Tag Archives: GOP

2012 Meta

Have you been following the huge wins the US military has been having in Afghanistan?

Prediction: President Obama will be able to neutralize the right-wing trope that he’s weak on terrorism and national security with 3 years of clear, consistent victories in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is one of the reasons why I don’t think that conservatives will be able to find a solid challenger for the presidency, at least not collectively. With that issue out of play potential conservative candidates will be crowded into an increasingly narrow set of issues that they can differentiate on and gain political traction with. There is a strong chance that the GOP will not be able to maintain internal coherence and will face Tea Party competition from a well-known political figure acting at least partially out of opportunism if not zeal. There are other policy advocacies that the President is sure to be considering that will further strain GOP coherence, particularly in areas where libertarians are at odds with social conservatives.

In this sense I’m not concerned that the Glenn Beck-style crazies on the right have taken over the conservative dialogue from the sane. I think that Democrat losses at other levels will be more because of the idiosyncrasies of the races and candidates and this is where the far right is likely  to be more meaningful. I’m not concerned that Sarah Palin or a Glenn Beck-style thug will be within a heartbeat of the nuclear football.

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More Problems With The GOP Socialist Narrative

It seems to me that if conservatives really cared or really understood what they were standing against when they drag out Soviet imagery at teabag parties, they would also care very much about placing checks on the government’s power over life and death by promoting the use of an independent judiciary for criminal trials. Specifically they should advocate using jury trials in federal court to try alleged terrorists or grant them access to the rights stipulated by things like the Geneva Convention.

You don’t have to reach my conclusion (that military tribunals for alleged criminals are wrong) to realize that this is a major gap in the conservative narrative, which now has become “We don’t trust government to do anything because that leads to gulags”.

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Hiking the Appalachian Trail

The Republican Party isn’t doing so well; after a electoral defeat in the 2008 cycle that in many ways was a repudiation of Bush-era politics, the party finds itself intellectually bankrupt and massively unpopular. Indeed, the most legitimate faction remaining within the GOP is those who identify strictly as fiscal conservative/libertarian, though I fault them for generally not presenting meaningful intellectual opposition to the Administration or to the Democratic party in general.

I’ve argued for years that part of why the GOP is intellectually bankrupt is because of its strident effort to merge multiple, mutually exclusive ideologies under the umbrella of one cohesive narrative. Most specifically, and most relevant to this post and recent events, is the incompatibility of the narratives of the American Religious Right, which argues for a deep level of  government control and leadership in individual lives with the aim of creating a moral, ‘Christian’ nation, and the narratives of classical liberalism and libertarianism, which generally advocate for an extremely limited governmental role as an arbiter of last resort and a provider of public goods like national defense.

Where the GOP ran into trouble is where they made the narrative of religious purity and morality part of their party advocacy. So they actively went after bans on same-sex marriages, abortion, vaccines to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, amongst others, without providing meaningful empirical justifications. The narratives they chose for ther ideas were couched in the language of values, unity, and binary distinctions, without allowing for nuance. Bans on same sex marriages particularly were justified by theoretical objections over the sanctity of marriage (as if government, and government alone, could uphold this concept of a sacred marriage). Such arguments never gained much traction for me; we grew up in a world where some 50% of marriages end in divorce and relational violence is a real problem. The suggestion that most marriages are conducted in a ‘sacred’ or a ‘holy’ manner is quite laughable to me.

Which brings me to South Carolininan Governor Sanford, who resigned his position as head of the Republican Governors Association yesterday after admitting to an extra-marital relationship with an Argentinian woman. His resignation means that the Republicans have one fewer serious presidential candidate to front in the next election cycle; another serious contender, Senator Ensign (R-NV) just admitted to an affair with a campaign worker and resigned from his leadership position as head of the Republican Policy Committee.  The Governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, who the Republicans presumably thought would provide an intellectual, inspirational point to rally conservatives and counter Barack Obama’s traction with the nation’s non-white voters, had a disastrous appearance on national televison. Which leaves us with Governor Sarah Palin (R-AL) whose jovial ignorance has made her a laughinstock across the nation, even as she feuds with the father of her daughter’s out-of-wedlock child. I don’t know Governor Sanford’s politics that well (I have read that he isn’t a big social conservative) but he is the governor of one of the nation’s most conservative states. Anecdotal example: When I think ‘South Carolina’, I immediately think ‘Christian Exodus‘, a movement of ultra-conservative Christians moving to South Carolina with the goal of gaining a majority stake in democratic policymaking. The wiki is here.

There is a common thread here. The GOP invested a great amount of its image in an essentially unsustainable promise of moral leadership, a promise that is undermined every time a major social conservative is caught with their pants down. But it presents a real problem. In trying to build a national coalition, the GOP embraced too many incompatible narratives and is rendered politically impotent as a result. The downside, as I mentioned earlier, is that they end up failing to present the kind of opposition that renders democracy powerful; the Democratic coalition gets to push through legislative change using economic arguments that really need to be challenged.

My recommendation for GOP party strategists? Dump the social agenda. Because it allows the everyday failings of your leaders to undermine your message and cultivates an anti-intellectual environment, marginalizing key thinkers and discouraging diversity of thought. Those concepts are at the center of any effective political movement. I’m not the only person making these arguments; here is Nobel Laureate Gary Becker (U Chicago) making a more nuanced version of the argument.

EDIT: I incorrectly noted that Sanford resigned as governor; this hasn’t happened yet, though he did resign as head of the Republican Governors Association.

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