My friend, the enchanting and brilliant biographer Sally Bedell Smith, dropped by yesterday morning to sound an alarmist note about the Bolivian lithium situation. In a nutshell: Bolivia is apparently running low on lithium. Our laptops, our electric cars, the human race itself—all are doomed.
I told Sally that, dire as this sounded, I have no time this weekend to worry about Bolivian lithium. My “To Do” list reads: 1) Mourn demise of Republican Party; 2) soak dog’s paw in Epsom salt; and 3) buy more Purell against swine flu or H1N1 or whatever it’s called.
Were I in charge of the Republican Party, I would send out a coded text message saying: REMAIN CALM. SHUT UP. THIS IS GOING TO BLOW UP IN THEIR FACES.
This past week has been, for the Republican Party, what July 1789 was to the French monarchy.
First President Obama celebrated his first 100 days with a knockout press conference, amid polls showing that he is the most popular American since Neil Armstrong, even though a majority thinks his economics policies are going to land us in what George Bush the First called “deep doo-doo.”
“Negative capability,” the term coined by Keats, was interpreted by F. Scott Fitzgerald: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” In this sense, America is taking negative capability to a whole new level. We adore Obama but deep down aren’t sure about his policies.
The week’s second big thing was Arlen Spectre (or is it spelled Specter?) announcing that he is leaving the Republican Party, because if he stayed, he wouldn’t win re-election.
Say what you will, but you can’t fault the man’s principles. Not since Newt Gingrich shut down the U.S. government because of bad seating on Air Force One has a Republican taken a nobler stand.
And now, in one of those turns that would make any satirist want to hang up his pen, my old pal Al Franken will become the 60th and decisive vote in the new Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate. Unless, that is, the Minnesota Republican Party gets its act together and starts bribing those judges. But failing that, the Democrats will have their filibuster-proof way.
Tomorrow’s obituary page in the Times might read:
REPUBLICAN PARTY IS DEAD AT 154;
‘GOP’ PRODUCED LINCOLN, T.R., REAGAN
BUT SCREWED UP IN RECENT YEARS
I come not to gloat, but to mourn. I grew up in the GOP sandbox. My dad took me, age 7, to meet Herbert Hoover, in his apartment at the Waldorf Towers. He gave me a silver dollar. Being a young Republican, I spent it on comic books.
Say what you will, but the GOP then stood for certain things, among them strong defense and balanced budgets. (What a quaint notion, that latter.) It even had a certain sort of fuddy-duddy glamour. How many Republicans does it take to change a light bulb? Three. One to mix the martinis, one to change the light bulb, and one to reminisce about how good the old one was.
An elderly friend, a native Tennessean, told me that he’d once asked his father, then in his 80s, “Dad, what gives you pleasure these days?” His father replied, “Voting Republican and being left alone by your mother.”
I grew up in Connecticut, in a town until recently represented in Congress by Christopher Shays, a thoroughly decent man. A liberal Republican, he lost last November and into the bargain suffered embezzlement by his campaign manager, leaving him financially devastated.
New England—New England!—now has not one single Republican congressman. Maine has two very good, but very liberal, Republican lady senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. The only pejorative aspect I intend by “very liberal” is their spending. They spend other peoples’ money like two New York ladies working their way down Fifth Avenue, hurling shopping bags into the back of following limousines.
So what’s to become of my beloved old GOP? Whither the Party of Lincoln?
Many bright right minds have weighed in on this, from David Frum to Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, offering detailed prescriptions. I’m no strategist or political thinker, and I voted Democrat in the last presidential election—but since everyone else is weighing in, what the hell.
One of the oldest rules in politics is: If your opponent is committing suicide, don’t interfere. So were I in charge of the Republican Party, I would send out a coded text message saying: REMAIN CALM. SHUT UP. THIS IS GOING TO BLOW UP IN THEIR FACES.
Much as I admire President Obama, I believe with something approaching certainty that his spending will bring this country to its knees. “Sustainability” is all the rage as a buzzword, but a $3.6 trillion budget is not “sustainable.” Doubling the national debt is not “sustainable.” Inaction in the face of $77 trillion in unfunded liabilities (Social Security, Medicare, entitlements) is not “sustainable.” This is math, not ideology.
The Republican Party once could lay claim to the mantle of being the fiscally responsible, or “Daddy Party.” That reputation was squandered some time ago, but it could be regained if the party would content itself with that all-important goal, and not instead fight doomed skirmishes over gay marriage, stem-cell research, abortion and creationism, Ten Commandments in the courtroom, and other such issues that the country has by and large already decided upon. The GOP once liked to call itself the party of “the Big Tent.” But America itself is the bigger tent.
Andrew Ward, writing in the Financial Times, quotes a Democratic Party strategist: “Right now, the Republican Party is the party of Southern white males, and that is a shrinking group. You are never going to win elections if you cannot compete north of the Mason-Dixon line or west of the Rockies.”
That’s the enemy speaking. He’s giving us advice. Let’s listen.
Now, more important, this Bolivian lithium situation. So here’s the deal…
Christopher Buckley’s books include Supreme Courtship, The White House Mess, Thank You for Smoking, Little Green Men, and Florence of Arabia. He was chief speechwriter for Vice President George H.W. Bush, and is editor-at-large of ForbesLife magazine. His new book is Losing Mum and Pup, a memoir.