Leading voices from the far right have recently joined the Democrats in declaring that the Republican Party is now controlled by dumb people. I prefer “ignorant,” a slightly more generous adjective.
A case in point is Bret Stephens’ recent editorial “Earth to GOP: Get a Grip” in the Wall Street Journal. It’s a hilarious piece for any Democrat; and, well, it’s a hilarious piece for any intelligent Republican.
A dedicated right winger, Stephens is the Boy Wonder of the neocon movement’s mainstream-media brigade. He’s the deputy editorial page editor of the WSJ. Before joining it he was editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, and has written pieces such as “Why Hasn’t Israel Bombed Iran (Yet)?” I’m no fan of Bret Stephens, but I do respect his intelligence.
His “Earth To GOP” essay calls for fundamental change in the party’s direction. Here are some of his thoughts about the current direction:
“Fellow conservatives, please stop obsessing about what other adults might be doing their bedroom . . . This obsession is socially uncouth, politically counterproductive and, too often, unwittingly revealing.”
“Also, if gay people wish to lead conventionally bourgeois lives by getting married, that may be lunacy on their part but it’s a credit to our values.”
“By the way, what’s so awful about Spanish? It’s a fine European language with an outstanding literary tradition – Cervantes, Borges, Paz, Vargas Llosa – and it would do you no harm to learn it. Bilingualism is an intellectual virtue, not a deviant sexual practice.”
“Mitt Romney won the nomination for the simple reason that every other contender was utterly beyond the pale of national acceptability, except Michele Bachmann. Just kidding.”
“Which reminds me: Can we, as the GOP base, demand an IQ exam as well as a test of basic knowledge from our congressional and presidential candidates? This is not a flippant suggestion: There were at least five Senate seats in the election cycle that might have been occupied by a Republican come January had not the invincible stupidity of the candidate stood in the way.”
Indeed, in just one generation, control of the GOP has gone from the elite global fiscal-conservatives to closed provincial social-extremists, with a redneck bent for pursuing foreign affairs with fists and guns.
Ironically, this ignorant but dangerous monster was created by Ronald Reagan, one of America’s greatest presidents.
In sharp contrast to Obama, Reagan was deft at building fluid coalitions, customized for each issue. He was a master at getting 80% of what he wanted in a particular bill, but where that failed, he would settle for 60%. He was very successful in bending the country towards his vision both when the GOP controlled Capitol Hill and when it was the minority party.
One of Reagan’s favorite methods for building Congressional coalitions was to pick off the southern Democratic block, loosely called the Dixiecrats. For at least two decades these rural social conservatives felt progressively alienated under the Democratic tent.
A Hollywood glamor animal with a solid Republican base, Reagan repeatedly persuaded Dixiecrats to vote with the Republicans. In return, he paid lip service to the South’s out-of-mainstream social positions, such as abortion, but not much more.
For Reagan, it was a tactical relationship. He controlled them like a western cowboy uses a campfire – throwing wood on it when more heat was needed, and putting it out when a new day and a new issue arose. Never in Reagan’s wildest dreams did he consider transforming the GOP core ideology to that of the rural south and rural midwest.
By the end of the Reagan era, this rural bloc became firmly anchored in the GOP. However, Reagan’s successors unwittingly lost control of this campfire, and over time were engulfed by the flames of what we now refer to as the Red State conservatives.
This is not the first time a political genius created a tool which none of his successors knew how to control. Otto von Bismarck ingeniously stitched together a number of independent states into a coalition that became modern-day Germany.
In “Diplomacy,” his seminal work on foreign policy, Henry Kissinger argues that because none of Bismarck’s successors had the extraordinary skills necessary to control this powerful new invention called Germany, it spun out of control within 50 years, leading to the two world wars.
Let’s hope that the GOP monster that Reagan created will burn itself out in the post- Iraq and Afghanistan war period. When folks like Bret Stephens make mirth of the GOP, how much longer can we consider it a scary monster?