The Republican Party is on the verge of a steep and protracted descent into irrelevance, and it’s going to take a mix of current party leaders and young upstarts dedicated enough to right the sinking ship.
The writing on the wall — often in the Davidson Library bathrooms — is becoming clearer by the day. The party is facing a serious identity crisis, which is reflected in polls indicating fewer Americans each year claim allegiance. Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh surely think back to the famed “Republican Revolution” of 1994 and kick themselves for handing back the baton so soon.
There exists one central cause for the reversal in fortune, and most would agree to heap the entire blame onto the head of George W. Bush. It takes a sadist not to see a little tragedy in the enormity of his failure. Pollsters have been showing for years that Bush’s ultimate legacy won’t be the beneficiary of public approval. One might point to Nixon for a comparable failure, but the relationship is only similar in the general feeling of contempt for their administrations. Nixon could rest assured by the “silent majority” that delivered him a stunning victory in the presidential election of 1972 after the anti-war movement had become too disheartened to continue its insurgency. His falling out with the common American was a result of his simple complicity in the Watergate break-in and cover-up. Bush has earned the same contempt not for a single action but for an incompetent ideology that has been ultimately rejected by the people. After 9/11, the Republican Party drew closer than usual to its leader and in doing so hitched its wagons to the whims of the Bush administration.
Young Americans simply aren’t choosing Republicans as their representative party. Today, with the television and radio news networks increasingly resembling entertainment, the Republicans have been “cast” as greedy, incompetent, and personally abhorrent. Democrats, until Obama, hadn’t given CNN or MSNBC much reason to cast them in a much brighter light. Al Gore — whose 2000 loss still causes palpable queasiness for most liberals, and unfortunately will perpetually define him despite his subsequent reemergence — came as close to “cool” as any of his peers this decade. With Obama, Democrats lucked out and produced the first nationally fashionable man in American politics since JFK, and the party is receiving the fickle good grace of the press.
Democrats smell blood and have begun to swiftly mobilize. They aim to employ a similar 50 strategy to Obama’s, pushing for newly strengthened candidates for federal office in every state regardless of its political tendency. Their goal, considered a legitimate possibility by commentators and anxious Republicans alike, is to come away from the 2008 election with 60 senators to call their own. This margin would ensure an era of Democratic rebuilding. One could envision Obama reverting to signing off on congressionally approved bills with a mere “O” to prevent an onset of carpal tunnel. Most of the action undertaken by Bush and the conservative congress of this decade would be dismantled. Whatever the Dems do after the election, it must at the very least appear to be indicative of change. The roster of national polling firms places congressional approval in the teens even lower than Bush’s — and indicates most Americans view the capital as a city of empty suits.
The last branch of the government wouldn’t be spared the upheaval. With a Democratic president and congressional majority, the two Supreme Court seats soon to be vacated by the ancient Justice Stevens and the grandmotherly Justice Ginsburg would be filled with antidotes to Bush’s two selections. This infusion of liberal ideology would assuage fears of a Roe v. Wade reversal or further incursions into civil rights.
In effect, if everything goes as planned for the Democrats, we can pause for a moment and observe the passing of the Bush Era: a time of jingoism and paranoia. The celebration will ring around the world, and the Republicans, if they can muster the solidarity and inspiration after suffering their decisive defeat, will have revert to something more than the traditional and admittedly conservative drawing board.