The Republican Party is dead like Lehman Brothers and Robert E. Lee, not to be revived by TARP, Rupert Murdoch, or a surge of feverish nationalism. The present financial collapse makes it plain to see that the Republican Party did not die recently at the hands of the clever Democrats, but rather in 1933 at the hands of cowards, sycophants, and snobs who regarded the awesome Democratic victories in 1930 and 1932 as a “smear” of Herbert Hoover and a “panic.” Since the Great Depression I, the Democrats have been the electorate’s default choice, the politicians who rule as if America was simultaneously a school district, a union hall, a junior-year-abroad seminar, and a PAC. The Republicans who pop up now and again thrive in the empty-quarter counties of the West or in the so-called Old South, which is better understood as Confederacy Lite.
“GOP is a mummy-wrapped skeleton sitting in its own chilly mausoleum of bilious resentments and creepy sentimentality.”
I am the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Hoosier Republicans who marched through Georgia with Sherman, endured jobs on the Pennsy, and then survived the Hitlerites from Omaha Beach to Berlin. My father is at Arlington now and would not at first be comfortable with my saying what he himself could see in his last years as he watched the Keystone State become solid blue. The Democrats win just because the Republicans have disqualified themselves as leaders with their greed, cruelty, and surprising clumsiness. From Herbert Hoover to Robert Taft, from the Bush clan to the ridiculous Tom DeLay, not one note of grace, not a convincing moment of understanding that the Republican Party is about honest liberty for honest, laboring people—not about Wall Street, the tax code, chasing Reds, or bullying the lonely.
Vigilant Democrats worry today that the Republican Party is only playing possum, or that it can be revived by extraordinary means such as a Martian invasion. In fact, the GOP is a mummy-wrapped skeleton sitting in its own chilly mausoleum of bilious resentments and creepy sentimentality. What remains to call themselves Republicans are baldly badly educated or just prankish Confederate re-enactors—chubby men in gray and butternut suits with gold buttons and feather-tipped hats, clanking down stairs with shiny sabers. A handful of them are just boors from the South who look poorly on horseback and wave unread Bibles while calling for Billy Sunday to rise like the gold market.
What about Ike and Richard Nixon and the worshipped California cowboy manqué Ronald Reagan? Not one of them cared a toothpick for the Republican Party of their time and each struggled mightily to remake it. Ike was indifferent to partisanship: His beating of the splenetic Robert Taft in 1952 for the nomination was the success of a conqueror over a sharpie. Nixon was a troubled, spiteful Quaker who despised the Republican Party as the “Eastern Establishment,” and who governed as a liberal Democrat with the apostasy of wage and price controls, the EPA, and embassies to the mass-murdering Mao and the hollow Brezhnev. Reagan was a right-wing Democrat from homespun Illinois who, after years of failing in Hollywood and then charming California, swamped Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale with the passionate votes of the Democratic Party. I have long suspected that the Kennedys voted for Reagan twice.
What about 1994? Georgia’s Newt Gingrich (born Newton McPherson in Pennsylvania to teenaged parents whose father immediately scrammed) was a gifted opportunist and compulsive gabber who asserted before the 1994 election that “Clinton Democrats” were “the enemy of normal Americans.” Gingrich made other heated claims that left no Yankee Republican in doubt that this was a man who dreamed to be either Jeff Davis or his butler. The Gingrich-led takeover of the House, matched by the cranky Bob Dole’s suzerainty in the lifeless Senate, can now be regarded not as a Republican comeback but as a transitional blip in which the baby boomers and Gen Xers established a new leadership of the Democratic Party.
As Speaker of the House, Gingrich wasted four years talking aimlessly about “normal Americans.” Then, after he failed against Bill Clinton with the silly ploy of using Monica Lewinsky and her Inspector Javert, Ken Starr, Gingrich fled to Fox TV to ramble harmlessly about “moral tone” and his enemies, “the very small counterculture elite.” Gingrich’s talking points have attracted imitators over the last decade, chiefly the Gingrich mini-me Karl Rove and Rove’s carny creation of George W. Bush.
There is much to explicate about Rove and Bush in the White House—their fearful temperament, their petty theories of governance, their inability to shoot straight so that, at firing at the lunatic bin Laden, they hit the cretin Saddam Hussein. But in terms of the death of the Republican Party, there is nothing original. The Rovian Bush midway was followed by the cartoon candidacy of John McCain, who spent months imitating both Popeye the Sailor and Sarah Palin’s Uncle Sam. That McCain didn’t claim to be more than an aviator, and that Palin didn’t claim to be more than a moose hunter, demonstrated that neither had need of, nor interest, in the Republican Party’s history or meaning.
What about the Republican Party right now? Isn’t it on radio and TV claiming to be the party of fiscal responsibility and American power? Bypassing the stupidity of these claims, I am on radio, on what is called right-wing radio, and it is easy for me to see that my loudest colleagues, who compulsively repeat the cant of Conservatism for Dummies, are not sincere students of the Republican Party but rather barkers, hookers, establishmentarian jesters, cultists, and, in the worst instance, just thatch-headed whiners. Fox News is a parade of wet-eared Republican office holders, yet there is usually just one each allowed of the categories the Democrats own in multitudes: a Jewish-American, an Asian-American, an African-American, a Hispanic-American. Then there is the beauty pageant of fast-talking, rude Fox blondes—if they are not all the same woman in mood swings—who stridently mock the Democrats, yet have almost nothing to say about the Republicans, as if the party was a disappointing ex or mother’s latest beau.
The party’s death 76 years ago was never more obvious than over the last six months of the financial crisis. The Democrats sensibly blamed the feckless, bootless Bush administration for the collapse of the markets. Tongue-tied Bush and dyspeptic Cheney defended themselves with grunts and sarcasm before they surrendered to Congress by sending out the plutocrat Hank Paulson with a plan called TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program). A breathing Republican Party would have brought out the flintlocks, boarded the windows, and settled down for a defense of the republic. Instead, the Republican leadership in the House and Senate rushed to grab the pork bribery and vote with the Democrats. John Boehner, Roy Blunt, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, and Judd Gregg distinguished themselves as dhimmis and were later rewarded by the victorious Democrats by being granted parakeet cages for offices in the new Congress. The House Republicans now boasts that they voted a goose egg against the stimulus package, but this was just the twitching of the corpse. The truth about the House Republicans—cowards, sycophants, and snobs just like 1930’s lot—is illustrated by the fact that 85 of them voted for the ludicrous AIG bonus-confiscation bill written on the back of a parking ticket.
The Republican Party’s death doesn’t really threaten anyone, and I puzzle why Democrats and independents who vote Democratic spend words and worry debating the look of the corpse. We few Republicans with long memories wander around the cemetery admiring the tombstones and enjoying the rain. I can hear you doubting that this could truly be the end. The final stage of grief is acceptance.
John Batchelor is radio host of the John Batchelor Show in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles.