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GOP soul searching is something to see

Posted by Thomas Nephew on November 9th, 2012

After Romney loss, GOP soul searching begins” (CBS); “Election aftermath: GOP soul-searching: ‘Too old, too white, too male’? “(Politico); “After stinging loss, GOP soul searching begins” (USA Today); etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.  It’s tempting to suggest there’s an unproven premise in each of these headlines, but I’m not theologically qualified to go there.  Instead, I want to discuss just a few of the more archetypal, classic conservative responses I’ve run across to Obama’s workmanlike defeat of Romney on Tuesday.  I have no idea if any of them will feature as the Right’s deepest response to “What just happened to us? What now?”  It may be that Republican stalwarts will simply choose first one and then another from one occasion to the next, as needed, convenient, and/or comforting.

America was not worthy of us (Kevin Williamson, National Review):

“…offering Americans a check is a more fruitful political strategy than offering them the opportunity to take control of and responsibility for their own lives. This is what Oakeshott had in mind when he wrote that liberty was something that many people simply are not equipped to “enjoy as an opportunity rather than suffer as a burden.[...]

Though the article is ostensibly about “How Romney Lost,” this passage is clearly more about Mr. Williamson’s self-image and outraged sensibilities than it is an attempt to understand events around him.  In the “Easy to be Hard” chapter of his extremely interesting book “The Reactionary Mind,” Corey Robin summarizes this kind of thinking as one of the central features of conservatism (which, in his well-argued view, almost always boils down to a reactionary response to class insubordination).  Robin writes: “If the ruling class is to be vigorous and robust, the conservative has concluded, its members must be tested, exercised, and challenged” — the burden must be borne.  He also quotes ur-conservative Edmund Burke: “The subordinate turn on reliefs, gratifications, and indulgences; and are therefore more lovely, though inferior in dignity.  Those persons who creep into the hearts of most people, who are chosen as the companions of their softer hours, and their reliefs from care and anxiety, are never persons of shining qualities, nor strong virtues.” It’s as if Burke was there on the FOX News set with O’Reilly and Rove on Tuesday night, shaking his head as soft America scorned the virtues of shining, predatory capitalism.

They lie! they’re the ones who do the stuff they say we do (Karl Rove):

“The president, he succeeded by suppressing the vote. By saying to people, ‘you may not like who I am and I know you can bring yourself to vote for me, but I’m going to paint this other guy as simply a rich guy who only cares about himself.’ 53% in the exit polls said that on election that Mitt Romney’s policies only helped the rich and they voted for Obama by a 9-1 margin,” Karl Rove said on FOX News today.

As Joshua Green noticed back in 2004, Rove loves to attack an opponent on the very front that seems unassailable,” e.g., start a whisper campaign that an opponent known for caring about children’s issues is a pedophile.  This is a related tactic: take charges leveled against his side — e.g., vote suppression in this case — and simply recycle them as charges, however absurd, against his opponents.  It’s a neat verbal trick — simultaneously minimizing the meaning of the concept of vote suppression, and turning it to his own advantage.  But it’s a tactician’s reflex, not a leader’s answer.  Democrats should hope Rove — a now discredited wielder of SuperPAC millions — stays in the discussion with his empty rhetorical gimmicks and grifter’s mentality.

We didn’t lie enough (Tom Knapp, “Libertarian Republican”):

“This takes me back to January, when I asserted that Newt Gingrich was the only candidate who had both a shot at the GOP nomination and a chance of beating Obama. Gingrich will piss down your back and tell you it’s raining — and if you turn around and catch him with his pecker still out and dripping, he’ll get huffy and ask you if you believe him or your own lying eyes. The only time Romney showed that kind of backbone was with his “Jeep is getting ready to move to China” play, which failed not so much because it was a bald-faced lie as because it was a bald-faced lie aimed precisely at the only constituency in America who knew, beyond a shadow of doubt, that it was a bald-faced lie (voters in Ohio’s auto manufacturing areas).”

Nixon biographer (“Nixonland”) Rick Perlstein , writing for Baffler, tells of a conservative conference he attended as a speaker.  After listing example after example of conservative “exuberants” (Nixon’s term) blithely lying , cheating, and ratfucking their way to victory, the first prominent conservative rose to tell him during the question period, “I didn’t like Nixon until Watergate.”  Perlstein’s contention: “Lying is an initiation into the conservative elite. In this respect, as in so many others, it’s like multilayer marketing: the ones at the top reap the reward—and then they preen, pleased with themselves for mastering the game. Closing the sale, after all, is mainly a question of riding out the lie: showing that you have the skill and the stones to just brazen it out, and the savvy to ratchet up the stakes higher and higher.

—–

Less sophisticated and/or nihilistic analyses of the Republican defeat of 2012 are being floated too, of course.  Conventional media wisdom (see the links above) may prove out among the Republican elite and voters: this year’s GOP voters were simply too old, too white, and too male.  Many noted the poor Latino results, remembered Republican intransigence on immigration reform and Romney’s insulting “self-deportation” invitation, and put two and two together.

But a Sean Hannity’s sudden “evolution” on the issue notwithstanding, the GOP doesn’t have much room to spare with their Tea Party/Minutemen base on the kind of practical immigration, civil rights, or safety net/ jobs issues that Democratic voters — Latino included — expect to see addressed.  Andrew McCarthy agrees: “…there is a choice to be made: either convince them that they are wrong, meaning make the unapologetic case for liberty and limited government; or fundamentally change who you are, meaning accommodate their statism.”  — leading my friend Roy Edroso to translate: “Mooslims and Messicans can’t get into this party till they prove their Americanism to Andrew C. McCarthy! I’m beginning to think John Judis and Ruy Teixeira were right.”

If so, that leaves optics and symbolism as the only way out for the GOP; I think the odds are good that Republicans will have a Latino vice-presidential or presidential candidate in 2016: Rubio, Cruz, Martinez (a two-fer!), who knows.  And that might be all it would take to win.  For all the day after talk of “never a doubt in my mind,” Democrats had a pretty tough time with a pretty weak opponent.  They might not be so lucky next time.

So it might behoove Democrats not to get complacent, see demographics as destiny, and assume Latinos, gays, and women are as stuck with them as labor or liberals have allowed themselves to become.  As Rick Perlstein pointed out on Facebook the day after the election, Irish and Italian Catholics were once stalwart Democrats; many are now just as stalwart at being Republican.  Someday — if all goes well? if necessary? — Latinos, gays, women and the rest of an Obama coalition may not be stalwart Democrats or Republicans, but allied with a new and better party of their own, if that’s what the old parties deserve.  Republicans aren’t the only ones who lie; the 2012 election mainly demonstrates that they’re uncommonly brazen and inept about it.

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