Why Republicans can’t reinvent themselves
November 24, 2008
As I watch the civil war going on in Republicanland, and the different prescriptions their members offer for their ailments, it occurs to me that it’s not going to be as simple as ‘rebranding’, or returning to ‘big ideas’ or even putting together a broader coalition.
First let’s make something clear: The Republican party is not really about ideas or positions. They stand for fiscal responsibility, but run the biggest deficits. They claim to protect ‘moral values’ but their candidates and elected officials often lack them.
No, its sole purpose is to protect ‘special interests’, which is just a euphemism for saying large corporations (especially energy and military-industrial) and ‘old money’ (wealthy families that didn’t earn their wealth in their lifetime). The people that benefit directly from this protection make up a ridiculously small part of the citizenry. I’d say about 1%.
How does the party get another 49% of the population to vote for them? Spreading FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt), exploiting wedge issues and racism in the South, character assassination elections, creating an entire apparatus (AEI, Fox) to spread misinformation (and discredit academics and scientists), etc.
Let me clarify here that I do believe Conservatives have very strong and (sometimes) valid positions. But Conservatism is not the Republican party. Most conservatives certainly think they have a home in the GOP, which occasionally throws them a bone. Ditto for Christianists.
So what’s different this time? Why would their usual tactics work anymore? They obviously have for over a century. Several things, all combined in a perfect storm of transparency and engagement:
– Our worldview now comes increasingly from bloggers and friends (via SoNets). Ideas and facts more and more come from our peers rather than command-and-control organizations with questionable motives and hidden agendas. Peer-to-peer is replacing top-to-bottom.
– Just like he overhauled the campaign process using the Internet and heavy organizing, Obama will do the same for the office of the President. Unlike in the past, he will speak directly to the citizenry, bypassing the membrane of talking heads and demagogues. And he will also listen directly to us using the Internet (much like crowdsourcing sites use the community to write an encyclopedia, review restaurants, or write better computer guides).
– Comedy has made politics interesting again. A quarter of young people get at least some of their news from Comedy Central. 84% of college students know about Stewart or Colbert. Hugely is starting at CNN and (whether he is successful or not) the trend is clear. The result is that entire generations are getting engaged again.
– Republicans overplayed their hand in the election. They painted Obama in such extremes, and now just weeks later it is obvious how much that picture was a figment of the Republican machine. This happens in every election of course, but it was so outrageous this time I believe some who voted McCain will come to feel very uneasy about it, and be very cynical about such tactics next time.
– Media reform. Not the comeback of the Fairness Doctrine I hope. Ideally drastic limits on corporate ownership (this will happen anyways as traditional media is dying). More funding for public media is likely.
So if Huckabee and Jindal want to have a shot in ’12, they must recognize their party needs a heart transplant, and that the special interests at the core of the party must go. But if they do break away, is it really the GOP anymore?
UPDATE 12/03/08: I should add that just because the Republican propaganda machine can’t currently compete with the democratizing power of the Internet, that doesn’t mean it can’t find a way sometime in the future. Kos reminds us how they tried, and nearly succeeded. We must remain watchful, protect our right to speech and assembly online as vigorously as we do offline, and foster independent thought.