On the Road to Nowhere

NEW SLAUGHTERNot that any modern, talk radio conservative zealot is going take a clue from something as socialist and anti-liberty as The New York Times, but the rest of us can firm up our understanding of how bad the Republican party is today by reading Robert Draper’s New York Times Magazine piece, titled, “Can the Republicans Be Saved From Obsolescence?

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones excerpts a bit of it this morning. But here is more. In it, Draper is shadowing a Republican pollster, sifting through the ashes of the election and looking for guidance to prevent what happened in 2012 (and really ever since Reagan) from happening again.

Draper writes:

“One afternoon last month, I flew with Anderson to Columbus, Ohio, to watch her conduct two focus groups. The first consisted of 10 single, middle-class women in their 20s; the second, of 10 20-something men who were either jobless or employed but seeking better work. All of them voted for Obama but did not identify themselves as committed Democrats and were sufficiently ambivalent about the president’s performance that Anderson deemed them within reach of the Republicans. Each group sat around a large conference table with the pollster, while I viewed the proceedings from behind a panel of one-way glass.

The all-female focus group began with a sobering assessment of the Obama economy. All of the women spoke gloomily about the prospect of paying off student loans, about what they believed to be Social Security’s likely insolvency and about their children’s schooling. A few of them bitterly opined that the Democrats care little about the working class but lavish the poor with federal aid. “You get more off welfare than you would at a minimum-wage job,” observed one of them. Another added, “And if you have a kid, you’re set up for life!”

About an hour into the session, Anderson walked up to a whiteboard and took out a magic marker. “I’m going to write down a word, and you guys free-associate with whatever comes to mind,” she said. The first word she wrote was “Democrat.”

“Young people,” one woman called out.

“Liberal,” another said. Followed by: “Diverse.” “Bill Clinton.”“Change.”“Open-minded.”“Spending.”“Handouts.”“Green.”“More science-based.”

When Anderson then wrote “Republican,” the outburst was immediate and vehement: “Corporate greed.”“Old.”“Middle-aged white men.” “Rich.” “Religious.” “Conservative.” “Hypocritical.” “Military retirees.” “Narrow-minded.” “Rigid.” “Not progressive.” “Polarizing.” “Stuck in their ways.” “Farmers.”

Anderson concluded the group on a somewhat beseeching note. “Let’s talk about Republicans,” she said. “What if anything could they do to earn your vote?”

A self-identified anti-abortion, “very conservative” 27-year-old Obama voter named Gretchen replied: “Don’t be so right wing! You know, on abortion, they’re so out there. That all-or-nothing type of thing, that’s the way Romney came across. And you know, come up with ways to compromise.”

“What would be the sign to you that the Republican Party is moving in the right direction?” Anderson asked them.

“Maybe actually pass something?” suggested a 28-year-old schoolteacher named Courtney, who also identified herself as conservative.

The session with the young men was equally jarring. None of them expressed great enthusiasm for Obama. But their depiction of Republicans was even more lacerating than the women’s had been. “Racist,” “out of touch” and “hateful” made the list — “and put ‘1950s’ on there too!” one called out.

Showing a reverence for understatement, Anderson said: “A lot of those words you used to describe Republicans are negative. What could they say or do to make you feel more positive about the Republican Party?”

“Be more pro-science,” said a 22-year-old moderate named Jack. “Embrace technology and change.”

“Stick to your strong suit,” advised Nick, a 23-year-old African-American. “Clearly social issues aren’t your strong suit. Stop trying to fight the battle that’s already been fought and trying to bring back a movement. Get over it — you lost.”

Later that evening at a hotel bar, Anderson pored over her notes. She seemed morbidly entranced, like a homicide detective gazing into a pool of freshly spilled blood. In the previous few days, the pollster interviewed Latino voters in San Diego and young entrepreneurs in Orlando. The findings were virtually unanimous. No one could understand the G.O.P.’s hot-blooded opposition to gay marriage or its perceived affinity for invading foreign countries. Every group believed that the first place to cut spending was the defense budget. During the whiteboard drill, every focus group described Democrats as “open-minded” and Republicans as “rigid.”

