the scamdals, letting them fume that it drove them from the headlines just as the public was surely about to start paying attention and turn against Obama. I worry a bit about where that could lead, though. How long will it be before we see a "tornado truther" movement claiming that Obama somehow staged the tornado to distract the public?
Even by the familiar debased standards of the Nobel Peace Prize, 2012's award was asinine; the committee bestowed the prize on the European Union for its "advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights". This after years of the EU's imposition of austerity policies which have wrecked the economies of the southern member states, inflicting mass poverty and unemployment and driving the most capable young people to emigrate, and its dogged pursuit of deeper integration despite the opposition shown by repeated referenda in member countries, making a mockery of democracy.
But what about peace? After the conflagrations of World Wars I and II, and before them the Franco-Prussian War, the Napoleonic wars, etc., etc., etc, Europe has now gone 68 years without such a major conflict. Doesn't the EU deserve credit for that?
Actually, there's no reason to think the EU had any role in preserving the peace during this period. There has never been an instance where two EU member countries approached war but were stopped by the EU, nor could the EU have done anything to stop them if they had. In the bloodiest conflict on European soil since 1945, the Yugoslavian wars, the EU was utterly impotent; what eventually mitigated the damage was American military intervention. It was not the EU that deterred a Soviet invasion -- NATO did that. As for "advancement of reconciliation" and promoting good relations, the EU's disastrous austerity policies and authoritarian bullying have created a state of mutual contempt and even hatred between the Mediterranean member nations and the Germanic core.
Some conservatives, pouncing on these obvious points, have argued that NATO should instead get the credit for keeping the peace. This, too, is absurd. The division of Europe (and most of the developed world) into two rival alliance systems replicates the conditions which made World War I inevitable. It was those alliances which allowed a local dispute between Austria-Hungary and Serbia to trigger a continent-wide mass slaughter engulfing major powers which did not even have any vital interest in the original local dispute.
So what did keep the peace all this time? Why has Europe (and the world) gone so long without another World-War-II-scale conflict?
As is so often the case, politics and ideology have been surface epiphenomena, while the true decisive change was a technological one. What differentiated most of that peaceful 68 years from the period before was the existence of the H-bomb. With both superpowers holding massive arsenals of these weapons, another all-out war between the two rival alliances would have meant the immediate annihilation of both sides, something that neither government dared risk.
During the Cold War, there was no shortage of events which could easily have played the role of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, triggering another all-out war between the two great alliances. The Soviet blockade of Berlin, the suppression of Hungary in 1956 and of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam, the Cuban missile crisis -- any of these could have triggered a new global war, if not for the H-bomb. Indeed, going by historical precedent, it seems safe to say that one or another of those events probably would have triggered a global war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, likely even bloodier than World War II, if not for the H-bomb. It was the H-bomb, and only the H-bomb, that spared us that.
Fear has always been one of the most effective motivators of human behavior, and the fear of total annihilation has been strong enough, for 68 years, to overcome the kinds of impulses that led politicians in generations past to blunder -- or strut proudly -- into all-out war. There was simply no point in launching an all-out war when it would have looked like this:
To note the latest example of the kind of backlash the EU is provoking in the real world, just this week Britain's upstart new anti-EU nationalist party, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) stunned analysts by winning 23% of the vote in local elections in that country, just two points behind the ruling Conservative party. Anti-EU nationalist parties, some of them disturbingly right-wing or even fascist, are on the rise in France, Italy, the Netherlands, Greece, Austria, and other countries, as voters ignored by the pro-EU establishment parties turn to the only forces through which they can make their voices heard.
How well can the Democrats hope to do in next year's Congressional elections, and the contest to succeed President Obama in 2016?
First, 2014. The historical pattern is that a two-term President's party normally sees its share of House seats drop in the mid-term election of his second term. This has been the case with every second-term midterm election since the Civil War -- except one. The exception was 1998, under Clinton -- the most recent Democratic President before Obama, which makes it perhaps a relevant precedent. Admittedly, the Republicans at that time were in the midst of obsessively trying to blow up the Monica Lewinsky affair into a major scandal, an endeavor which exasperated the public and may have cost the Republicans some votes -- but the Republicans of today are, if anything, even more prone to clutch at such straws of ersatz scandal (see Benghazi).
They're also prone to damaging themselves in other ways, such as the recent defeat of gun background checks, which was yet another exercise in opposing anything Obama supports, as Senator Toomeyrecently admitted. Obstructionism for the sheer hell of it doesn't play well with voters, especially on a proposal which 91% of them supported. I don't know how much impact the background-check débâcle will have on an election which is still 18 months away, but the odds aren't bad that they'll pull one or more further such self-immolating stunts closer to voting time. Right now the polls actually favor us, which doesn't guarantee anything, but it does limit the Republicans' margin of error for recovering from blunders.
As for the Presidential election in 2016, most polls show Hillary Clinton utterly obliterating any Republican opponent, even being competitive in states like Texas and Georgia. I'm not so sure she'll run -- she'll be 69 on election day and, if victorious, would be 77 at the end of her second term. But people who would vote for one Democrat would likely at least consider another; and Obama, his legacy at stake, will be putting his not inconsiderable campaigning prowess and organization to work for the nominee. And there's another factor at work.
2012's Republican primary season resembled a cross between a clown show and a demolition derby, with a field of mostly colorful but un-serious characters being slowly winnowed down as the teabaggers and religious nuts tried and rejected one not-Romney after another. For 2016, right-wingers seem convinced they have a much stronger field, but there's a quite different dynamic at work; they've started the demolition derby long before the primary season gets here.
First, Chris Christie, one of the few major Republican figures with a demonstrated ability to appeal to large numbers of Democrats, was demonized for working with Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and recently again after once more praising the President. The consensus of the hard-right base is that Christie is finished as a Republican Presidential contender.
Next came the turn of Marco Rubio, who until a few weeks ago was being lionized as the party's great 2016 hope among those convinced that (a) the key to party revival is to do better with Hispanics and that (b) the way to achieve this is to nominate a Hispanic candidate. Now, though, Rubio is being demonized for his support for the current illegal-immigration reform plan. The vehemence of the histrionics I'm seeing across the wingnutosphere suggest that he, too, is now out of the running for 2016.
At this rate, before 2016 even arrives, every plausible Republican Presidential candidate will have been excommunicated and struck from the list of possibilities for one sin or another. What are they going to do then? Run Palin? Let's also not forget factors like the hysterics of the religious-nut element over the party's tentative efforts to move to the center on gay marriage, or how the attacks on Rubio are likely playing among those Hispanic voters the party needs to attract. As I've said before, if the Republican party were a centipede, it would still be running out of feet to shoot itself in.
We're not guaranteed to win 2014 and 2016. But they're ours to lose.
Individualist, transhumanist, American patriot, socialist, atheist, liberal, optimist, pragmatist, and regular guy -- it has been my great good fortune to live my whole life free of "spiritual" concepts of any kind. I believe that evidence and reason are the keys to understanding reality; that it is technology rather than ideology or politics that has been the great liberator of humanity; and that in the long run human intelligence is the most powerful force in the universe.