Friday, February 08, 2008

The Republican Naderites

John McCain effectively sealed the GOP nomination for the presidency of the United States yesterday with the withdrawal of Gov. Romney. This was swiftly followed by the predictable howls of rage from the far right wing of the Republican Party. I for one am delighted. I have long been a bit of a fan of Senator McCain even though I do disagree with him from time to time. I find a man who is willing to put principal over party loyalty and patriotism over political expediency both refreshing and sadly rare among those who serve in Sodom on the Potomac. That’s not the only reason I am delighted though.

For some years I have been increasingly concerned with the growing influence of the radical right wing of the party. They are what I have hitherto referred to as the 100%ers. As in you're 100% with us or 100% against us. They are characterized by people like radio talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and by those who hang out on right wing political websites like Free Republic. One can also include in this group various elements of the Protestant Evangelical movement like Dr. James Dobson and the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. Their influence has I think been by and large unhealthy. It has greatly contributed to the sense of politics no longer being about public service and more about a perpetual state of war with power being the ultimate goal, along with the annihilation of the “enemy.” “Enemy” being more often Democrats and liberals than Islamic Jihadists.

Their take no prisoners approach to politics has been profoundly harmful to the American ideal of liberal (in the classical sense of the term) democracy. Gone are the days when a Jefferson could write “I do not agree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.” Now we live in an age where, at least on Free Republic, expressing a politically incorrect thought will get you labeled as a traitor and produce calls for your execution. In fairness the Democrats have their own extremists on the political left. And their own web sites that they tend to gravitate towards. And the harm they have done is also visible with their vicious attacks on the character of anyone slightly to the right of Gus Hall. Also like our own 100%ers they have in the past done much injury to their own party by maintaining a degree of influence over it that is vastly disproportionate to their numbers.

But tonight I am celebrating. For the first time in a while I entertain real hope that the strangle hold the far right has exercised over the GOP may be about to be severely weakened. A significant number of the right wing are so furious that McCain is going to be the GOP nominee that they are threatening to sit the election out or support a third party candidate. The general theory behind this is that after the GOP gets its clock cleaned in November everyone will remember who is really calling the shots and will be appropriately deferential to the Free Republic types in future elections. However I think they have gravely miscalculated.

First if McCain does loose in November (a very real possibility) there is likely going to be a hunt for those responsible. My guess is that there will be a great deal of finger pointing (there always is after a lost election, just ask the Democrats). And the far right and Evangelical Protestant mafia are in the process of painting a giant bull’s eye on themselves. Again look at what happened in 2000 and again in 2004. Large numbers of the left wing of the Democratic Party who were mightily displeased with the “moderate” and “centrist” policies of the Clinton Administration defected and backed Ralph Nader. In 2000 this undoubtedly cost Al Gore the election. In ’04 a strong argument could be made that it also severely hurt John Kerry bid for election which was lost by a whisker. The recriminations were swift and furious against the far left, who basically threw a temper tantrum and decided they would teach their fellow Democrats a lesson by handing the country to George W Bush for what turned out to be eight years.

There are of course a couple of important differences between Democrats and Republicans though. One of them being that Democrats tend to be somwhat forgiving of disloyalty to the party. Republicans by and large are not (just ask John McCain). My guess is that rather than the vast majority of mainline conservatives crawling back to the far right and begging them to come home again after a McCain defeat that they will anathematize the “traitors.” The GOP party establishment will waste no time in planting the blame directly on the shoulders of those who are even as I type doing all in their power to undermine McCain’s chances of election in November. The vast majority of the party will never forgive them for putting the Clintons back in the White House. Nor should they.

But there is another possible way that the GOP’s Naderites could be in the process of hanging themselves. What if McCain wins?

OK. Have you stopped laughing yet? Good.

Because it’s not at all certain that he will loose. I will be the first to admit that it’s not looking good this year in terms of the temperament of the country. Most Americans (including yours truly) have had enough of G. W. Bush and am more than ready to see the backside of him. The war is unpopular, the economy appears to be going south, and Lyndon Johnson has a stronger claim to being a fiscal conservative than this president. These are all elements which do not give rise to any sanguine sentiments for the future. But there are some favorable signs that many are missing.