“There is a brand,” the 28-year-old pollster concluded of her party with clinical finality. “And it’s that we’re not in the 21st century.”

The stock wisdom is that “we need a stronger Republican party because, gosh, we must have a two party system”. Well, maybe. But one take-away from this snippet is that there is already enough range within the Democratic party to sustain a functioning balance of liberal and conservative … at which point the Limbaugh/Tea Party-toxified Republicans of today can continue their slide into a self-inflicted oblivion that only an aged, white few will even miss.

64 thoughts on “On the Road to Nowhere

  1. bertram jr. says:

    “More than ever before, we are in a battle of values with a group of people whose values and beliefs are anemic and illogical. Never before has our nation been so full of people who prefer to have others do for them what they should be doing for themselves. This is true in every sphere of life, but has become even more noticeable in the gun debate that has deluged our country.

    Self-reliance and personal responsibility are two of the most important attributes you can posses in this life, and many of the politically correct people on the other side of this gun debate simply lack both of them. To think that the police or the state can keep you safe in the heat of crisis is a pipe dream that I hope many Americans wake up from sooner than later.

    The time has come for self-reliant, responsible citizens like you and me to lend our voices to this noble cause like never before. Our natural born rights are more than worth fighting for, and what we could lose by remaining quiet or neutral is too valuable to lay down over.

    We’ve all heard it a million times, but it’s as true now as it was the day Edmund Burke said it: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

    Those who seek to strip us of our rights are nothing more than politically correct clones that are paving the way for evil to triumph over the innocent. Will you let them win this war, or will you cast aside political correctness and stand for what you believe?”


      1. PM says:

        The vision that the NRA presents is that the police force in the US is inept and incapable of protecting the population from crime insurrection, whatever, and so people need to arm themselves so that they can be responsible for protecting themselves. This is like the current South Africa–the police force is inept and corrupt, and the populace of south Africa need to protect themselves–to be responsible for their own protection. Thus you see houses with 8 ft walls and barbed wire/broken glass on top, electric fences, armed response security, and lots and lots of guns (the airports have places where you can discharge your guns before you go thru security).

        Bottom line is that people do not feel more secure. Arming the populace is not a substitution (or even a supplement) for a top notch police force. You want security? get a good police force and get rid of the guns. That was what Hobbes said in the 1600’s and it is still true today.

    1. Jeremy Powers says:

      I always love how, as a liberal, I am described as I have no self-reliance and no personal responsibility. Usually they add, as a fallen Unitarian, I must possess no morals, either, because I don’t “fear God’s wrath.”

      Truth is, I know few people – and almost none of my conservative friends – who know how to do anything but their specific insignificant jobs. In my life I’ve spent a lot of time building decks and fixing cars for people who would then later lecture me about how liberals and Democrats are just looking for a free ride after teaching them which end of the hammer to hold. There is not much I can’t do, from using a rifle, to building a house, to fixing an engine to building a computer.

      And the same lot, as Bertram is proving right here, lecture me about rights, when, like Brodkorb, believe rights only belong to people who agree with them. They never want to talk about union rights, abortion rights, or the right of women to be equal with men. They have some gonad-inspired conviction that God gave them rights and no one else.

      The fact of the matter is: the progressive mind and attitude has ALWAYS been superior. If it wasn’t, Bertram would be stirring pig shit with a stick as a European serf, demanding fealty from his wife and family for having a penis, believing whatever the church told him, and fearing burning in hell because he once had impure thoughts about his neighbor’s daughter.

      With damn few exceptions, morons who start running around talking about self-reliance in a complex world while believing in their person superiority because they accept as truth the immortality of a 2000-year old fairy tale, are by its very definition stupidity itself.

      1. Jeremy Powers says:

        It’s more like a stumble. I regularly tell people: I was raised Unitarian, but I’ve fallen from the purer faith.

        Personally, though, I love it when people start talking about the “Christian values” this country was founded on. People have the wrong idea of the Puritans. They weren’t today’s Pentecostals. They were essentially liberals – who wanted a separation of church and state and spent money on public schools. The Puritan movement separated into two religions – Congregationalists who held with the trinity and Unitarians who didn’t. Today, both are among the most liberal religions in the US.

