To most people – like Bill Clinton losing his party’s control of Congress in 1994 – one election is usually enough of a wake-up message. But Republicans are hard-headed – if madness is repeating the same mistake over and over with the same result we qualify. We shrugged off 2006, so history repeated itself in 2008.
But, now, Obama has given us the message loud and clear and we have embarked on a journey of political soul-searching – of sorts. Because no one is anxious to confess committing any real sins. So, instead, we’re having two debates about issues that have almost nothing to do with why we lost.
In Ring #1, the two wings of the Republican Party are squaring off, arguing, and pointing fingers, each blaming the other for our defeat.
The Conservatives, pounding their chests, are declaring to win in 2010 we have to get back to the conservative principles (we abandoned) and if that means a few purges, fine. The Moderates (who are even more self-righteous) are saying we ought to jettison divisive social issues like gay marriage and abortion and enter the Modern Age.
Now, make no mistake: Neither of these arguments is about winning the next election. This is a fight where both sides are using our defeat in 2008 to advance their political agenda inside the party. McCain didn’t lose (and Bush’s popularity didn’t collapse) because the American people said to themselves, Why, they’re not conservative at all. And neither Obama nor McCain hardly mentioned gay marriage or abortion during the election.
In Ring #2 are the political technocrats in the party, the faceless managers and pulse-takers who are absorbed in the technical minutia of political campaigns. They argue our defeat was the result of a legion of tactical blunders: Obama raised more money. Obama was an Internet whiz. Obama this, Obama that, and Obama the other. In other words, when it came to running campaigns, Obama outclevered us, so the solution is simple: Next time we dazzle him with a wealth of newfound political knowledge – and win.
But the phrase that keeps running through my mind is ‘two wars and an economic meltdown’ – as in seven years after 9/11 we’re still fighting two wars and how did we miss avoiding an economic train wreck that has left everyone from Wachovia to General Motors gasping for air? I’d like to meet the political genius who’s clever enough to explain that away and win the subsequent election.
Here’s the debate Republicans need to have: How was it possible for the Republican Party to embrace policies that led to two unending wars and an economic meltdown? Once we have figured that out then maybe we can risk worrying about politics.
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