Jonathan Bernstein has some good advice for Republicans wishing to take the crazy out of their party. He starts by noting that throwing money at the problem will not help. The truth is that a lot of their most stunning crazy failures won primaries will little money. In some cases, this fact helped their candidacy—giving them that whole “outsider” appeal. Bernstein suggests two things. First, stop allowing the crazy rhetoric. He mentions the inevitable conspiracy theories whenever a Democrat is in the White House, “Not to mention ‘San Francisco Democrats’ and ‘Taxachusetts’ and ‘Chicago politics’ and ‘real America.’ Republicans have been training their audiences, and now their audiences respond.” Second, Bernstein says that the Republicans should stop focusing on symbolic issues and propose things that have real value. “The drawback to relying on symbolic issues is that sane candidates are at a disadvantage. After all, they tend to be constrained by reality, and so they’re less likely to outbid the nuts when it comes to who loves the flag the most or who hates the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ the most.”
Bernstein is a smart—maybe even brilliant—political observer. And there is much to what he mentions. But I think he is missing a big point: the crazy is pretty much all the Republican Party is anymore. Look back on the Republican Party 30 or 40 or 50 years ago. Its policies were more liberal. But were the people really more liberal than they are now? I don’t think so. Any political movement is constrained by the time in which it exists. The truth is that the Republicans have been fantastically successful over the last 30 years in moving the debate to the right. The center of gravity is now such that Democrats are in favor of the policies that would have been conservative only a few decades ago. That means that in order to be a modern day conservative, your ideas have to be so extreme that they are simply unreasonable.
It’s even worse than that. In most areas, there simply are no ideas to be had. I’ve written about this before regarding healthcare reform. The one decent, somewhat workable idea conservatives had for healthcare reform was what became Obamacare. Once it became the Democratic idea, the Republicans turned on it as though it were sent through the ether straight from Stalin. And then the Republicans were left with… What? Allowing insurance to be bought across state lines? Tort “reform”? To call these ideas fiddling around the edges is to give them undeserved airs.
So where does that leave the Republican Party? It leaves it with conspiracy theories and symbolic gestures. The party is not in its current state for no reason. They are in this state because there really isn’t anything else to do. Except, of course, my new idea: join the Democratic Party and let that party divide into a true liberal party and a reasonable conservative party. But that would require the current Republicans to be reasonable. And why would they want to do that? Especially when the Democratic Party is effectively the reasonable conservative party they would end up with anyway?
That cartoon above is from 2009. We’ve been talking about this for a long, long time!