      2. Jeremy: As a fallen (catholic) altar boy, I feel a certain kinship. But on the point of self-dependency, I hear you. I won’t get too deep in broad generalizations, because I do know a couple conservatives who have demonstrated both versatility of craft and manual dexterity. But in general, I’d assert that conservatives I know are some of the most service-dependent people I deal with. Some simply wealthy enough to hire everything out — to the point of someone to walk their dog. But for many it’s not just a point of pride that they don’t know how to change a tire, strip a window or sew on a button — it never occured to them to learn.

      3. PM says:


        exactly! they were fleeing from a country (England) with an officially established, state supported church, that barely tolerated dissent.

        and today we get all sorts of crazies who want us to go back to something like that–laws based on religious doctrine (marriage between a man and a woman because that is what is in the bible, etc.).

        I hate it when people get their history from comic books (or the equivalent)

    1. Jim Leinfelder says:

      Bertram, seriously? You must go broke on drapes for that glass house from which you chuck rocks at other people’s marriages.

  2. bertram jr says:

    Bertram Jr. appropos of very little here, lately finds himself fancying Lori Swanson. He thinks there’s some interesting heat under that studied Norwegian-sweatered exterior…..can I get an amen?

  3. PM says:

    Sorry to have been so tardy, Brian, but i finally got around to reading the article. i thought it was good–but, rather typically, it really didn’t come to a solid conclusion, veering between two answers–that the GOP is too far behind on technology, or that it is too old (and too concerned with “social” issues–which, according to the article, is the same thing).

    There is a third explanation, and I am wondering if you read tanenhaus’s piece over at the New Republic–that the GOP is too white.


    And, for all of you skeptics, no, he isn’t saying that Republicans are racists:

    “The true problem, as yet unaddressed by any Republican standard-bearer, originates in the ideology of modern conservatism. When the intellectual authors of the modern right created its doctrines in the 1950s, they drew on nineteenth-century political thought, borrowing explicitly from the great apologists for slavery, above all, the intellectually fierce South Carolinian John C. Calhoun. This is not to say conservatives today share Calhoun’s ideas about race. It is to say instead that the Calhoun revival, based on his complex theories of constitutional democracy, became the justification for conservative politicians to resist, ignore, or even overturn the will of the electoral majority.

    This is the politics of nullification, the doctrine, nearly as old as the republic itself, which holds that the states, singly or in concert, can defy federal actions by declaring them invalid or simply ignoring them. We hear the echoes of nullification in the venting of anti-government passions and also in campaigns to “starve government,” curtail voter registration, repeal legislation, delegitimize presidents. There is a strong sectionalist bias in these efforts. They flourish in just the places Kevin Phillips identified as Republican strongholds—Plains, Mountain, but mainly Southern states, where change invites suspicion, especially when it seems invasive, and government is seen as an intrusive force. Yet those same resisters—most glaringly, Tea Partiers—cherish the entitlements and benefits provided by “Big Government.” Their objections come when outsider groups ask for consideration, too. Even recent immigrants to this country sense the “hidden hand” of Calhoun’s style of dissent, the extended lineage of rearguard politics, with its aggrieved call, heard so often today, “to take back America”—that is, to take America back to the “better” place it used to be. Today’s conservatives have fully embraced this tradition, enshrining it as their own “Lost cause,” redolent with the moral consolations of noble defeat.”

    What he is saying is that the GOP ideology has nothing to say to people of color (and, frankly, to most Americans as well)–that the ideology is stuck in the past, and does not speak to the present reality of the country, much less the future.

    1. PM: I did read that one. And like screaming “Nazi” or “Hitler-like”, accusing an entire group of people of racism invariably incites a riot of spittle-flecked invective and nothing more. But … if you peel the onion of Phillip’s (and Pat Buchanan’s) strategy lo those many years ago and compare it to the modern GOP’s Sun Belt/Bible Belt strategy of today we are left looking at a distinction without a difference, aren’t we?

      The only truly legitimate Americans are … .

