The "Reagan Rule" and the GOP crackup

I've been taking a break from politics for the past few days. I've had other things to do, and I just found that I didn't have the energy for our perpetual political death match, where one side is trying to protect an inclusive and expansive America, and the other side wants to impose a form of serfdom on the majority of the populace.

Then I return to see President Obama urging Congress to pass the Buffett Rule, wherein he makes a statement that will no doubt sting the GOP:
Some years ago one of my predecessors traveled across the country pushing for the same concept. He gave a speech where he talked about a letter he had received from a wealthy executive who payed lower tax rates than his secretary and wanted to come to Washington and tell Congress why that was wrong. So this President gave another speech where he said it was crazy—that's a quote—that certain tax loopholes make it possible for multimillionaires to pay nothing while a bus driver was paying ten percent of his salary.  That wild-eyed, socialist, tax-hiking class warrior was Ronald Reagan.
The proof is in the video. So, here:


So, yes, Ronald Reagan, the man who started us down the road which has led to a pathological liar like Mitt Romney winning the Republican nomination for President, espoused enacting something similar to Pres. Obama's Buffett Rule.

At the end of Obama's speech, he makes another remark which should also leave a mark on the GOP:
He thought that in America, the wealthiest should pay their fair share, and he said so. I know that position might disqualify him from the Republican primaries these days.

The Reagan who ran in 1976 and 1980 could probably still squeak out a primary victory. The Reagan who governed from 1981 to 1989, however, would have been primaried after his first term if the GOP of that time was like the GOP of today. From his compromises with Democrats over taxes and spending, to his peace-making with the Soviets, his record of governance puts him on the scale of a moderate Republican, or a "RINO" in today's pejorative parlance. The Tea Party and the extreme right of the GOP worship an icon, while having no knowledge of the real politician behind the image. I am not saying this to praise Reagan; his Presidency was the camel's nose in the tent that has led to our current pass with the Republican Party. Like President Obama, I just want to point out that a sacred figure in the GOP acted with pragmatism when the situation warranted it, a trait which is anathema in this election cycle.

That today's GOP could not abide by Reagan's record is damning enough. That it could not abide by this quote from Abraham Lincoln should put paid to any idea that it is a mainstream party:
The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but can not do at all, or can not so well do, for themselves – in their separate, and individual capacities.
That quote is not a call for an expansive, social-democratic government. It's a quote that most Americans can agree on: government should do what we as individuals cannot on our own. We can argue the extent of government intervention: that's called politics. But there should be no argument that government has a role in the life of a democratic republic, to provide services and rules which are essential to the functioning of a civilized society.

But today's GOP has descended to a level of social Darwinism not seen since the Gilded Age, when it was fashionable to parrot theories then current about superior people prospering and those who couldn't quite cut it allowed to fall by the wayside so as to strengthen the race. It's not a political ideology but a political pathology, and the voters are waking up and taking notice.

Take, for example, this Democracy Corps report from February. It's basic premise is that the Republican brand is taking a battering. The big issue at the time was tax fairness, which is what President Obama spoke of today. Add to that the explosion of culture war issues brought about by the Republican primary, and the disparities between Democrats and Republicans keep widening.


The GOP is in free fall, and it knows it. Jonathan Chait hit it square on the head with this piece:

The Republican Party is in the grips of many fever dreams. But this is not one of them. To be sure, the apocalyptic ideological analysis—that “freedom” is incompatible with Clinton-era tax rates and Massachusetts-style health care—is pure crazy. But the panicked strategic analysis, and the sense of urgency it gives rise to, is actually quite sound. The modern GOP—the party of Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes—is staring down its own demographic extinction. Right-wing warnings of impending tyranny express, in hyperbolic form, well-grounded dread: that conservative America will soon come to be dominated, in a semi-permanent fashion, by an ascendant Democratic coalition hostile to its outlook and interests. And this impending doom has colored the party’s frantic, fearful response to the Obama presidency.

The GOP has reason to be scared. Obama’s election was the vindication of a prediction made several years before by journalist John Judis and political scientist Ruy Teixeira in their 2002 book, The Emerging Democratic Majority.Despite the fact that George W. Bush then occupied the White House, Judis and Teixeira argued that demographic and political trends were converging in such a way as to form a ­natural-majority coalition for Democrats.
The GOP saw the crackup of the anti-war, pro-civil rights Democratic Party of the 1960s as its chance to seize center stage. And for forty years it has. But the country's changing demographics, brought about in part by the liberalizing of immigration rules in the 1960s, and the more open social and cultural attitudes exhibited by a growing majority of voters, are dooming GOP electoral prospects for the foreseeable future. The Right knows that 2012 is its last chance to seize power electorally. And it knows that's it's a longshot at that, even with all the money loosened up by Citizens United.

Aside from the icon of Ronald Reagan, the other right wing icon is that of 1950s America. Again, like Reagan, it's more image than truth: the 1950s saw the birth of both the the civil rights movement and the counter-culture in the Beatniks, had a moderate GOP president governing who, again, wouldn't make it through a primary in today's Republican Party, and had open political warfare between the champions of the New Deal and those who wanted to undo it. It wasn't Ozzie and Harriet, but that's the image to which the right wing wants to return. It's that reliance on image rather than reality which, while working in the short run for short term political gain, is now upending the GOP. The world is real. Real people live in it, with real problems. The Republicans don't address those problems, instead churning out more propaganda, hoping the voters will buy it wholesale. But, as with a sugar rush, it eventually wears off, and people realize they need more substance. After the debacle of 2010, and after the sugar rush has worn off and the voters realize that all that the GOP offered was platitudes with no real plan for dealing with real problems, voters now see that Obama and the Democrats are the only ones offering anything of substance. From health care to jobs, it's Democratic policies which are dealing with the problems plaguing the country. Republicans are good for naming post offices and pushing the culture war; Democrats bring jobs back home from overseas and make sure that you won't die on the street for lack of medical coverage.

The long Republican fever dream is coming to an end. What replaces it is in our hands.