I have to admit, I enjoy arguing with Pat Buchanan. This is because I agree with him 90% of the time – maybe more. He's smart, respectable, insightful, and doesn't buy any of the crap that the major parties are constantly dishing out. So if he says something that I think is a bit off base, well... it's only my patriotic duty to set him straight, and thus minimize the chances of future disagreements. Of course, Mr. Buchanan doesn't _know_ I'm arguing with him; he doesn't know me from Adam, except that he has seen me at Mass on occasion at Old St. Mary's in Washington, DC – and probably wonders, how'd that hippie get in here? So I guess I'm speaking a bit grandiosely. In any case, his column in today's paper had me rolling my eyes a bit. His claim is that the Republican Party is not as completely dead as its opponents would like to think, and that... if political cycles follow the pattern they usually follow... the Republicans will find themselves in the contender position in 2012. Now, granted, it's always easier being in the loyal (or even not-so-loyal) opposition than in charge... it's more stimulating, more free, more emboldening... and it certainly isn't relaxing, or conducive to complacency. This is, for example, one reason why the Libertarians -- and the (small “l”) libertarians -- can stay “pure” -- because they have no power and therefore absolutely nothing to lose by speaking their minds on any and all occasions. Plus, they have the distance from the political fray that is necessary to see things as they are. No one who is totally "in" politics can really "see" politics in a clear, objective way.
Of course, the debate among the Republicans these days – as always – is whether to become more "liberal" or more "conservative"... whether to go back to the “grass roots” or get on board the soul train to the collectivist future (where they would always be second-class citizens anyway). And when you look at the history of presidential elections since – oh, say the 1950s – it's not at all clear which strategy works best, and under what circumstances. One thing that _never_ seems to work, for instance, is the message, “We're almost as good as the Democrats” -- i.e. almost as liberal, almost as “compassionate”, almost as humanistic, tolerant, immoral (wait – scratch that), etc. And many Republican campaigns have been based less on what the Republicans had to offer than the fact that the Democratic candidate was a proven, or suspected, idiot. So... well, let me just provide a thumbnail sketch of what, in my humble opinion, has led to Republican victories or losses over the past 50 years. I'll start with the first campaign that I was actively interested in -- although it was not the first one I was aware of. The two previous (1952 and 1956) will live in infamy because those damn conventions pre-empted "Howdy Doody" and "The Mickey Mouse Club".
1960 (loss): This was all about charisma. JFK had it, Nixon didn't. Plus, Nixon got sabotaged in the televised debates by Democratic agents. There was nothing about the Eisenhower administration that most people would not have been willing to see continue... except that it exemplified the 1950s. Plus, Nixon actually won the election but it was stolen by JFK with the help of Mayor Daley. (And people thought "hanging chads" were a scandal!)
1964 (loss): The coming-out party of postwar conservatism, and the idea of liberty already scared Americans to death – plus, there was the massive propaganda campaign by the Democrats: Goldwater was psychotic, and he would escalate the Vietnam war. (A bit of irony there.)
1968 (win): Tricky Dick is back, and this time profiting from the Vietnam debacle, and the fact that Hubert Humphrey had suffered permanent injuries (including brain damage) from kissing LBJ's ass for four years.
1972 (win): The Trickster should have lost because he failed to get us out of Vietnam. Fortunately for him, the Democrats nominated the most mush-headed liberal of all time, and that scared people even more than the idea of staying in Vietnam.
1976 (loss): Payback for Watergate and WIN buttons. Also, Carter was a “new face” who seemed to have a few ideals. The first of our disastrous flirtations with Southern governors as presidents.
1980 (win): Payback for Carter. Plus, Reagan had pulled conservatism out of the charnel house and set it on a semi-firm footing.
1984 (win): Reagan's conservatism was not the goose-stepping fascist thing its opponents tried to make people believe. Also, Mondale was still covered with Carter cooties.
1988 (win): Bush Sr. looked like he could pilot the Ship of State along more or less the same course that Reagan had. Plus, Dukakis had a funny name and was from a state that was not part of the U.S.
1992 (loss): Another “new face” from the South (oy!) vs. the Establishment blandness of Bush Sr., his neglect of the Reagan agenda, and his “no more taxes” gaffe. That's all it took. Amazing!
1996 (loss): OK – on a charisma scale of 1 to 100, Clinton was 150 and Dole was minus 10. How many women fantasized about doing the nasty with Bob Dole? Nuff said.
2000 (win): ANOTHER Southern governor! Will we never learn? But he was running against “the talking tree” and... well, it was a virtual tie anyway, so who needs reasons?
2004 (win): Bush is riding the 9-11 wave, despite already-massive failures in Iraq. Kerry has a loudmouth wife. Plus, it was another virtual tie.
2008 (loss): Do I even have to say anything?
So we see that, of the 6 Republican losses during this period, two (1976 and 2008) were based on self-inflicted wounds, and two (1960 and 1996) were charmisma-ramas. Only one (1964) was based on “ideas” and they were way ahead of their time. And as for 1992 – I suspect a pact with the Devil was the key, but I can't prove it.
As to the 7 wins – One (1980) was based on gross incompetence (of a Democratic president), one (1968) was based on a Democratic debacle, four (1972, 1984, 1988, and 2000) were based on the Democratic candidate's inability to “inspire” any semi-normal people, and one (2004) was based on a total con job, i.e. the “War on Terror” and invasion of Iraq, combined with bogus patriotism.