    2. PM says:

      Here is another take, by Jonathan Chait, reviewing several recent insider (GOP authored) approaches to saving the GOP:


      Chait’s main critique of the critiques is:

      “These are smart arguments and I devoutly hope for their success. Yet they contain the same flaws that seem to recur in all the efforts to reform the GOP from within: an unwillingness to identify or confront the forces within the party that prevent these reforms from succeeding.”

      his conclusion:

      “But if Republicans want to reform their party’s identity and make it into something other than absolutist advocacy of low taxes for the rich, they need to come up with some negotiating position on fiscal issues other than “no tax hikes for the rich of any kind no matter what we get in return.”

      I think that the GOP has been very good at creating a disciplined party that can sing from the same hymnal—and now they are suffering the consequences. Anyone who wants a different song is threatened with losing their job (primary challenge), so the orthodoxy goes unchallenged. Sort of the same problem that the Communist Party in the USSR had, which led it to collapse rather than reform itself.

      1. Give Mitch McConnell a dowdy fedora and he’d look perfectly at home waving from the top of Lenin’s Mausoleum.

        But yes, what makes the Republican dilemma so interesting is that they have no way back other than some kind of catharsis by schism.

  4. Minnesotan says:

    Back to the original subject of this post, the Democrats shouldn’t get too cocky when it comes to future elections. Note the response from certain focus group members on “Spending” “Handouts” and “care little about the working class but lavish the poor with federal aid.”

    Politics are simply a pendulum, and all it will take is a few more years of increased tax & spend, and the R’s to identify a moderate candidate while shouting down their more extreme members – for things to swing back in their favor for a few years.

    Look locally. Most of our taxes already took a hit at the beginning of the year, and now they are proposing taxing clothing, increasing the Cig tax again, and possibly taxing business services.

    I like living in MN, and understand taxes are necessary to maintain a certain quality of life in MN, but at some point people are going to start screaming uncle.

    There rarely is anything meaningful cut from government, it just grows. Even Obama said,when talking about why the penny is still around, “One of the things you see chronically in government is it’s very hard to get rid of things that don’t work so you can then invest on the things that do.” At some point the Rs will field a candidate with a plan that cuts some of the stuff that doesn’t work and people will respond to it.

    When Bobby Jindal said the GOP needs to stop being the “Stupid Party” he seems to get it, and could be a formidable opponent come next election.

    1. PM says:

      I do think that you are right in that at some point a GOP candidate will step up and bravely say something along the lines of ” I am not against government, i am against stupid government”, and will not get defeated during the primaries. Probably that will happen in a moderate state like MN or OR first.

      Jindal seems to understand this–at least I have liked a number of things he has said. He does not seem to be getting a lot of traction inside the party at the moment, however.

      The challenge for the GOP is that the conservatives control the local parties and the party primary processes. If that can be changed, then i think that they will be able to field lots of candidates who can win statewide and nationally.

      (and I try to never underestimate the ability of democrats to screw things up)

      1. Minnesotan says:

        Brian – yes, no, maybe so. I understand your point, but I would argue that voters won’t understand the nuance. As a group, if we don’t like how things are going, we opt for a major change – not a minor one. If by the end of Obama’s term (or Dayton’s, or whoever, whenever) if we’re fed up, we vote the other way, provided there is a viable alternative. Basically, if we get sick of Coca-Cola, we switch to Pepsi, we don’t switch to Coke Zero.

      2. Jim Leinfelder says:

        We do? Really? I don’t think I know many people who lurch from one political philosophy to another ever four years. How does one reconcile that? You either have a personal philosophy, or you don’t.

        I think there is this small minority of voters whom we refer to euphemistically as “independents” who, being of volatile worldviews, tip the balance in a closely-divided electorate.

      3. Minnesotan says:

        Jim, I’m not arguing “we” as in you or I. Collectively, yes, we do, really. If you would like a list over the past 40 years or so:

        MN Governors:
        Perpich – D
        Quie – R
        Perpich – D
        Carlson – R
        Ventura – I
        Pawlenty – R
        Dayton – D

        US Presidents
        Ford – R
        Carter – D
        Reagan – R
        Bush – R
        Clinton – D
        Bush – R
        Obama – D

        The point is sooner or later “we” get tired of the direction one party has taken us and try the other on for size.

        So, I wouldn’t right the R’s off quite yet. I think it’s a bit too early to assume the D’s have created a dynasty.

