We have three men vying for the GOP nomination to the Presidency of the United States. (I would include Ron Paul, but no one else does, so I'm just falling in with the cool kids.)
One, Willard Mitt Romney, is, not to put too fine a point on it, a man of no convictions. He is a cypher, willing to do or say anything to attain the shiny object of his dreams, the Presidency. A scion of wealth, he believes that his class prerogatives demand that he be given the Presidency as a birth-right.
At one point Willard Mitt Romney was what one used to call a "moderate Republican". I mean, he passed Romneycare while governor of Massachusetts, which, as we all know, was the model for Obamacare. ("For Pete's sake", as Mr. Romney might say.) When he ran against Ted Kennedy for Senate in 1994, he bragged that he would be to the left of the esteemed Senator as far as women's rights were concerned.
But, as the right-wing base of the GOP has slid further into pathology, Romney has pandered to their most fervid beliefs. He has adopted their Obama Derangement Syndrome, missing no opportunity to bash the President as someone alien, Other, a usurper who wants to change the very fabric of the nation. No outlandish belief is too radical for Romney to adopt in his quest for his own will to power. He's participating in a feedback loop, where the base demands ideological purity, so he pushes further to the right, which the base deems insufficient, demanding even more rigid ideology, which he adopts, and so on.
The other two participants in the GOP civil war—Richard John Santorum and Newton Leroy Gingrich—don't have to pretend to be doctrinaire right wingers a la Romney. They both represent, in a way that Romney fails at miserably, the GOP's raging id. When they attack President Obama as a foreign socialist interloper, they do it with the conviction of belief. Their policy positions, like Romney's, would bankrupt the broad middle of the country, while benefiting their political donors. But the base doesn't care. They want a white knight—and yes, he has to be white, regardless of Herman Cain's brief flirtation with relevancy—to enter the lists against Obama, put him in his place—which is out of the White House and into obscurity. They speak to that mythical America of the 1950s, when men went to work, women raised the children, and everyone who wasn't white, straight, and male knew his/her place, which was to be invisible. Either of these three men attaining the highest office in the Republic should frighten anyone with any modicum of reason.
So, yes, one could argue that a believer in democracy should be disheartened that such unserious, demagogic charlatans are vying for the most powerful elected office in the world.
I beg to differ, though. I think what we’re seeing is the quickening of a process begun in 2008 by the Obama victory. It is a corrective to the conservative dominance of the past 30 years. Just as liberals became bloated and unresponsive to change by the long, post-FDR liberal ascendancy, and were trounced by the Reagan Revolution, the conservative era is at an end. Obama had the prescience to see this, and everything he’s done in his 3 years in office has been to show the American people the utter bankruptcy and degeneracy of the conservative movement. It has no ideas to make the lives of ordinary people better aside from platitudes and a belief that coddling the rich will bring benefits to everyone.
(And don’t for a minute think they actually believe this. They don’t care if benefits flow down to those on the ladder beneath the rich. It’s just what they tell their benighted followers to keep the votes coming.) The conservative movement is a cesspool of corruption and pathology, becoming more extreme as it increasingly realizes that the world continues to change in spite of its best efforts.
And what do I mean by an “end”? I don’t mean another cycle of liberal dominance for two or three or four elections. No. I mean an end, full stop, as in this particular iteration of conservatism has run its course, and will wither away and die. Eventually a conservative movement will arise again; it always does, as it should. But the next conservative movement that arises will not be one that gets built up to undo the achievements of liberal governance; it will be a movement that will perforce accept the broad outlines of liberal programs; it will just claim that it can run them more efficiently, at less cost.
What Obama is doing is fulfilling the revolution that FDR began, which was only partially successful. He will win a second term, and if polls are to be believed—discounting the notoriously right-leaning Rasmussen—the Democrats are on their way to regaining control of the House. This sham of a GOP primary season is setting the pieces in place for a calamity on the order of 1936; the difference is that when conservatives finally do recover, they will be unrecognizable to the near-fascists who now dominate the movement. They will accept universal health care, strict regulation of financial markets and instruments, and the notion that while government cannot and should not guarantee equal outcomes, it should and will guarantee equal access to the tools to succeed, because the voters will expect nothing less from a party that wishes to govern.
Does the GOP realize it’s sowing its own destruction? I doubt it; it’s too blinded by its own prejudices to see that the sheer cliff is only a few feet away. But I can live with that. And, more to the point, the Republic will continue to live because of it.