Saturday, May 20, 2006

Wherein I disagree with my brother. Sorry spoon.

My brother thereisnospoon wrote a diary on Kos that is current on the rec list at the time of this posting, arguing that we will not do as well in 2006 and 2008 because of the apparent failure of Democrats to stand for their values and preach a message to the general public that counters the "default setting" that the public has concerning the Republican Party.

Spoon argues that running on the other party's corruption and incompetence, without creating a message of our own, will not lead us to victory.  I agree with his premise here, and if the evidence that he uses to support the conclusion he draws were entirely accurate, then his conclusion would be accurate.

Unfortunately, I don't think his premise about Republicanism is accurate.

Republicanism as defined by spoon in his diary is:

Any average voter can tell you: smaller government, stronger military, and "moral values."

Hard to disagree with that.  Spoon forgot to mention the fourth foundation of Republicanism, and that is lower taxes.  That is most certainly important, because the common refrain that you hear from conservatives is that Democrats will raise their taxes.  So, in short, the four fundamental principles that define Republicans are:

1. Smaller Government

2. Stronger Military

3. Moral (family) values

4. Lower taxes

So let's start there.  Obviously, I'm not going to go into how the current manifestation of the Republican party has nothing to do with any of these, or how the Republican party isn't really about these principles and they're really about the corporations.  We all know that over here, and that's not my point.

My brother is correct when he points out that the Republican Party, using their various media of talk radio, field organizers, churches, and everything else, spent the past 30 years selling these principles as the most important things for America.  And it is certainly true that the average voter "knows" that these are the elements Republicans "stand for."  What he didn't say is that the current version of that party has spent the past 6 years shifting the debate away from these values.

By selling terrorism as the central focus of the current Republican party and branding it into the mainstream--and then handling the issue with publicly avowed atrocious incompetence--the Republican Party has shifted the debate away from their traditional strengths into a new, uncharted area in which they were initially strong, but have since become weak.  Partly because of the personality cult of Bush, the Republicans have become the party of the Iraq War.  They have become the party of the Patriot Act.  The Party of NSA surveillance.

Where I disagree with my brother is on the fundamental question he raised: if you ask your average voter in the street what the Republican party stands for, I think your answer is far more likely to center around terrorism than it is around smaller government.

The Republican Party sacrificed the principle of smaller government at the altar of anti-terrorism.  This might even have been a successful long-term strategy had it not been for their absolute incompetence in handling the Iraq occupation, in their failure to get Bin Laden, and in the public disclosures of torture--something which Cheney's 18% base may support, but the other 82% of Americans find utterly distasteful.  But when you have an unpopular war, the most wanted person on Earth still on the loose, AND you start doing a KGB-style collection of the phone records of ordinary citizens?  Well, so much for smaller government.  And the public knows it.  The Republican Party has changed its entire philosophy of governance in order to become the Security Party, rather than the Limited Government Party.  And that is the new line of attack.  Quite frankly, the main reason that Republicans are in disarray is because the voters actually don't know what they stand for.  Do they stand for limited government, or do the stand for large government?  Do they stand for isolationism and anti-nation-building, or do they stand for neo-Wilsonianism?  Contrary to my brother's opinion, the problem the Republicans have is PRECISELY THAT THE VOTERS DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY STAND FOR, AND THEIR HOUSE IS DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF.

Furthermore, the Republicans have turned the central focus of the day and age on combatting terrorism.  The problem they now have?  More people trust Democrats than trust Republicans now when it comes to combatting terrorism.  There were plenty of Gore voters that voted for Bush again in 2004 because of terrorism, and they'll be back.

So, let's take the principle of the stronger military.  Here again, the problem is the Iraq War.  Now, this may be a short-term thing, and not ultimately relevant to the overall meme of the association of "stronger military" with Republican, but I'm arguing against my brother's opinion that we'll lose in 2006.

The thing about the Iraq war is that the Republican Party identified itself so strongly with it.  The current mentality right now among the populace is the Republicans in government support the war, and the Democrats in government oppose it.  Well, guess what?  Most people oppose the war, and that leads to an identification with--and votes for--the Democrats who oppose it.  Things may be different in 2008 or 2012, but for 2006 certainly, I don't think the "stronger military" is going to come back and bite us.  That may work to get the people who still support the war out to the polls to vote for Republicans, but it won't work for people who disapprove of the war--because the Republicans are in charge right now.  This is their military.  This is their war.  This is their new philosophy of governance.  They don't like the new Republicanism.  Why vote for more Republicans?  In addition, voters don't like voting for the party that was in charge when the latest military setback occurred.  It's a point of pride.  That doesn't bode well for "Republicans"--no matter what they claim to stand for.

It is true that we will need a more long-term strategy to deal with this argument later on.  Obviously, increasing troop pay and benefits while streamlining defense spending is a good way to go--as would be doing something to make the military an honorable career again, as opposed to a career of last resort.

So let's move on to taxes.  This is still a big issue, I agree.  But again, we move on to the subject or whether government should be limited or whether it shouldn't.  The problem is that raising taxes becomes a much smaller issue when faced with the larger issues we've discussed above.  Take this passage from Buzzer's recommended diary:

 Then Lee said, "Well, the Dems will probably want to raise my taxes, but I can probably live with that if it helps fix things." I told him that his taxes probably wouldn't go up too much, if at all, but didn't push the point.

Even Republicans know that Democrats would be better at fixing the problems that New Republicanism has caused.  And taxes are s small price to pay when the nation's "minimum payment" is at FOUR HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS.

Lastly, New Republicanism--the unholy alliance between the Security appratchiks and the Theocratic movement--has caused the identification of family values with Christian supremacy--an unpopular notion.  The term "family values" has turned into a code word which rings hollow now to everybody except the base.

So in short, my main point is that in 2006, there is no default setting for the Republicans to turn to to get their voters back.  The New Republicans have permanently shifted the meaning of what the Republican Party is all about, and it's something that is in direct contradistinction to what the voters "know" that Republicanism stands for--and this makes my brother's entire diary kind of a moot point.  You can't make a campaign for traditional Republicanism without sounding like a Democrat--and if that's the direction you're going to go, why not go for the people who have been saying it longer?

So, there is no more default setting for what Republicans stand for.  But in addition to that, there is a host of other issues that are gaining increasing national prominence on which the nation sees things increasingly our way:

The environment.

Global warming.

Energy independence.

Corporate malfeasance.



On all of these issues, voters trust the Democrats far more to do right by the American public.  What are the Republicans--whoever they are and whatever the voters think they stand for--going to do about their party's traditional footdragging on these issues?  Start running to the left of us?

I do agree with my brother about one thing:  we actually need to stand up and campaign on these issues and be proud of them.  Turn them into a drop-down list that voters can identify as a platform.  

But I disagree with him on the idea that the Republicans can just return to a default setting.  They unleashed a snake that they hoped would bite us, and it bit them instead.  It's too late to put it back in the wicker basket.

[Cross-posted at My Left Wing and Daily Kos]

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