Friday, August 27, 2004

A Tale Of Two Parties

Would the real Republican Party please stand up. I'm a bit lost trying to follow the shells as Karl Rove, with the deft touch of a street hustler, whirls them around the table in a dizzying interchange that conceals the location of the ball from even the vigilant eye. Is this the Party that supports a Constitutional Amendment that would forever deny homosexuals the right to marry, or does Cheney speak for the Party when he says "freedom means freedom for everyone" and that gay marriage should be left to the states? Is this the Party of straightshooters like McCain, or nefarious prevaricators like the Swift Boat Veterans? Is the heart of the Republican Party with the Tom Delay conservative, Christian Right wing that have so dominated the legislative process, or the social moderates ostentatiously on parade in the prime time speeches at the Republican convention? Lastly, is this the Party of George H. W. Bush, or George W. Bush?

The overwhelming evidence suggests taht this is not his father's Republican Party. Take, for example, the disdain on the lips of this Bush administration's foreign policy gurus when they describe the Scowcroftian approach (Brent Scowcroft was Bush the elder's National Security Advisor). You would think Scowcroft was a thoroughly discredited liberal isolationist by the way his name is uttered with such obvious contempt. And the fault lines run deep. Gone is the overarching principle of fiscal discipline, replaced by the era of big spending, massive tax cuts and historic deficits. Cheney even went as far as to issue the conservative blasphemy that "deficits don't matter." The sacrosanct doctrine of empowering states' rights has been sacrificed for clumsy underfunded Federal education mandates, Federal intervention in state passed euthanasia laws and assaults on state recognition of gay marriage. No longer do heroic Republican candidates attack the draft dodging history of their opponents, now the draft evaders attack their heroic opponents.

The metamorphosis has been so rapid in its evolution, that the current incarnation of the Republican Party isn't even Bush's Party from 2000. The recently circulated draft of the Party platform shows many divergences from the platform of 2000. The most glaring discrepancies are in the definition of foreign policy strategy.

Criticizing the Clinton administration as running down the nation's defenses, in part though "promiscuous commitments" abroad, the 2000 platform had said that "the administration constantly enlarges the reach of its rhetoric," making the United States a "global social worker."

It added: "We propose our principles; we must not impose our culture," and, "The military is not a civilian police force or a political referee."
This message was echoed by Bush during the 2000 campaign, exemplified by this response to Vice President Gore:

"I'm not sure where the vice president's coming from, but I think one way for us to end up being viewed as the ugly American is for us to go around the world saying, we do it this way, so should you. I think the United States must be humble and must be proud and confident of our values, but humble in how we treat nations that are figuring out how to chart their own course."
The current platform obviously had to change in the diametrically opposite direction in order to comport with the audacious, arrogant and, in many ways, reckless foreign policy of pre-emptive strikes, intensive nation building and regional reconfiguration that Bush actually espoused upon reaching office.

And so the draft of the platform praises the current foreign policy stating, "The president's leadership has achieved successes once deemed impossible to realize in so short a period of time."

But it seems that the description of these successes is in many ways detached from the realities on the ground:

Despite the continuing turmoil in Najaf and other parts of Iraq, the draft describes the situation in that country as one of Mr. Bush's notable achievements, saying Iraq "is now becoming an example of reform to the region." [emphasis added]
I think it's safe to say that, even for reform minded Middle Easterners, Iraq is probably the last model for reform that they would choose. What exactly would be attractive about Iraq to the rest of the region? Is it the lack of stability? The continuing violence? The foreign influence? The prospect for civil war or the likelihood of the emergence of another strongman or totalitarian theocracy? Not exactly a model that inspires imitation.

The rest of the platform reflects the ascendancy of the far right wing of the party, and the marginalization of the social moderates which I discussed
in this post.

In addition to newly appearing language opposing stem cell research, in stronger terms than Bush's own stance, consider this increased focus on abortion compared to the already strongly worded 2000 platform:

On abortion, the platform retained from previous conventions a call for a constitutional amendment banning abortion, expanding its discussion of the issue to a five-paragraph section on the "culture of life" from just two paragraphs in the 2000 platform in a section titled "Upholding the Rights of All."
Then there is this new section addressing the gay marriage issue:

On same-sex marriage, the draft says the party "strongly supports President Bush's call for a constitutional amendment that fully protects marriage," calling heterosexual marriage "the most fundamental institution of civilization."
These types of uncompromising stands on social issues have frustrated and alienated many moderates within the Party like Christie Whitman, the moderate former New Jersey governor and former head of the EPA under Bush who is writing a book entitled It's My Party Too, a reference to the increasing marginalization of centrist voices in the GOP.

Christopher Barron, political director of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay group, said that given the slim chances of eliminating the endorsement of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage from the platform, his group pushed for a "unity plank" to acknowledge that some party members might disagree about the subject.
It is unlikely that Barron will succeed in including the unity plank as "abortion-rights advocates have tried without success for similar provisions in years past." How can the GOP continue to project the image of the "big tent" through carefully crafted photo ops, such as the convention, while at the same time embracing a platform that is so extreme and exclusionary? At what point do members such as Christopher Barron and the Log Cabin Republicans lose their patience with a Party that views them as less entitled to basic rights? In many ways, this election will be a referendum on the battle between the Republicanism of Bush Sr. vs. that of Bush Jr., of the platform of 2000 and the platform of 2004.

If Bush defeats Kerry, the conservative leadership, validated and emboldened by their victory, will steer the Party even farther to the right, or perhaps more accurately, even further in the direction of their own vision which is not always more to the right necessarily. The question is, will the moderate voices advertising their Party's centrist credibility have a seat at the table if their efforts are met with a successful outcome in November? Is this their Party too?

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