I probably shouldn’t get my hopes up, because it’s looked like it before, but I’m starting to wonder if the 2012 election may mark the start of us climbing out of our long national delusion.
A common post-mortem from all sides of the aisle in the aftermath of the election, starting even on election night, has been hand-wringing over the future of the Republican Party. I’m not going to read too much into the Republican Party’s inability to defeat President Obama with the worst unemployment to get a president re-elected since FDR; this just so happens to be the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and people still pin the blame for it on the Republicans. Still, it’s incredible to follow the arc of the Republican Party over the last decade-plus.
Back in 2008, I suggested that the abuses of the Bush administration had so tainted the image of the Republicans that an Obama administration would either pave the way for a serious third-party or independent run in 2012, or give the Democrats a blank check for a generation. What I didn’t anticipate was the complete re-brand of the Republican party that the Tea Party constituted, as the complete antithesis of everything the Bush administration amounted to, whether or not it actually practiced what it preached. Nor did I anticipate that the Tea Party would completely hollow out the Republican Party before flaming out, effectively forcing it into a substandard candidate – running as a moderate four years after running as the conservative – because he was the least crazy of the bunch. (Meanwhile, the Tea Party’s godfather, Ron Paul, for some reason barely did better than in 2008, which probably says a lot about the honesty of the Tea Party’s position.)
Nor did I anticipate that by the time it was through, the Tea Party would leave the Republican party in shambles anyway, the last flameout of a group of old, crusty baby-boomers unwilling to face up to the fact that their power is inexorably waning. Now it’s hard to see where the party’s future realistically lies. They’ve spent years antagonizing minorities when the country is soon to become a majority-minority nation, including the Hispanic community that might have otherwise seemed to be their future base, not to mention women, who are only half the country’s population, and the cities, where the population will continue to concentrate, and when everyone lives in global-warming-induced hell they’ll remember that it was the Republicans who closed people’s eyes to it even as it was happening. Perhaps most worryingly, while the last four years have hardly been sufficient to give the Democrats a blank check for a generation, no one in my generation will ever in their right mind identify as a Republican. It’s entirely possible that going forward, 300 electoral votes will be the bare minimum for a Democratic presidential candidate against a Republican opponent.
This isn’t a recipe for good government. It’s a recipe for some pretty bad people ending up in positions of high government and, were it not for the Democratic propensity for hand-wringing even when they have the numbers to ramrod any bill they want through Congress, the remaking of the country to fit a particular political agenda, even when that agenda might be wrong. The Republican party has been a force in politics for over 150 years, longer than any other opposition party to the Democrats and indeed well over half the entire history of the two-party system, but now it may well be in bad enough shape that it’s in the twilight of its power and influence. The two-party system is bad enough, but the country cannot long stand as a one-party system. If the Republicans are falling away, we’re going to need a new party as a replacement.
What is needed is a political party that can defend the principles of small government and the free market while still being rooted in reality, that isn’t blinded by ideology but can actually propose sensible solutions that doesn’t increase reliance on government or strangle the economy, taking over for Republicans as they wane and standing up to Democrats where they’re strong. To the Tea Party, it can position itself as the true defender of small government, abstaining from blindly throwing several times more money at defense than we actually need; to the Occupiers, it can position itself as the true defender of the people, making sure that corporate oppression isn’t merely replaced by government dependence. Perhaps that can involve a takeover of an existing political party, though as above I don’t see anyone of my generation swallowing their pride and becoming a Republican anytime soon. Perhaps people can flock to a third party, though those tend to be filled with extremists once you dig far enough into their positions, since all the sensible people are working within the two-party system, and they’re not likely to compromise their principles. Or perhaps it’s time for a brand-new political party that can bring balance and common sense into politics.
Whatever the case, if we are witnessing the twilight of the Republican Party, it’s imperative that we get to work building its replacement, and building its rise through the halls of power, in the hope that a reset political landscape can bring the American political discourse back to sanity and reality.