Post-election, it has been a slow news month. That’s the only explanation for the breathless anxiety the media has given the fiscal cliff “negotiations”. Why anyone thinks this will be resolved until the last possible minute, or until John Boehner concocts a scheme whereby a majority of his caucus doesn’t have to vote “yes” on increased tax rates for 2% of the population would mystify me if I didn’t understand that the news media needs a conflict better than, oh I don’t know, conservatives’ scheduled/annual/rote indignation over the “War on Christmas”.
The gridlock over this one — which, like the election, Obama will eventually win handily — reminds me again of one of the better analyses of the current conservative malaise, or dysfunction, or bat-shittiness that appeared after the November 6 smackdown. (BTW, my prediction of Obama winning by 1.5% and just under 300 electoral votes has now been downgraded from a B+ to a B- as votes continue to be counted. As of today Obama’s popular vote margin is pushing 4%, which along with years of polling on tax reform, explains his confidence in the next bitch-slapping Republicans are about to take.)
The piece was National Review writer Ramesh Ponnuru’s, “The Party’s Problem”. For the unaware the young Mr. Ponnuru holds a kind of William Buckley-lite standing among what passes for thinking conservatives today.
A collection of quotes forming the gist of Ponnuru’s take:
“Romney was not a drag on the Republican party. The Republican party was a drag on him. …
The Iraq War, the financial crisis, and other issues specific to the late Bush years obviously did play a huge role in the 2006 and 2008 defeats. But it’s also true that Republicans weren’t even arguing that they had a domestic agenda that would yield any direct benefits for most voters, and that has to have hurt them. Taxes had been the most powerful economic issue for Republicans for a generation, but Republicans misunderstood why. In the ’80s and ’90s, Republicans ran five presidential campaigns promising to make or keep middle-class taxes lower than they would be under Democrats, and won four of them. In 2008 they made no such promise but did say they would lower the corporate tax rate. …
The absence of a middle-class message was the biggest failure of the Romney campaign, and it was not its failure alone. Down-ticket Republican candidates weren’t offering anything more — not the established Republicans, not the tea-partiers, not the social conservatives. … The Republican story about how societies prosper — not just the Romney story — dwelt on the heroic entrepreneur stifled by taxes and regulations: an important story with which most people do not identify. The ordinary person does not see himself as a great innovator. He, or she, is trying to make a living and support or maybe start a family. A conservative reform of our health-care system and tax code, among other institutions, might help with these goals. About this person, however, Republicans have had little to say.”
The business about the Republican message being built around this mostly mythical laser-focused “small business” entrepreneur, not a guy just making a living, but someone ostensibly and obsessively laser-focused on creating the next Apple, (or, if you’re a conservative, the next Monsanto), is rich for a deeper dialogue. (Some people want to do more with their lives than make a gob of money.) But as Ponnuru implies, there’s quite a bit of doubt that the Republican party, as presently constructed and controlled, has any ability left with which to search its soul and take action on its worst flaws. (Mainly because every remedy will be attacked by the “conservative entertainment complex” as “liberalizing” true conservatism, whether the issue is getting sensible about immigration, or more sophisticated about foreign affairs strategies or, god forbid, conceding a minor uptick in tax rates for “small business” entrepreneurs, you know, like hedge fund traders and Bain-style leverage capitalists).
But what struck me most about Ponnuru’s generally thoughtful analyses was that it was really all about …messaging. About how important it is to talk differently about essentially the same policy positions that clearly aren’t appealing to young people, women, minorities and “Reagan Democrats” (i.e. northern blue-collar white males).
Ponnuru, at least in this piece, chooses not to address what I believe a fat chunk of the population sees first and foremost when it looks at the modern Republican party. Namely, that “these guys haven’t done jack shit for me.” Put another way, the Republican message today is all message and no substance. There’s nothing real and tangible undergirding any of it, certainly nothing that has any “reality-based” value to a majority of the middle class. The Texan variation on this is, of course: “All hat, no cattle.”
The GOP’s bubble world/echo chamber factor is blatantly obvious every time Boehner or McConnell steps up to the microphone and serves up a fiscal cliff “plan” devoid of anything remotely resembling specifics. Their latest “offer”, out yesterday, essentially listed $500 billion in cuts under the heading of “from somewhere … to be decided later”. This from the party who, you remember, once put out another budget plan … that had no numbers in it.
Point being, the only people who continue to think this stuff is valid, serious and effective are the same crazies who forced the party into a primary season fiasco of beyond-parody, self-serving political grifters (Trump, Cain, Bachmann, Perry) and pushed their one viable candidate, Romney, into fringe rhetoric that rendered him toxic to the coalition he needed to win.
Like a baseball team that has suffered yet another embarrassing losing season, Republicans would be well-advised to concede that they have no choice but to go into “rebuilding”mode, which would mean giving up on the once upon a time “can’t miss” rookies who became undisciplined, counter-productive head-cases, and accept that a better path back to contention is by sticking to the basics, like, you know, legislation that serves the majority first.