News & Views from 465 California Street

Requiem for Republicans

Clint Reilly

The front page headline of a recent New York Times article read, “Worries in GOP About McCain Camp Disarray.”

A more apt headline might have been reorganized to declare: “Worries in McCain Camp About GOP Disarray.”

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama inherits a resurgent party that is far stronger than pundits or party insiders ever could have predicted just four years ago. After marching back from their nadir of 2004, Democrats enter the presidential cycle with enormous advantages.

International adventurism has run its course. Americans now wonder how we can afford to police the world when recklessly flexing our military superiority provokes guerilla armies, incites terrorism and fans the flames of anti-Americanism. On the home front, dark clouds lingering over the economy have sapped confidence in the Republicans’ laissez-faire economic policies.

The GOP finds itself surrounded by hostile forces at every turn. Go figure. After the last presidential election, Democrats were disconsolate. Red state/blue state analysts predicted a permanent Republican majority. Karl Rove was hailed as “The Architect” by a triumphant George W. Bush, who was himself proclaimed heir to Ronald Reagan’s conservative majority.

But only two years later, Democrats seized control of both houses of Congress. Making matters worse for the Grand Old Party, Democrats have swept 2008 special elections for bellwether congressional seats long held by Republicans, auguring another train wreck in November and greater Democratic majorities.

Though polls are close between Obama and McCain in the presidential race, Republicans have only McCain’s maverick image to thank – not the Republican brand. Obama is clearly seeking to wrap George Bush around McCain’s neck and radically damage his image as an independent reformer. A recession and the Iraq War have nearly 80 percent of Americans decrying the direction of the nation.

Illustrating that political commentary is a follower’s game, the pundits who unanimously predicted the rise of a permanent Republican majority in 2005 are now writing the obituary of the Republican Party. This time, however, they may be right.

The indictments go beyond the Iraq War and a recession. They include the catastrophic mishandling of Hurricane Katrina; an ice-cold response to the signature issue of global warming; deeply inbred symbiotic alliances with corporate lobbyists; failure to engage on the green revolution; an apparent impotence to stop rising energy prices; obstructionism on national health care; hands-off policies on Wall Street’s mega-financial institutions; taxation strategies favoring the rich and corporate behemoths; a bankrupt education agenda; and budget-busting fiscal policies while advocating balanced budgets and no new taxes.

For those who recall the late San Francisco ad man Hal Riney’s commercial, “Morning in America,” produced for Ronald Reagan’s reelection campaign, New Republic writer Sean Wilentz titles his article, “Sunset in America: The end of the age of Reagan.” Wilentz writes, “The age of Reagan has, thanks to George W. Bush, finally lost its relevance, except as a nostalgic touchstone of bygone Republican glory.”

In a cover story in The Nation, Eyal Press asks, “Is the Party Over?” He observes that Republicans have done themselves in by shoddy leadership:

“Republicans were finally given the opportunity to free the citizenry from the chains of the Leviathan state, the result was crony capitalism, fiscal recklessness and bumbling incompetence on an unprecedented scale.”

A recent New Yorker cover trumpets an account of the fall of Republicanism: “Is the GOP brain dead? Conservative thinkers fear the ideas that helped Republicans dominate for a generation have run their course.”

I have my own simple explanation.

Republican government has taught Americans why they desperately need their federal government to be the national advocate and protector of the common good, and the guarantor – of last resort – of a level playing field for every citizen.

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