Lots happened last week while I was fucking off writing about Star Trek. Maine became the second U.S. state to legally recognize same-sex marriages via act of legislature, and good on them; Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games for violating the Major League Baseball drug policy, proving he’s got to be the dumbest non-pro-wrestler in all athletics; and Dick Cheney went on TV and said he would side with radio host Rush Limbaugh over Colin Powell in a debate over the future of the Republican party.
He also continued to try and justify his administration’s authorization of torture, but I’ll leave that for another day.
Sensible Republicans — Michael Medved and David Frum chief among them — point out that political parties win elections and thus gain the ability to implement their agendas by growing, not by shrinking. As Frum puts it, shouldn’t conservative Republicans prefer being 60% of a viable major party to being 100% of a permanent political minority? Makes sense to me. But the loudest right-wing voices (also the least thoughtful), with whom Cheney aligns himself, call this a false choice. They claim they can have it both ways, remake the Republicans as a party of total social and fiscal conservatism, disowning their more moderate or liberal members, and start winning elections again. They make this claim in the aftermath of the people of the United States resoundingly electing our most openly liberal president ever.
Strikes me as a tad illogical. A stubborn refusal to accept reality. But what do I know? I’m not a Republican. I’m not a Democrat, either, but I do know this about them: the Democrats don’t usually respond to stinging electoral defeats by eating their own. They regroup and they figure out how to reach out to new constituents in the hope of getting more votes next time. For that is how one wins elections, and winning elections is the primary goal of a political party, is it not?
Voices within the party who suggest broadening the base, like Frum, like Powell, are accused by conservatives like Cheney and Limbaugh (and Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, who spend most of their shows paraphrasing what Limbaugh said a few hours ago) of wanting to abandon core principles in order to win elections. On Face the Nation this past Sunday, Cheney said “The suggestion our Democratic friends always make is somehow, you know, if you Republicans were just more like Democrats, you'd win elections.” That’s a pretty typical response whenever anyone suggests to a conservative that the Republican party might want to consider maybe moderating itself the tiniest bit. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard a serious suggestion from anyone that Republicans need to be more like Democrats in order to get their shit together. I’ve heard David Frum say repeatedly that he thinks his party needs to come up with coherent, relevant policies on the environment, on energy independence, on health care reform, on immigration, and to stop pretending that cutting taxes is the fix for everything. Colin Powell has similarly argued that the party needs to do more to reach out to black and Hispanic voters.
Cheney, Limbaugh and company interpret these suggestions as “be more like Democrats.” What does that say about the strength of their ideas? Can Dick Cheney or Rush Limbaugh imagine no conservative strategies for preserving the environment, or pursuing renewable energy, or renovating the badly dilapidated American health care system? Listen to Hannity’s radio show for more than a few minutes and you’ll hear him tout expanded domestic oil drilling and coal mining as the solution to the energy problem, and make very general mention of private medical savings accounts as a fix for health care, but there are never any details. Where are the serious proposals? I get my fill of moralizing and empty rhetoric about preserving liberty (odiously implying that opponents of conservatives are conscious enemies of liberty), but no real alternatives to the Democratic way of doing things. It doesn’t move me any closer to being a Democrat, but it does force me to ask, “Why would I ever want to be a Republican?”
Let me move on from conservative political incompetence to something even more telling about Cheney’s choice of Limbaugh over Powell. Has there been a more brazenly hypocritical political party in American history than the Republican party, in particular these last few months? Conservative Republicans love to tout their support of our military, and never fail to make a big show of recognizing the honorable service of a veteran. Unless that veteran’s political philosophy conflicts with their right-wing ideology, that is. Eugene Robinson puts it this way in today’s Washington Post:
Given a choice between a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state who has given to his nation a lifetime of exemplary public service or an entertainer who brags about how much money he makes from bombast and bluster, Cheney would go with the gasbag.
Republicans claim to love the veterans, but look how conditional that love is, even when the veteran in question is a genuine American hero and one of the great figures in our history. And Colin Powell is not the only one. Remember how conservatives only grudgingly supported John McCain during the last election, and how much more enthusiastic they were over his running mate. Why was a willfully dishonest, race-baiting rube like Sarah Palin acclaimed while a bona fide war hero like McCain was treated like an uninvited guest? Because Palin confessed the proper creed. She was the genuine conservative. Her ideology trumped McCain’s heroism. Look at how Colin Powell, a showpiece of the party during the Clinton years, has been regarded by conservatives ever since he began to express his more moderate views. Cheney, who obtained five draft deferments to escape service in the Vietnam War, declares Rush Limbaugh, a fellow chickenhawk, to be a more authentic Republican than Colin Powell. Why? Because the men and women who serve in the armed forces are only tools to be exploited at the convenience of politicians, and only the dogma really matters.
I doubt Cheney’s choice means very much to Powell. Why should it, other than the fact that it heralds the continued collapse of his party? Who is Dick Cheney compared to Colin Powell? I imagine them running into each other after this, and Powell smiling politely and saying, “You know what, Dick? You’re a former vice president, a former member of Congress. And if you were talking to 99% of the other people on this planet, that would be pretty damn impressive. But you’re talking to me, baby. I’ve not only fought wars, I’ve won wars. I’ve put my money where my mouth is, I’ve served my country from someplace other than behind a desk. So if you ever get something on your résumé that gets you an iota of credibility, let me know. Until then, kiss my four-star ass.”
A nice daydream, ain’t it?