Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Imminent Demise of the Republican Party: Part Two

Published on Wednesday, November 2, 2005
by David W. Orr

This article is a sequel to David Orr's first submission: The Imminent Demise of the Republican Party: Part One.

In truth the moderate Republican Party of Dwight Eisenhower died several decades ago, to be reborn in the 1990's as the extreme right-wing and highly disciplined party of Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, George Bush, Dick Cheney, Tom Delay, and Grover Norquist. Those and a few others orchestrated the nightmare that James Madison described in /Federalist/ #10-in which executive, legislative, and judicial power was concentrated in the hands of a single faction. But it is worse than Madison feared because the power of that faction includes control over a mostly compliant and increasingly centralized media, a vast military establishment, and the intelligence agencies.

The nightmare, however, is nearing its end and the reasons are daily coming clearer. But the Democratic Party, lacking grit, direction, and ideas, will have played little role in the end of the radical Republican Party, nor can it be assumed that Democrats will be the beneficiary. The self-induced coming collapse of the Republican Party will most likely leave a power vacuum in American politics and perhaps a time of national drift and decline.

The Republican Party has always been the party of business and it was once the party of law, fiscal conservatism, probity, and small government as well. But things have changed and it bears no resemblance to the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Robert Taft, Dwight Eisenhower, and even Richard Nixon. After Watergate, the Iran-Contra scandal, and the Impeachment of Bill Clinton, the Party was effectively taken over by radicals determined to win at all cost. They forged an alliance between Southern racists, the extreme Christian right, big business, neo-conservatives, and a group of right-wing financiers willing to invest billions over several decades to build ideologically driven think tanks and a nation-wide media echo chamber to mislead the public and return the country to the world of the Robber Barons of the 19^th century. They played the public for fools, covering their tracks with patriotic and religious rhetoric and devising ruinous policies too complex to be widely understood. But, driven by an extremist ideology and directed by ruthless leadership, radical Republicans will fall victim to overreach and its own particular kind of blindness. The recent legal difficulties of Lewis Libby, Tom Delay, Bill Frist, and Jack Abramoff are only the tip of the iceberg. Other revelations are coming about the fabrication of the reasons for the mistaken war in Iraq. Still others will show a pattern of corruption and fraud at a scale for which we have no national precedent. Perhaps it is only a sign of hubris, but more likely it is growing evidence that the national Republican Party, having marginalized its wiser leaders and tossed good judgment overboard became a criminal enterprise given to deception and mendacity in order to cover grand theft at a national scale, all on behalf of something called their "base." But its mounting legal difficulties and decline in recent polls are evidence of deeper causes that will soon bring the entire enterprise to ruin.

Events surrounding hurricane Katrina are symptomatic of the kinds of forces that will terminate the Republican Party. Its leadership chose to ignore scientific warnings about the links between climate change and the use of fossil fuels that is amplifying the number and severity of storms to say nothing of the warnings about inadequate levies in New Orleans. As a result they have no plans to avert the worst of climate driven planetary disruption coming in the years ahead which, beyond some unknown point, will be catastrophic for everyone.

The war in Iraq is symptomatic of deeper flaws and self-delusion as well. Reliable witnesses report that the reasons given for the war were conjured, which is to say that they were a lie. We know as well that the level of understanding about the Middle East was astonishingly low and preparation for the post-war reconstruction of Iraq utterly incompetent. This debacle was decidedly not primarily a failure of the CIA, but rather a matter of deliberate deception by the administration for which the appropriate words are "high crimes" and the appropriate course of action is impeachment.

The list of malfeasances and bad judgment could go on, but the point is clear: the present leadership of the Republican Party has chosen to lead by deception, ignore economic reality, refute science when its findings are inconvenient, foster class divisions, snub the poor, vitiate laws and regulations that protect the environment and public health by stealth, destroy venerable alliances, flaunt international law, undermine the foundations of democracy at home, and destroy the capacity of government, painstakingly created over many decades by Republicans and Democrats alike, to solve serious public problems. The Party of Lincoln has become a gang of thieves given to cutting taxes for the wealthy and willing to "do whatever it takes" to stay in power as Karl Rove once put it. The results include a cascading national debt, a federal government unwilling and increasingly unable to act on the most important issues of the 21^st century, and growing isolation from the world community. Not the least, the combined effect of the radical conservative blunder in Iraq is that the United States is more vulnerable to terrorism than before 2001 and is highly dependent on the willingness of the Chinese and others to prop up an increasingly vulnerable economy.

When their reign collapses and the full extent of the wreckage assessed, there will be no time for gloating. There will be, at best, a small window of opportunity to set the country on course again and restore a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, not one for the wealthy few. Equality before the law, transparency, accountability, competence, and foresight are the standards for good governance. The first order of business will be to restore a truer democracy and greater participation in public life now more characteristic of European countries than our own. That will require, in one way or another, reducing the power of money in U.S. politics and rebuilding a fair tax system. We will need to quickly regain public control over the public airwaves beginning with the restoration of the fairness doctrine, tossed out by the Reagan administration in 1987. We will need to take immediate steps to implement energy efficiency and solar power, long known to be technically feasible, economically advantageous, and the antidote for adverse climate change. We must get America on track again, rebuilding a national rail system that will reduce our dependence on imported oil while reversing urban sprawl. We will need policies to rebuild blighted urban areas and restore widespread prosperity to rural areas-flip sides of the same coin. We will need to rebuild federal, state, and private capacity to protect our common air, water, lands, and natural heritage. And we will need a foreign policy once again grounded in international law and a decent respect for the opinions of humankind.

Most important, however, we will need to be summoned back to greatness and away from fear, division, culture wars, and greed. We need a renewed sense of an inclusive America and what it means to be an American. At our best we are a democratic people governed by law. We are a pragmatic people, adept at solving problems. And if wisely led, we can be a compassionate people capable of acting on behalf of the less fortunate and for posterity. It was once said that America is the last best hope of humankind, and perhaps one day we will live up to that standard.

David Orr is a Paul Sears Distinguished Professor at Oberlin College and author of The Last Refuge:Politics, and the Environment in an Age of Terror (Island Press, 2005).


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