When you are doing dishes, you might as well keep your mind engaged. I live in the Washington metropolitan area and C-SPAN radio is available. So on Saturday evenings I get dishpan hands listening to C-SPAN radio’s Road to the White House. Last night C-SPAN was broadcasting live from Des Moines where Iowa Republicans were having their annual Lincoln Day Dinner. The convention center was full of Iowa GOP and Republican presidential hopefuls, the latter of whom were selling that same conservative soap to a GOP-friendly crowd. Naturally, this being the GOP, you had to spend $75 to get in to hear them in the first place.
I found the time I spent listening to the event quite helpful in my understanding the current groupthink of the Republican Party. All the major presidential contenders were there: Rudy, John and Mitt as well as a number of lesser GOP presidential wannabees like Rep. Tom Tancredo, Senator Sam Brownback and Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Their themes were remarkably consistent.
First, according to the speakers the Democrats, although they have only been back in power a few months, have returned to their roots. As a Democrat, this was news to me. Apparently, my party has apparently reverted to form. We are all a bunch of McGovernites: awful, ultra-left, tax and spend, free abortions for all welfare mothers type of party with no religious or moral values. There was only one cure: more of that same GOP soap: low taxes, no abortions, a bloated military and very big and very manly fences on our borders. Winning the War on Terrorism over there so they will not come over here was also a recurring theme. Each candidate was in favor of winning the War on Terror in a general sense. However, not one of them had the courage to step up to the plate and advocate what would be required to actually win the war in the way they envision it: institute a draft and raise taxes to pay for it. In the event of a fire in the kitchen, simply shouting the word “draft” would have cleared the Polk County Convention Complex in thirty seconds.
Granted, at these sorts of events politicians have a tendency to preach to the choir. However, if these are the themes the GOP is expecting to carry into the 2008 election, the GOP is in deeper trouble than even I expected. This is no way to win an election. It is a great way to catastrophically lose an election, put a Democrat in the White House and pile on Democratic majorities. Perhaps that is why only 40% of Republicans surveyed are satisfied with their announced presidential candidates. It might also explain the inexplicable: why Republicans nationwide are so enthusiastic about Rudy Giuliani. Perhaps it is because of all the candidates out there, only Rudy has a real chance of winning. If the GOP wants to maintain any political power, they would be wise to hold their noses and vote for Rudy, even though he is a gay rights and abortion friendly Republican. These may be egregious Republican sins, but the American people have consistently supported abortion rights and the homophobes among us are now a distinct minority.
Instead, the Republican Party has candidates like John McCain with a whopper of a losing message: let us stay in Iraq as long as it takes, no matter how hopeless, in order to defeat the terrorists. No wonder his fundraising is so anemic. One could even argue that McCain’s position on some level is logical. Unfortunately, it is not politically possible. I know I would like to own a fleet of Lamborghinis. However, I am not obscenely wealthy. I had better set my sites lower. Maybe I should consider a Lexus. Winning the War in Iraq is now simply out of the question because we cannot afford to stay there indefinitely and even if we could, the cultural bridge between Western and Islamic thinking is too wide. Americans have sobered up. John has not.
For all their whining, at least Democrats understand the War in Iraq is a lost cause. They are grounded in some political reality. Doing what is right and just is fine, if you can actually pull it off. Not a Republican I listened to yesterday had a realistic plan for how to win in Iraq, or to win the War on Terror. However, they did have lots of platitudes. Nor have they quite discerned cause and effect. To me the War in Iraq looks like a sectarian war, and our presence there is construed as an occupation, not a fight for democracy. Unlike John McCain, I do not believe that if we leave Iraq they will follow us home. If you want to know what will happen there after we leave, look at what is going on there now. The various factions will continue to duke it out with insurgencies and terrorist incidents.
What is going on in Iraq today has far more to do with Muhammad’s death in 682 A.D. than it has to do with decadent American values. Iraq just happens to be a part of the world where Sunnis and Shiites live in close proximity. Al Qaeda is far more concerned about wiping out the apostasy of the Shiite version of Islam (although that is impossible) than in waging a holy war on the West. Most likely, by the time this sectarian war (it is more accurate to call it a sectarian war than a civil war) ends, neither side will arise victorious. Shiites will continue to practice their version of Islam as they always have. Unfortunately, there is little doubt that the body count will be very high.
Republicans though seem to want to stay in Fantasyland. Americans overall though are a lot more sober. They realize the War on Terror needs rethinking and rescoping, because what we are doing is pointless and counterproductive. Both Republicans and Democrats share the same long-term goal, but each side has radically different ideas on how to get there. Republicans would like to label Democrats as “cut and run” but that label does not work anymore. Americans want a workable strategy to actually win the War on Terror. More of the same is just folly.
On virtually every point that I heard Republican presidential candidates address yesterday, the nation has moved on. The one issue that Americans might actually care about is stemming illegal immigration. It would be hard to build a successful campaign on this one issue, though. Otherwise, the public has moved strongly away from Republican positions. We support abortion rights as we have for more than thirty years. We want more stem cell research and do not believe that an inert fertilized blastocyst consisting of a few cells is the equivalent of human being. We favor equal privileges for gays and lesbians. We realize the folly of solving our health care crisis through “solutions” like medical savings accounts when most of us live from paycheck to paycheck. We want a health care system that does not disappear if we are unemployed. We acknowledge that global warming is real and must be addressed. We want Social Security and Medicare to be solvent. We want more social spending on things that matter, like early childhood education, not less.
The nation’s demographics are changing. America is now a broadly pluralistic and multiethnic society where whites will soon no longer be in the majority. Today’s children are growing up in this reality. They give no more thought to the color of someone’s skin that they do the color of their eyes. Racism is out; tolerance is in. Country club Republicans are out; MoveOn.org is in. Deficit spending is out; fiscal discipline is in. Ideology is out; pragmatism is in. These forces are sweeping across the country. George W. Bush is the last gasp of a dying era. His counterproductive strategies and his rubber stamp Congress actually accelerated these fundamental changes. Americans applaud initiatives like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi meeting with Syrian government officials. They realize that obstinate behaviors and intransigence are counterproductive. We realize that the world is changed through making friends and through dialog, and rarely with armed force.
Perhaps Republicans can repackage their old soap to look like new soap. Voters though are now very leery of Republicans, and for good reason. We have been doubly burned now, first by Reagan and now by George W. Bush. It turns out that what matters are not presidents lying about oral sex, but presidents lying us into a war. Republicans would be much smarter to address issues that Americans care about rather than sell us solutions to our problems that are more of the same old soap.