Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Republican Short March to Victory

Mao Zedong swimming the Yangtze River in 1967

I must give the Republicans credit and congratulations on a stunning and fast political turnaround.

Just four years ago, they were swept out of Congress by a wave of revulsion at the Iraq War and at the incompetent cronyism of the Bush Administration and the Republican controlled Congress. The stupider pundits (always too many on teevee, and always over-paid) were talking about the "end" of the Republican party, just as those same geniuses talked about the "end" of the Democratic party not but two years earlier. The tiny minority of smarter pundits knew better.
Now, the Republicans have a firm grip on the House, and they may well take the Senate in 2 years.
The Party that effectively ran the whole show and set the debate agenda for the last 30 years successfully sold itself as a populist outsider party, and won big.

This is probably the most remarkable political comeback since Chairman Mao swam the Yangtze River in 1967.

In that year, Mao was thought to be done for. The Great Leap Forward was a disastrous failure followed by the worst famine in recorded history. Millions died. People were furious over the catastrophe, and the Communist Party tried hard to contain the damage.
Then after a long absence from public view, The Great Helmsman swam the Yangtze River to prove that not only was he not dead, but that the old man was stronger than ever. Mao then launched the Cultural Revolution, successfully directing ferocious public anger at his old Long March comrades in the Party hierarchy. The very man who caused disaster profited tremendously from the anger it provoked. He came back stronger than ever, deified literally by remote peasants who prayed to him for rain and good harvest, and by his fanatic Red Guards. The Communist Party he left behind at his death in 1976 was a quasi-religious cult, more ideological and fanatic than ever.

Our Republicans likewise exploited the anger and disillusionment over disasters they either caused or abetted, and rode the wave of frustration back into power after just 4 years in the political wilderness. Like Mao's Communist Party, far from moderating or tempering their right wing ideology, they've become more extreme and ideological than ever, with their base pushing them ever further rightward. They successfully moved the center of the American political spectrum into scarlet territory on the right. What was once conservative (e.g. Eisenhower and the Interstate Highway system) has now become vilified as "state socialism." The line deciding what's "mainstream" and what's "extremist left" gets pushed ever rightward.

It helps that the Republicans faced an ever feckless Democratic Party, who true to form, transformed their biggest election gains in almost 40 years into a near total route in less than 2 years. The Democratic Party since 1981 transformed itself into the party of everyone who didn't fit the Republican Party template ("Real America"), or didn't want to fit. The Dems can never decide whether to embrace their old progressive populist heritage, or become a Lite version of the Republican party, socially liberal (more or less), but "business friendly" (i.e. corporate dominated and dependent). The party leadership chose the latter, while the rank and file chose the former. Much has been made of the factional warfare in the Republican party, but the political press pays little attention to the long struggle going on over the soul of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party leadership (including the White House) openly dissed their own base. Those people who put in the time and trouble to do the necessary and difficult work of local party building (in sometimes hostile territory) repaid those compliments by staying home this year. The Republicans, for all of their factional troubles, treat their base so much better.

Two years is a long time in politics, and anything can happen. But, I'm afraid I've come around to Michael Tomasky's viewpoint. The Dems may well be in for yet another long period in the wilderness. Tomasky says it may be another ten years before Democrats can recapture anything like the majorities it had in 2006 and 2008. There is always the very real possibility of arrogant Republican over-reach, but it would be a mistake to count on it.

The Republicans appear to be resuming their Long March to permanent single party rule. Based on the current situation, I'd say they may well win that goal. The question remains what kind of single party rule? Would it be Mexico/PRI and Japan/Liberal Party type one-party-rule where a formidable party organization marginalizes a weak and divided opposition for decades? Or, would it be China/ Cuba/ North Korea/ Syria type one party rule where any opposition is eliminated and criminalized? We may well find out.

In the meantime, congratulations Republicans! You get the Counterlight's Peculiars Chinese-Revolutionary-Opera salute.


Malcolm+ said...

The problem is that the Democrats don't know what to do with a win.

Ronald Reagan never had the legislative advantage that Barack Obama has (House majority and Senate supermajority), yet Reagan governed as though he had won the election and, in doing so, shifted the goalposts significantly.

By contrast, Obama (and to a lesser extent Bill Clinton) both governed as though they led the American equivalent of what, in a Westminster system, we call a minority government. Obama believed he could only act if he could get bipartisan support even though he didn't need it. As a result, he was paralyzed by Republican intransigence, and his inexplicable weakness left moderate and Blue Dog Democrats feart in the face of the faux-populist Tea Party.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Timely reminder.

Counterlight said...

I also think that the Democrats, and progressives in general, are too used to losing.
The Republicans clearly are not used to losing. Apparently the defeats they suffered in 2006 and 2008 really stung them.

Malcolm+ said...

But it comes down to this. When Republicans lose, they act like they won. By contrast, when Democrats win, they act like they lost.

rick allen said...

I thought the best comment on the 2010 elections was here:

I think he makes a good point. It's not about winning so much as getting something done, and the Democrats did get one or two important things done that are probably here to stay.

I know, more "silver lining." But worth consideration.