The Democrats have never met an opportunity that they could not come up with a way to blow. And they may be in the process of doing just that. It’s early February and John McCain is now clearly the nominee presumptive of the GOP. But it will be April at the earliest before the Democrats have a clue who their nominee will be. Right now it’s locked in a dead heat between Obama and Clinton. Both camps are digging deep for money, money that will not be available for the general election in November. And the longer this two way race goes on the more bitter it is likely to get. It is not at all beyond the realm of possibility that the Democrats may be on their way to a brokered convention with fully 40% of their delegates being so called super delegates. That is essentially party big shots and members of Congress etc. And it may fall on them to hand the nomination to one or the other. I am hard pressed to think of a faster way to alienate the followers of the loosing candidate.

But I can think of one way. Michigan and Florida both have been disqualified and their delegates barred because they violated party rules and scheduled early primaries. Hillary Clinton broke (at least in spirit) the pledge signed by all the candidates not to participate in those primaries. She won them both and is now demanding that their delegates be seated at the convention. That would give her an extra 300+ delegates and a credible edge over Obama. Maybe even enough of an edge to convince the super delegates to hand her the nomination. The resulting row could make the one in the GOP look like a disagreement over whether to have Italian or Chinese take out for dinner.

And while the Democrats are slugging it out McCain will be raising money and spreading his message. It needs to be remembered that McCain’s various and well publicized fights with the President and other members of his own party may give him some level of immunity from the hostility that many voters have felt towards the way the Republicans have been running things for eight years. He has always been very popular with moderates and independents and he may also draw off some conservative Democrats, especially if Hillary Clinton is the nominee. It might be enough to counterbalance those extreme conservatives who are busy taking “the pledge” over at Free Republic and elsewhere (“I will under no circumstances vote for John McCain.”).

So what do these people think will be their level of influence in the administration of a man who they are doing their level best to bury, should he actually win? Let's just say that they should forget sitting out the election. They had better actually go out and vote for Hillary or Obama. If McCain wins the only way Rush and Dr. Dobson will see the inside of the White House for the next four to eight years is going to be if they stand in line with the tourists.

Yes, I am cautiously optimistic that the long reign of the radical right over the GOP may be finally about to be curbed. Let’s just hope that the price for breaking their malicious lock on power is not eight more years of the Clintons renting out the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House. And I don’t even want to think about the Supreme Court justices they will nominate.


Anonymous said...

What's being missed is that the 100%ers become 2%ers in the face of George W. Bush.

They have carried his water for seven years as he expanded the federal government beyond Great Society limits; spent us into crushing debt; adopted an interventionist foreign policy ("liberalism with big teeth"), and imposed an RX drug program for Medicare recipients.

They can bash McCain on amnesty, but GWB also supported amnesty. They can criticize McCain-Feingold without ever being asked "WHO signed it into law??"

The 100%ers aren't "conservatives", they're GOP lackies...

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. As I recall, you sat out the 2006 election and then scoffed at the suggestion that no vote was the same as a vote for the Democrats.

You also extol McCain for putting principal over party loyalty, but then criticize others as extremists when they do the same.

Funny how our opinions change when the shoe is on the other foot. Be aware, your liberal slip is showing.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

You make a fair point. However I will note that my decision to sit out the last election had a couple of significant differences.

First, I was protesting corruption on the part of an entire party. Those sitting out this election are doing so purely out of personal spite and because he did not tow their line 100% of the time on their agenda. Secondly, the presidency was not at stake the last time round. I specifically noted that with George Bush in office a Democratic Congress would be prevented from doing too much damage. One of the very few nice things I will say about Bush is that he did suddenly remember he has a VETO pen after the Democrats took over last year.

There have been many times I have swallowed hard and pulled the lever for men I did not agree with and did not even particularly like because the danger of doing otherwise was too great. It's called the lesser of evils. You are perfectly free to vote for whom you wish or not to vote at all. However people need to be aware that voting (or declining to vote) has consequences.

I was fully aware of the consequences of my decision last year and I accepted them. Indeed nothing unacceptable has occurred since the Republicans were routed from Congress. And Congress has at long last woken up and ceased to act like George Bush's doormat. The election results last time also resulted in the long overdue dismissal of Donald Rumsfeld. God alone knows how many American lives that saved.

