16 June 2008

"Why the G.O.P. Must Die"

I can't link you to the Harper's magazine website so you can read the July issue's forum on the future of two-party politics, since you have to subscribe to the print publication to see the online version. So let me summarize: the editor gathered four men, including apostate Republicans Kevin Phillips and Scott McConnell (the latter the editor of The American Conservative), to discuss how the Republicans can be brought down. It's a curious item, since the text is sending one message while the illustrations are sending another. In the forum, everyone's talking about how the Democrats can destroy the Republicans. But Tim Bower's illustrations show both the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey on the verge of self-destruction. On the cover, they're preparing to mark off the paces before a duel by walking off a cliff in opposite directions. Inside, they're digging their own graves, are boxers on the canvas, having apparently knocked each other out, and are poised to hang from the same rope.

All this scheming to overthrow the American Bipolarchy left me disappointed, especially since all the experts acknowledge that the two-party system as a whole is failing the nation. The novelist Kevin Baker describes it, speaking of Republicans in particular, as "this weird inversion of Tammany [Hall, the archetypical big-city political machine]. They don't get you out of jail, they don't give you a turkey at Christmas, they don't do anything for you, and yet somehow they keep winning." But the only solutions proposed involve strengthening the Democratic party, getting more people to vote for it, getting it to adopt new policies or resume old ones. None of them seems to realize that it's the very existence of the Democratic party that keeps the Republican party going. They recognize that the G.O.P. is composed of increasingly incompatible elements, but none of them notes that the biggest thing holding them together is their hatred of "liberals" embodied in the Democratic party. As long as this fear and loathing persists, something like the present-day Republican party will exist in opposition to it. None of them seems willing to make the big gamble on the possibility of destroying the Republicans by destroying the Democrats first. Too many people, I suspect, fear that the G.O.P. would simply claim dictatorial power should the Democrats collapse. But if there are as many as three ideological factions within the Republican party, then there'd probably be as many as three parties in the first post-Democratic election. Similarly, you'd be more likely to see the National Women's Party that some hard-core Clintonites have proposed if the Republicans had already departed from the scene, since the feminist extremists would have nothing left to scare them into staying with the Democrats. The best-case scenario would be for one party to tear itself apart, and for the other to follow suit at the next election.

Let's believe that something like this could happen soon, especially if we help it along, or else we could face the worst-case scenario described by Scott McConnell:

If the next president orders the military to invade or bomb Iran or some other country, I would probably welcome it if some key generals said, "No Mr. President, not this time," and went over the head of the president for congressional and popular support. At that point I'd put as much trust in the judgment and patriotism of a high-ranking military officer as in that of a politician who has spent decades catering to the fabulously rich men who finance both major parties. That's one way the current stasis could be broken -- our version of a Gaullist coup.

To which Kevin Baker responds by recalling that, in the same magazine five years before, he had written, "In the end, we'll beg for the coup."

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