      4. Jim Leinfelder says:

        Well, I’d submit that your use of “viable alternative” in reference to the extant Republican Party ignores Brian’s point.

    2. Minnesota: I agree, some taxes are necessary to maintain quality of life, but how much, really, is the question. Is the quality of life in CA or New York state that much greater than the quality of life in Fla. or AZ? I guess it depends upon your definition quality of life.

      I think we often delude ourselves in Minnesota by thinking we have such a great quality of life, but in what respect?

      Sitting in traffic in the metro early in the morning and afternoon on overly congested roads and freezing for four months of the year and trudging through snow for 6 months is not exactly paradise.

      I’d like to know from other SRC posters what, in their eyes, makes it so special to live here….yeah, schools and education will likely be an answer of many, but what else? The seasons? Hmmm. The sports teams. I hope to God not. The proximity to oil country in ND or pheasants in SD?

      I’m just asking.

      1. PM says:

        Well, besides schools and education, i really enjoy things like the Walker, the MIA, the Guthrie, the MN Zoo, the lakes, the biking and walking paths, the Boundary Waters canoe area, the great restaurants, and the people who use all of those things. What it comes down to, for me, is the chance to meet interesting people who are attracted to those things. Personally, I’d let the sports teams go (well, maybe not the Twins, only because i love baseball, and at least get to see the Cardinals once in a while).

        Surprisingly, for me one of the most important things about this region is something that I’ve had no direct contact with–Hazelden. It is important to me because there are a number of top notch chefs here in town who first came here to dry out at Hazelden, and have stayed. The Twin cities dining scene has been amazingly enriched by Hazelden!

        Oh, and i also enjoy the weather–I like winter, and find it beautiful (but too long by March)

      2. I’ve spent enough time in AZ and FL to know that the summers are more confining than our winters–and we can always put more clothes on. In addition to PM’s list, I’d miss the Westminster Forum and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Also thunderstorms after living in CA for 8 years.

  5. Minnesotan says:

    Let’s see if I follow Brian’s points:

    1) The Republican Party is broken
    2) The Democrats have enough variety of liberal/conservatives to satisfy even the most finicky political palette for the foreseeable future
    3) The far right conservatives can feel free to die a slow death

    Did I miss anything?

    Jim, you honestly don’t think the Republican party can field a viable candidate in the next election? If I recall correctly, Obama was just a blip on the political radar at this point in his path to the presidency.

    How many decades do you think it will take before the Democrats have to worry about facing any competition?

    The worst thing the Democrats can do is think they can coast over the next few elections – or the best thing, depending on your point of view.

    1. Jim Leinfelder says:

      No, I don’t, because it can’t just be a candidate. They need some ideas. But they are the antithesis of ideas and problem solving. This version of the Republican Party is without precedent in my life time. And it doesn’t seem to be bottoming out yet.

      1. Minnesotan says:

        Some sun may be starting to break through the clouds, at least on the state level. A GOP senator is looking to co-sponsor a bill to legalize same sex marriage in MN.

        Granted, it wasn’t his idea, but this seems like a big step for GOP members, who may be starting to break from the ranks on certain issues. It’s happened in the past, and it was basically career ending. But now that the party isn’t so strong, hopefully others will choose their own path and not toe the party line on every issue. Or, as the senator himself said, he’s found peace on the issue and if it means he doesn’t get re-elected, so be it.

  6. bertram jr. says:

    Bertram chuckles at all the “deep thoughts” extant (copyright JL).

    The issue is the spending. And the illegals. And the taxes. And the global warming / greenie whackos.

    The loonies put a boy-king on the throne. We are paying the price.

    Bertram is eyeing St. Maarten for his spring bachannalia and wife trial – anyone been?

    1. PM says:

      Yes. not my favorite spot in the Caribbean. very European. Great food and restaurants. Fancy clubs. Haute couture shopping. Expensive. Lots of cruise ships stop there. i preferred the French side. My impression was sort of like St. Tropez in the caribbean. Seems a bit out of place to me.

      Hope no one is found guilty…..

  7. Newt says:

    I don’t rely much on focus groups consisting of beneficiaries of the Santa Claus Party. Very predictable answers from government dependents.

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