Friday, November 18, 2005

The Two Faces Of American Conservative Politics

Let me preface this with saying that I'm a pretty hard-core liberal, especially on social issues. If you read this blog at all, you already know that. I also think that an unbridled free market leads to oppression just as much as no free market does. To steal a phrase from Joel Rosenberg's Dwarves: "Moderation in all things. Including moderation." (Hmmm...maybe I should be a moderate centrist instead....nahhh.) So, I don't claim to have a deep understanding of the inner workings of the Republican Party.

But, as this article (from Ranson, again) in the Union Leader points out, the Republican Party has, since the mid-1970s or so, had two strings to it's bow. The first would be the so-called small-government conservatives. The second would be the social conservatives. And this is causing some serious problems, especially since the neocons have taken control. They are abandoning the small-government thinking of pre-70s Republicans and focusing on social issues and an aggressive foreign policy.

So, what does this mean for the Republican Party? Well, it means that the neocons, with first Ronald Reagan and then George W. Bush at the helm, have embroiled the US in several conflicts which both liberals and "old-school" Republicans think we should have stayed out of, with Iraq being but the most recent example. It also means that the social conservatitivism side has swallowed up much of the domestic policy effort. Efforts to limit abortion, gay marriage and even inter-racial relations are all hallmarks of the neocon conservative attitude. And while these neocons are a relatively small part of the Republicans, they are strongly in control. Why?

Well, part of the problem is platform creep. A lot of people are strong party voters, voting straight ticket, or nearly straight ticket, which puts party members in office without much "issues" talk being necessary. This is especially true at the lower levels of government, where ballot manipulation is easier to accomplish. But when the neocons started moving into leadership roles in the RP, no one really noticed, partly because they had good rhetoric to cover their more extreme views. So, by the time anyone noticed that the Republican Party had slowly but drastically changed, it was too late. The neocons held most of the party's leadership positions, and the average Republican voter was left out in the cold, although they didn't know it for quite some time. Their only options now, on a national level, are to vote for people who are essentially spreading intolerance or vote for their traditional opposition. And as long as the intolerance isn't directed at them, the voters aren't going to have much trouble getting behind someone who's trying to suppress someone else. Homosexuals or women wanting an abortion just don't have the pathos, yet, of African Americans in the 60s. Homosexuals may get it eventually, but it's going to get a lot worse for them before it gets any better, I'm afraid.

Heck, there are large chunks of voters out there that are barely aware of the party's current platform. All the average voter gets is the talking points on CNN, Fox, MSNBC or their local news channel. That's why the President can get away with saying such blatantly false, and sometimes stupid, things. The average voter doesn't have the time or energy to put into astute, year-long political analysis. And George W. Bush is a fairly photogenic man, putting people at ease. I'm not saying that the average voter is an idiot. Far from it. But people have built-in biases, what Francis Bacon called the The Four Idols, and a friendly face makes people feel more trusting of that face. Bush works that like a past master. It's really amazing to watch. (I hate what he's done as President, but I could probably still pass a pleasant hour in conversation with him without working at it.) I'm not saying people are sheep, but most people sure aren't wolves.

The integration of Southern Democrats (Dixiecrats) into the Republican Party in the late 60s and early 70s also has a lot to do with the changes we've seen in the GOP in the last few decades. These were people who defected from the base Democratic Party due to it's support of the Civil Rights movement. Thus, when Republicans brag about voting for the Civil Rights Act, it's disingenuous at best. The bill had riders that pushed their own pet projects, and they didn't have to contend with the Dixiecrats, who flocked to the GOP after it took effect. Those Dixiecrats have been slowly changing the Republican Party ever since.

That's actually one of the quirkier moments in American politics. Democrats voted against the Civil Rights Act, partly in an effort to protest the rider that would remove benefits from thousands of federal workers and partly in an effort to appease the Dixiecrats. Republicans voted for it, partly because it was the right thing to do, partly because it had the rider on it. After it passed, the Southern Democrats left the Democratic Party in droves, because they had supported the Civil Rights Movement, even if they did vote against the Act itself. Democrats really shot themselves in the foot there. It's been hurting them ever since, and it didn't even work.

There are other stressors acting on the GOP, as well. As the Union Leader commentary article points out, up until relatively lately the GOP has been the little guy trying to get into power. Now that it's there, and the Democrats are being so ineffective as an Opposition party, all the pressure to hang together is easing. And that could lead the different factions of the Republican Party to hang separately, so to speak.

Now, personally, I don't mind the small-government side of the Republican party. I'm a fiscal moderate, usually. I think the marketplace can be used to redress grievances, but only to a certain extent. Companies exist to make money, not make people's lives better. That's a fact of life, whether we liberals want to admit it or not. So, within reason, I can see some of the benefits of small government. But the neocons, with their extremist social conservative attitude and their "My Country Can Kick You're Country's Ass" foreign policy, have to go. They've spent all the international political capital and goodwill that George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton spent over a decade building up for the USA.

So, I guess you can say that I'd like to see the Republican Party stop being two-faced. Heh.


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