Thus the reason for my post. Have you or those who are planning on withholding their vote this year considered the consequences of that act? I doubt it. If you see the consequences of Hillary Clinton or Barrack Obama becoming President as acceptable than by all means explain your views on why this is the case. I look forward to reading your response.


John (Ad Orientem) said...

A quick follow up to my previous post. Politically I would almost certainly be considered a "liberal" by those planning on sitting the election in protest over McCain's nomination. After all I don't see Democrats as traitors but rather as fellow Americans, albeit misguided most of the time.

However my politics really don't fit neatly into either party since I am conservative in the classical sense of the term. I am something of a monarchist with some selective libertarian tendencies (see "cognitive dissonance" in the dictionary) stuck in a country which is, or purports to be, a constitutional republic. So when it comes right down to it every time I pull the lever I am voting for someone with whom I do not agree on many issues. Alas...

If only Hamilton had been a better shot...


Anonymous said...

I am not planning to sit this one out. The reason I posted was that I did not see a difference between what you did in 2006 and what you are complaining about now. It seems the same to me.

I do think that most of the people who will sit out in November, will think through the consequences and come to the same conclusion that you did. They will be willing to live with the consequences as well.

I too have had to hold my nose many times in the voting booth. Much of what is being said now about sitting out is simply frustration and disappointment at having to hold our noses again, instead of having someone who champions our beliefs. We don't need 100%, as was stated by Steve, but 80% or 90% would be nice. It would be great to be able to vote FOR someone instead of choosing the lesser of evils.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Senator McCain gets an 83% rating from the Conservative Union on his voting record.


Unknown said...

What really annoys me about the American 'Conservatives' is that they are not real conservatives! Real conservatives hate interventionism as it upsets the stable status quo. Intervention is only truly conservative if the status quo is not stable and it will damage your interests if it continues like this. True conservatives believe in monarchy where it is the tradition (ie: all Europe and Asia) and support Republics in traditionally republican areas (like the America's). Any total republican is not a true conservative. Any ideological support for liberal democracy is also un-conservative. True conservatives only support it where it is going to work. Anyone who ideologically insists on low taxes and a very free market is deeply DEEPLY unconservative. True conservatives have no problem with taxes (provided they are not overly redisributative) and are opposed to classical liberal attitudes to the poor (seeing them as uncaring and un-Christian). One can see this if one compares the 18th century aid to the poor in Britain with the 19th century aid (or rather lack of it). In the first case the conservative view is followed and the latter is the classical liberal view. Classical liberalism is the enemy of conservatism. It is in fact more opposed to conservatism in may ways than socialism.

Anonymous said...

I think there's a good chance the McCain will win. Amongst the people I know (I live in a blue state and don't run in "conservative" circles) genuinely like him. And these aren't people who like Bush. No one I know likes Bush. Or at least no one would dare admit in the middle of this blue state that they like Bush.

But people like McCain. And they like him even more now that Limbaugh, et al has taken him on because no one likes Limbaugh or Coulter or any of the rest of them.

As for the far right hating McCain it seems to me that they represent a small minority of the party. The hard-core GOP state I come from went for McCain in its primary. And the Evangelicals keep voting for Huckabee. That tells me that the rank and file isn't listening to Limbaugh or Dobson.

At the same time, I can't think of anyone off the top of my head who likes Hillary. I know people who like Obama but I think Hillary's going to get the nomination so that won't matter.

So for next november there will be a contest between someone the average moderate American likes the GOP candidate and doesn't really like the Dem candidate which gives McCain a huge advantage. Plus I think we can all anticipate the usual GOP swiftboat dirty tricks and there's plenty to get on Hillary. At the same time, McCain probably won't have any coattails so the Democrats will keep the House and Senate.

As much as I hate Bush, I think it might be a good thing to have McCain in the White House if the Democrats keep Congress. A divided government is probably a good thing.

GK Chesterton said...

The economy is crumbling? We have historically low unemployment. A scant twelve years ago in high school I was reading a text that said that lower than 5% unemployment was an unattainable goal because of structural unemployment.


We also had production growth this quarter.


We're getting a wee bit spoiled.