So we see that, as often as not, the success of one party is not based, even remotely, on anything they have to offer, but on the manifest incompetence, or lack of charisma, of the other party. A fine way to select the leader of “The” Superpower, I must say! And you'll note that, in all this time, only one election has been, arguably, primarily about ideas, and that was 1964 when conservatism got a damn good thrashing. Of course, it was re-packaged in 1980 and that time it worked... but to what extent that was because of the Carter curse, who knows? It's clear that “Reaganism”, “supply-side economics”, “trickle-down economics” (as opposed to the trickle-down-the-leg feeling Chris Matthews gets every time he thinks about Obama), and “compassionate conservatism” are all DOA at this point, thanks primarily to Bush & Co. but also to saboteurs (of both parties) in Congress.
So... after this long detour, let's get back to Patty-me-boy and what he has to say about Republican prospects. After painting a picture that gives the Republicans about as much hope for the future as the Know-Nothings, he suggests that if it hadn't been for the exquisitely-timed Lehman Brothers collapse, McCain might have won. Um, yeah... that and that little thing called the war in Iraq, and all the other economic disasters that were coming to a head at that time, and McCain's promise to stay in Iraq for 100 years, and Sarah Palin's promise to start a war with Russia over Georgia, and.... well, you know. That stuff. But other than that, it was a photo finish. Right.
But then he points out that Obama won because he represented “change”, and that the desire for change is a double-edged sword. If the people who wanted “change” in 2008 still want “change” in 2012, that will work against Obama. Well... this might be true if those people had really wanted “change” per se, but I don't think that's necessarily the case. Obama said “change” and people voted for him. Does that mean they wanted “change” for its own sake? Prove it! It's much more likely they wanted to get rid of Bush... to teach those greedy capitalists a damn good lesson... to get us out of Iraq... and to get the government to solve all of our problems. We may very well still be in Iraq in 2012, but other arguments will still be in force and will only have gained appeal. One tends to forget that, after wrenching the country and the economy out of the hands of Herbert Hoover and his greedy capitalist cronies in 1932, FDR was re-elected three times. The re-elections were based primarily on the message: Change has come, but the job is not yet done. Implication: There are still too many greedy, reactionary elements fighting us every step of the way. Give us four more years and we'll fix their wagons. Rome wasn't built in a day. Et cetera. Isn't that going to be Obama's message in 2012? I'll take bets right now that it is.
Then Buchanan shifts the argument to one about approval ratings, making the point that Bush's were low enough to virtually ensure victory for Obama. So what's to keep Obama's approval ratings from being critically low by September 2012? Well... again, what kept FDR's ratings high enough to get re-elected three times? Did the New Deal end the Depression by 1936? Negative. Did it end it by 1940? Negative. Did we have a wartime economy, with all of its attendant deprivations, in 1944? Affirmative. But... had FDR convincingly -- and with the help of the media, and academics -- portrayed himself to the nation as a savior, as king of kings and lord of hosts? Affirmative! No one but he could save us and get us out of the economic pit... and then no one but he could save us and lead us to victory in war. People believed this, despite all evidence to the contrary... and they could not imagine a world without the Emperor Franklin at the helm. (I'm starting to feel kinda sorry for Truman now... ) So all Obama has to do is paint Bush Jr. as Hoover, and himself as FDR, and his economic stimulus plan as the New Deal, and... but wait, hasn't he already done all of these things? Gosh, and here I was, hoping to get a commission for the idea... or at least a percentage of the take.
But hold on – Buchanan isn't finished yet. He then brings up the subject of “values”, and points out that “values voters” are still a reliable part of the Republican base, having voted for McCain 2-to-1. The problem with that, as I see it, is that “values voters” are nonetheless in the minority, and will stay that way – so that any candidate that mobilizes them, even he (she) is 100% effective, will still lose if he has nothing else to offer. (Plus – now really, Pat – what kind of “values” are represented by some nut case who wants to stay in Iraq for 100 years, nuke Iran, and start a war with Russia, hmmm? Let's get real. And how about his running mate, who, as I understand it, would cheerfully jump into an active volcano if she thought it would help Israel? Can she see Israel from her kitchen window?)
Buchanan also criticizes the “liberals and neocons” (and he's right to lump them together) for “instructing the GOP to dump the social, moral and cultural issues”, because that would mean the end of the Republican Party. Well yes, it might mean that – and in that case it would also mean the end of Republican hypocrisy, and maybe, just maybe, a chance for real conservatives to step up and stake a claim to the anti-collectivist, anti-socialist, anti-totalitarian position. Who knows, it might even enable the Libertarians to replace the Republicans! (Yeah, I know – dream on.) Clearly – as he implies – the liberals and neocons have an agenda in mind when making this recommendation, which is to change American politics from a two-party system to a one-party system. But don't they read history? It would take about five minutes for that one party to split into two factions, and then we'd be back where we started. I'd much rather have a situation like that in California when “Ahh-nold” won the governorship – there were... well, I don't know how many parties per se... but there were 135 candidates. (My thought at the time was, “Now _that's_ what I call democracy!”)
So, to sum up, I would say that news of the non-demise of the Republican Party is premature – but, as illustrated above, there have been quite a few elections that were declared the “end” of a given party – like 1976, 1980, and 2008. But like the Frankenstein monster in an old horror flick, they always seem to come back to life to wreak even more death and destruction. Plus, I suspect that the so-called “two-party” system has the durability it has because it's not a two-party system at all, but a one-party system with two different “brands”. If you think one political party is tough to bury, try burying something like that.