25 February 2010

A Republican Party in Crisis?

"Ideology offers human beings the illusion of dignity and morals while making it easier to part with them"
- Vaclav Havel
This quote of the day comes from moderate conservative columnist Kathleen Parker, who writes this week deploring a mania in the ranks of the Republican party for "purity tests" and a "hunt for heretics." She describes a GOP under pressure from without and within to assume the shape of ideological purity. The exterior pressure comes from the Tea Partiers, many of whom believe that the Republican Party, as the putative vehicle of American conservatism, belongs to them in some fundamental way and should reflect their views. From within, Parker suggests, neocons like William Kristol hope to use the Tea Parties as shock troops to enforce a Bushite ideology. Kristol has called the movement "the best thing that has happened to the Republican party in recent times," which is a proprietary claim that the partiers themselves might dispute, despite their own designs for the Grand Old Party.
Neocons and Tea Partiers seem to be united in their hatred for "RINOs" -- Republicans In Name Only, whose partisanship is rendered suspect by their allegedly poor performance on ideological litmus tests or any inclination toward bipartisanship in government. Senator Brown of Massachusetts, the idol of last month, is now being called a RINO because of his willingness to compromise with Democrats occasionally.
Parker asks whether common beliefs as well as common hatreds could unite Tea Partiers and neocons. She has her doubts, noting the libertarian, anti-War on Terror attitude of many TPs and the opinion of neocon guru Irving Kristol, William's late father, that libertarians weren't fit allies for neocons because libertarians "have no values." Arguably, nothing unites the two factions apart from the neocons' lip service to fiscal conservatism on the domestic front and the common hatred of the demon liberal.
What should the rest of us make of this mania among Republicans for ideological purity? Parker dislikes it, envisioning more of a "big tent" than the ideologues can stand. Is a "big tent" GOP preferable to an ideological fortress? It depends on your perspective. The American Bipolarchy flourishes in part because both major parties are "big tents" in practice, often in spite of their alleged "bases" of ideologically motivated primary voters. Big tents exist to win national elections and control Congress. They aren't necessarily inherently bad, since a big tent implies a readiness to compromise in a spirit of pragmatism. If the major parties don't do this, it's not entirely because they're big tents. Any movement that hopes to break the Bipolarchy will have to be a big tent in its own right in order to attract all the different factions that have been or will be alienated by either the Republicans or the Democrats. Such a big tent might well fill faster if the major parties become even more ideologically alienating, if the Republicans revert to vintage Goldwaterism or McCarthyism and the Democrats become a self-parody of politically correct leftism. From this perspective, we might want the "wingnuts" to take over the GOP on the assumption that Democrats or (preferably) independents would benefit. But other observers may fear the gravitational power of the Bipolarchy, the branding influence it exerts on voters. They might warn that too many Americans are inclined to vote Republican, no matter who's in charge, and that a GOP driven by rabid populism and yoked to a neocon global agenda has too much of a chance to win elections for their comfort. In a more perfect country, of course, the Tea Partiers would have (i.e. make) their own political party, and so would the neocons. The problem with the Bipolarchy is that the major parties now have power independent of their control of elected offices, and every faction that might otherwise form its own party seeks to infiltrate and control the existing parties because they need power to get power. To return to the popular religious metaphor, the Bipolarchy has "heretics" and inquisitions, but not enough schismatics -- maybe because any schism results in something someone calls a cult. What this country needs now is a few good schisms.


d.eris said...

We could use a few iconoclasts too.

Anonymous said...

"This country needs an enema."