In the latest issue of Harper's, Garret Keizer has an excellent article entitled, "Shine, Perishing Republicans," in which he lays out not only the current dilemma of the Republican Party but his hope that it can reclaim its core values and become a contributing member of our ongoing political dialog and drama.
But it's a long road from here to there, for the Republican Party doesn't seem to understand just how "far it has fallen.
"Ask someone on the street or in the blogosphere to describe what makes the party's current predicament so ironic, and you might hear something like this: The Republican Party was supposed to stand for small government and fiscal restraint, and instead it has given us big government and the virtual socialization of large segments of our economy."
With that in mind, the irony of the moronic tea baggers becomes even more of a national joke, making the poor, deluded fools waving signs at the behest of their largely unknown wingnut sponsors and FAUX News, appear to be as dumb as a stump.
Keizer suggests, and I'm not sure he's right about this, that "conservatives have traditionally believed in limited government ... because they also subscribe, contra many liberals and progressives, to an anthropology based on some notion of original sin. That is to say, the politically conserving impulse grows out of a deep-seated pessimism in regard to the ability of human beings to improve their lot merely by wishing to do so.
"A conservative tells us we had better look at history--hell, we had better examine our own thoughts and deeds since our last coffee break--and that in the light of those all-too-sobering examinations we had better be cautious about jettisoning old institutions and time-tested traditions, which, though flawed as all things human must be flawed, may be our best bulwark against evil itself."
Contra Keizer, I would suggest that concern for the human propensity to do the wrong thing or act in one's self interest is not an innate trait of conservatives. And I'd describe current conservatives as those who, in response to "some notion of original sin," shrink back in unblinking belief that the only thing we can do is hang on to the past for dear life, as if there really was some "golden age," say the age of Reagan.
Liberals, on the other hand, are just as likely to understand that humans frequently act out of concern for their own welfare and at the expense of the common good, but see the solution, not solely in the creeds of the past, but in reshaping the future based upon the lessons learned from the past.
Keizer, ironically, goes on to say that "real" conservatives are far and few between--actually damn near non-existent. "Cheapskates and chauvinists I've found aplenty," he says, "but conservatives are a rarer breed."
And I say, "You can say that again!"
Keizer demolishes the notion that Ronald Reagan was a conservative. In a humorous but right on passage he says:
"Ronald Reagan, who from the perspective of a hundred years will be seen as the last of the California hippies, a man who told us that if we just let the markets run wild and the Magic Bus of juggernaut capitalism go barrel-assing down the road with its freak flag flying all would be groovy and out of sight."
He prefers that "to the helter skelter criminality of Cheney and Bush. But to call either administration 'conservative' in its blithe overconfidence is to hold up a picture of your brain on drugs."
Republicans, says, Keizer should have been on top of things; should have seen the problem; should have seen we were walking down a dark and nasty path: "...of all people, conservatives ought to have been the first to grasp the dangers of unregulated markets. If big government is susceptible to the abuses of 'sinful' human beings, how much more susceptible is a corporate system that is bigger than any government? The right wing of the party ought to have seen this better than the center, and the religious right ought to have seen it best of all. That they failed to see it bespeaks a spiritual bankruptcy beside which the financial plight of an auto industry is as a gnat unto a camel."
Kezier concludes this essay by referencing what he calls "two imperatives" - self-reliance (Republican) and social responsibility (Democratic), noting that these "are the crux of any sustainable community. Neither makes sense without the other, nor can it be fulfilled without the other. The trick is to get them to kiss. The trick is to create a society in which the privilege of disposable income is not contingent on the existence of disposable people--to say nothing of disposable tigers, ice caps, and arable land."
He's right, of course. Except, and this is big; he oversimplifies by claiming Republicans represent self-reliance and Democrats social responsibility. While there may have been a grain of truth in such a thought years ago, that won't work today even in the broadest context, other than as convenient boxes which help to make a point.
As it stands now, Republicans have redefined "conservatism," and self-reliance doesn't enter the picture. They love big government; they just want to control it. The have no problem with socialism, so long as it works for them, like the Wall Street bailouts have (even if the dumbass tea baggers don't know it!). Furthermore, the Republicans have co-opted cultural and religious right issues , integrating them into the party, said cultural and religious right issues being represented by Palin, Bachmann, DeMint, Sanford, Huckabee, Romney, and all the other rightwingnuts prancing around the Republican platform.
Keizer is right on when he says the Republican Party is "spiritually bankrupt"!
Keizer knows this too well; thus says "I want the Republican Party to drop dead." Unfortunately, he's also correct when he notes he wants the Democratic Party to drop dead, too because it differs too little from the competition.
But his two imperatives of self-reliance and social responsibility as they are currently incarnated in the Republican and Democratic parties will never kiss. I believe, bound by my pessimism and cynicism, we're past the point of no return. There is no light at the end of the Republican tunnel; there are NO Republicans who represent "conservatism" as Keizer defines it. None. At least none in positions of leadership.
The Republican Party is dead.
Which leaves hope in the hands of the Democrats, who must somehow entwine both "imperatives" within their own party. That possibility, I think, is what some of us saw in Barack Obama. That was the "change" about which he spoke. Whether he can pull it off, is another question.
When push comes to shove, whether one is a Republican or a Democrat, self-interest rules.
It doesn't take a conservative to understand that. But it will take a liberal, a progressive, and in all likelihood a Democrat to help us rise above said "original sin" to serve the commonwealth, to seek the common good, to define our nation not as what we see in a mirror, but what we see as we look out of our front window -- our neighbor struggling with exactly the same problems we have, carrying exactly the same burdens we do, and understand that we are one, no matter our neighbor's racial makeup, country of origin, color of skin, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.