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Going, going, gone?

July 24, 2011 - Ray Hall (Archive)
It’s sad really. One of the world’s great political parties—the Republican Party of Lincoln—has imploded. No longer does the GOP have a national leader who would even come close to the title of “Statesman.” Gone from the Republican line-up are the Lodges the Saltonstalls, the Dirksens, the Rockefellers, leaders who understood governance and world affairs like President Eisenhower and even President Nixon.

There was hardly a time when Democrats agreed totally with the Dirksens and the Rockefellers, but there was never a time when such stalwart Republicans failed to have the respect of their Democratic counterparts. The political landscape is different now. The 150-year-old Republican Party—the Grand Old Party—has been in a struggle for more than a quarter century to recreate and reinvigorate its image.

Today even Ronald Reagan would be primaried by Tea Party Republicans as a tax and spend liberal. “Primaried” is a new word, a noun used as a verb, created by Congressional Republicans who fear a Tea Party candidate will challenge them in a primary if they vote contrary to Tea Party ideologues. However, the diminution of the party cannot be blamed entirely on the Tea Party.

Ever since Richard Nixon developed a Republican “southern strategy”—a racial wedge issue meant to capture white southern voters—the GOP has all but become a regional Party with most of its strength in the former Confederacy. As a result blacks, women and young people have found the Republican Party less attractive.

That backlash prompted National Party Chairman; Ken Mehlman to apologize in 2005 to blacks for the southern-strategy but when push came to shove the Party could not leave well enough alone. That same racial wedge-issue reared its ugly head again in 2006 in a US Senate race in Tennessee that pitted a black Congressman against a white Republican. The television ad showed a white; drop dead gorgeous blue-eyed blond sensuously inviting the black Congressman to a Playboy Club party. The white candidate won.

The GOP has mangled its image with blacks, women, young people and Latinos but the Party has failed to keep up with the times in other ways. In February 2009 the Wall Street Journal notified its staffers in an internal memo to stop using the term GOP because “not all readers know what the letters mean, and some may not realize that they are a reference to the Republican Party.

The Republicans sought to put on a new face when Senator George Allen was being touted as a possible future Presidential candidate until he used a demeaning and insensitive name for one of his opponent’s helpers. James Webb went on to win that Senate seat in Virginia. The GOP turned to Virginia again when Robert McDonnell, a Tea Party devotee, was easily elected Governor of the Commonwealth.

That infatuation with McDonnell lasted until the thesis he wrote for Regents University—Rev. Pat Robertson’s barely accredited law school—came to light. It took McConnell ninety-nine pages to explain “The Republican Party’s Vision for the Family.” He blamed the breakdown of the American family on the Government, Democrats, Governor Mario Cuomo, women working, birth control, no fault divorce and a leftward swing our Federal Government.

The GOP can attempt an apology for its “southern strategy” but it remains difficult to see how the Party can extricate itself from the death grip of the Tea Party because the election of eighty-seven Freshman Congressman gave the Republicans control of the House of Representatives. At the beginning of this Congress I mistakenly believed that Tea Party members coveted political power more than patriotism—politics above country—but that is too harsh.

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell had it right I think. He said the Tea Party was “invincibly ignorant.” They simply don’t know anything about government and their ideas about the US Constitution would be even more foreign and frightening to our Founding Fathers. Tea Party subscribers have no idea, or do not care, what will happen if the United States defaults on its debt and loses it AAA bond rating—the gold standard for the world.

Governor McDonnell is an example of “invincible ignorance.” He was a one man cheering section urging the Tea Party Congress to ignore calls to raise the Federal debt ceiling and let the consequences be damned. He was still waving Tea Party pompoms when Standard and Poors announced that Virginia’s AAA bond rating would immediately be reduced to AA if the US defaulted. He has now changed his tune and is warning against default. The man, like the Tea Party Congress, doesn’t have a clue of the effects or consequences of making government work. They might be patriots, but they are invincibly ignorant. Tea Party Republicans may survive at least for a while, but the GOP, the Grand Old Party will be missed.


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