With election night’s final collapse of a once?coherent Republican majority that had been badly fraying for at least the past four years, the long knives have come out, and blame assignment is underway. First in recriminations – if not in effective election strategy – were McCain’s staffers, who, it is now revealed, were trashing Gov. Palin and her people long before the end was in sight.
Word from the campaign trail is that the Palin people were not passively taking it either. This is just the latest skirmish along a fault line that has divided the party ever since its resurrection from oblivion by Roald Reagan: the “country club” Republicans versus the” Walmart” Republicans. I consider myself to be on the libertarian right, that is, I am concerned about, inter alia, the rule of law, the sanctity and enforceability of contracts, private property rights, and free markets. I do not much care what other people do in their private lives, or with whom they do it, unless they happen to be my immediate family or close friends. People on the libertarian left, in contrast, tend to obsess over questions like whether private citizens should be allowed to own B?1 bombers, whether a man should be able to marry his dog, whether fifteen year?olds should have the right to use heroin, and how to privatize the interstate highway system. In other words, people on the libertarian left seem merely to want to see how far they can stretch libertarian principles of governmental non?interference. These are not burning concerns for me. In any event, neither the libertarian right or left commands enough followers to make up an effective political party: witness the fecklessness of the Libertarian Party, of which I was once a member (just as I was once a member of the ACLU, which long ago ceased to have anything to do with civil liberties).
So I am a Republican. This is because the socially liberal things that the Democrats typically defend are not under any credible attack, while the economic liberties that the GOP defends, albeit half?heartedly, are. Being a Republican does not mean that I am in sync with every other member of the party. Some members are social conservatives and do not give a fig about economic liberties, and that does not bother me. I would simply ask them to look at the dominant culture and let me know how that fight is going for them. But I am happy having them in the party, because it helps generate enough political throw?weight to advance the causes I care about.
The day after the election, I had lunch – as I do about twice a month – with a long?time friend from college days. My friend usually votes Republican (which is clearly in his economic self?interest), but agonizes over it and over the make?up of the party. After we agreed that the party will be shaken up after the mounting failures of the last few years, punctuated by the bungling losses, first of congress and now of the presidency, my friend opined that we should start by kicking out all the evangelicals and “NASCAR people.” I observed that we would then be starting with a remnant of a remnant. How long did he think this rebuilding would take? A century, perhaps? No, he replied, it seemed that, when the GOP was in the minority, it had some really admirable people, like Everett Dirksen. Well, yes, I acknowledged, while uncharitably reminding him that we stayed in the minority for a long time with Dirksen and the other worthies he had citd. Also, I explained, there are no Dirksens today and no real place for them in either party.
New England’s last Republican representative, Chris Shays, had gone down in flames the night before. Joe Lieberman is now despised within his old party. The parties are much more ideological, and one had best pick the things one cares about and get behind the party representing those things, no matter who else happens to be in the boat.
But I understand the source of my friend’s discomfort, even as I do not share that discomfort. Wouldn’t it be nice to be with all the cool people again, all the actors and writers, all our professors and the television commentators, all the enlightened billionaires, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett? Wouldn’t it be nice to have one’s views constantly affirmed by the dominant media culture, rather than being lumped in with these downscale evangelicals and embarrassing NASCAR rowdies? Wouldn’t it be nice to hang out with some cool black guys, who would slap you on the back and share a joke instead of glowering at you? Well, yeah, it probably would. Which is probably the dirty little secret of why so many people act clearly against their economic self?interest and support the Democratic Party. For many, apparently, moral preening and being validated by the dominant culture is worth paying higher taxes and having crappy health care. It’s just a matter of priorities. The Democrats’ counterparts to evangelicals and NASCAR dads are minorities and poor people. Because the media and entertainment industries are completely in the tank for the Dems, however, it is never suggested that the leadership of the party shares the characteristics of downscale minorities and poor people. Nancy Pelosi as a bag lady? No way! So the Republicans are going to have to reassess and reorganize. The media will encourage them to believe that McCain’s downfall came when he picked Palin. That drumbeat has already begun. The media want to push the idea that “moderates” like McCain give the party its only chance to get back in power. McCain has always been the Democrats’ favorite Republican. It took two years of campaigning and the expenditure of over a billion dollars to give the lie to the notion that the press, which lionized McCain when he was twisting Republicans’ tails, would stay with him when he went up against a real Democrat. Remember, Democrat crossover voting in the primaries probably accounted for McCain’s nomination.
McCain is 72 years old, he has had his shot, and he is done. He and his staff need to sit down and shut up. The future of the party is with Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, Tim Pawlenty, Michelle Bachmann, and other young up?and?comers who are not primarily interested in getting patted on the head by the media or making nice with the ladies of “The View.” And the country club Republicans need to get over being embarrassed about being in the same party with their Walmart cousins. This is not beanbag. Political affiliation should be about more than striking a social pose.