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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Wranglin' Mavericks

Something very interesting is going on out there. About a month before election day, Barack Obama is surging in the polls. Atlantic writer Marc Ambinder puts it this way:

You sort of need a ticker to follow it all.... CNN/ORC Florida: Obama at 54% among registered voters (really)...Obama up by four among likely voters in Nevada...up by double digits in Minnesota...tied in Missouri...nine points ahead among likely voters in Virginia...polls from Time...NBC News/WSJ/MySpace......the AP...

Some of Ambinder's readers are getting way ahead of themselves. "I'm getting lots of e-mails speculating about the 2012 frontrunner for Republicans," he writes. He thinks it'll be Huckabee. At this point, I could care less. Predicting the way the hell and gone future is for fools and psychics -- which may be redundant.

Over at Slate, Timothy Noah wonders, "GOP, RIP?" -- asking whether the Republican party is over, at least for the short term. The ideology of the GOP, as retooled by Reagan, looks like a big fat failure at this moment in history, with the recent market crash (or rather crashes) actually being the other shoe dropping.

"It should be remembered that a fundamentalist belief in untrammeled capitalism is not the first but, rather, the second pillar of Reagan-style Republicanism to fall," Noah tells us. "The first was the belief that the United States should extend military power wherever enemies lurk, regardless of what our allies do." It's not the market that's the Republican problem, but a bullheaded foreign policy combined with the market. The failure of deregulation isn't the beginning of the end, the end began the day the first American boot left a footprint in Iraqi sand in 2003. The failure of laissez faire economics was just the final straw.

But we've been here before. When Clinton won his second term, there were articles asking whether it was over for the Republican party. When Bush won twice and conservatives owned all three branches of federal government, people were shoveling dirt on the Democratic party. When FDR won four terms and Truman followed, it's hard to believe that some didn't wonder if the GOP could ever recover. Every major setback seems to be accompanied by a wave of speculation over whether or not "they" can come back -- regardless of which party "they" are.

And this party is showing all the signs of a breakdown. There are places in America where George W. Bush wouldn't dare show his face. I came across an example of that last night; Bush has a mere 15% approval rating in Wisconsin. Bush is the ultimate Republican, with "ultimate" meant in the pop culture sense of "most representative" and in it's more correct sense of "final product." As much as they try to distance themselves from him, he is everything they've stood for since Ronald Reagan-- a bullying foreign policy abroad, allowing corporations to exist in a near-anarchy at home, tax cuts for those who don't need money, authoritarianism, and an atmosphere of religious and cultural intolerance. Some Republicans may be able to point to one or two points of disagreement, but no Republican can say that they had nothing to do with any of this. The rare antiwar Republican is a gay-basher. The occasional free-market skeptic is a religious fanatic. The uncommon pro-choice GOPer is a deregulator. If they're not one, they're another. None are clean and, like the bad debt that infects the market at all levels, the Reaganite ideology is everywhere within the party.

As a result, Republicans have become a party of one, with each member standing alone. With only their disagreements with the party to run on (ever wonder why McCain's running as the "maverick"?), Republicans are trying to pad their resumes with disagreements before it's too late. This is why the GOP leadership failed to deliver a bailout bill after reaching an agreement. The House is where all the crazies live.

Washington Post:

...Next in line are the House Republicans, long the ideological outliers in a political party that aspires to majority status. A veteran of a past Republican administration could barely spit out his contempt Monday at the actions of the House Republicans. "They would rather be right in their views -- that ideology counts more, that ideology is crucial in any decision -- rather than making incremental progress," he said.

The vote Monday underscored the political disarray within the party. House Republicans reflect the ideological purity of the conservative movement, but they are not by any means representative of a governing majority in the country.

So, House Republicans throw everything to the wolves rather than admit they were wrong, while at the same time being able to tell voters "I bucked my party." Everyone's a maverick now, completely devaluing the word.

Of course, as long as we're using "ultimate" correctly, we might as well go ahead and clear the air about "maverick." A maverick isn't a horse, it's a calf. A maverick is a calf who's wandered away from the herd and got lost. It's more accurate than these Republicans, wandering the electoral landscape and looking for some sort of new strategy, can possibly know.

That said, the time for Democratic triumphalism is November 5. As impossible as it seems, Republicans could still save something and even take the presidency -- stranger things have happened. The danger for Democrats is quitting while they're ahead and counting on inevitability. Victory is not inevitable.

It just looks really, really likely. But all those mavericks could still form a new herd.