Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Death of the Ditto-Head

We’ve heard a lot about "change" recently in the US elections. I suppose this is natural, given we have an American president right now that as his term expires, is one of the most unpopular presidents of my lifetime. His opinion polls are tracking lower than Nixon’s when he was forced to resign. Even Jimmy Carter at the height of the Iranian hostage crisis was liked more.

So, like all politicians do, when there is an unpopular person or idea in the arena, they run away from them like wild gazelles. They try to distance themselves from the disliked entity. Sometimes they even claim they “knew all along”, that the entity was a bad seed. So Hillary Clinton who was beating war drums, and waving the American flag like all good little political children were after 9/11, now tries to cast herself as an anti-war candidate, and Barack Obama proudly states he never voted for the war – (and conveniently he didn’t, because he wasn’t even in the Senate at the time the war was being ratified). To be fair Barack probably would have voted “present” had he been there, it’s a habit Barack seems to enjoy when the political waters are a little muddy.

There is one other change however that this “average Joe” has spotted recently, that some pundits, spin-masters and opinion factories don’t seem to be talking about.

I’ve noticed is the Republican Party itself is changing, and changing in a way that is frustrating those who thought they were in control of it.

For a long time now, the Republican Party has been dominated (some like Kevin Phillips would say “usurped”), by a highly religious, deeply social conservative wing of the party. The phenomenon is well documented in Phillips’ book: American Theocracy. Tied to this wing of the party, is a wide band of rubber-stamp mass media, that pounds the social conservative agenda every single day. Now despite my some of libertarian values, and my atheism, I’ve always respected this wing of American politics. You can’t advocate freedom of religion, without tolerating and respecting, the right of like-minded religious citizens to coalesce, organize and fight to win elections, to advance their cause.

While I respect social conservatives, I don’t agree with them. I’d be a hypocrite if I did. None the less, it is pretty clear that the social conservative wing of the Republicans truly galvanized in 2000, when Karl Rove saw the zealous nature of the wing. He saw their ability to organize and get out a large number of voters, and he realized they were the key to defeating Al Gore.

Fueling this “revolution” of 2000 and 2004 were the social conservatives and their impressive array of media preachers. Rush Limbaugh was at the height of his game, Fox News Network came online and ascended to TV ratings that CNN could only dream of. Sean Hannity was an icon, Ann Coulter was quoted weekly in mainstream press, and everyone was wearing an American flag on their lapel. The old “tragedies” of the Bush 41 were being corrected now, by Bush 43, and the more partisan you were as a Republican senator, the better you were received by the party as a whole.

Now suddenly, in 2008 it seems that revolution in the Republican Party is starting to diminish, and the proof is in John McCain’s success.

John McCain was never “in” on the exclusive social conservative wing of the conservative party. He dared to run against, George W. Bush in 2000 (the hand-picked choice of Karl Rove and the social conservative wing). McCain dared to cry “foul” when he was assaulted by slime tactics that questioned his war heroism, and demonized his public record. Worse, McCain seemed to preach compromise on such sensitive issues as immigration and abortion, he dared to suggest the social agenda was not as important as the fiscal agenda, and suggested the geopolitical goals of the country, are not always achieved by brute force.

The right wing, social conservative pundits slaughtered McCain, they sliced him up, they fed him to their wolf packs, and they tittered with glee when he was defeated. “This is what you get for being a moderate Republican,” they chided. “Only real conservatives will thrive in our party,” they decreed.

2008 has come along, and to the utter outrage of the Republican Party “base”, John McCain is not only alive and well, he’s a few weeks from seizing the Republican nomination for President of the United States.

The social conservative wing of the Republican Party has done everything it can to stop John McCain from winning. Rush Limbaugh in fact, has turned his website and his radio show in a 3-hour long daily rant about the “evils” of John McCain. There’s no gray area in Rush’s editorial rants either. He suggests without apology, that McCain is a liberal that will destroy the Republican Party in 2008. His rants are supported across numerous blogs, commentators and editorials on that side of the spectrum, even Ann Coulter declared last week, that she’d rather vote for Hillary Clinton than vote for John McCain. Folks, to social conservatives, this is akin to saying you’d rather contract syphilis than kiss the groom.

During the Super Tuesday primaries, the social conservative power core, were urging voters to mobilize and defeat McCain. Ari Fleishcer lowered himself to appear on the CNN broadcast of the primaries, and with each result shrugged and said “McCain is not the clear choice of my party”. Karl Rove went to the flagship Fox News, and also insisted the race was not over, despite McCain’s success.

What happened on Super Tuesday essentially was that the social conservatives made a huge power push, and nothing happened. In fact, if anything, the voters went in the opposite way. Each Rush Limbaugh editorial somehow seemed to bring John McCain another vote. The party rejected the very power core that had brought it success in 2000 and 2004.

It’s an amazing change, and the elite members of social conservative wing of the Republican Party are livid. They don’t control the party’s destiny anymore, they learned that Republicans are not all “ditto heads”, that Goldwater Republicanism is not a dinosaur, and that a moderate conservative, is still a legitimate conservative that can win the Republican nomination.

That’s an amazing change in the landscape of American politics, essentially, what has happened in 2008 is Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity have become irrelevant. Their preferred choice in 2008 is getting slaughtered. People still listen to these guys, but they don’t comply with their commands. They have no real influence. Their rhetoric pushes the party in the opposite direction that they want.

As an independent, with no allegiance to any political party, I find the diminishment of the social neo-con’s influence over the Republican Party to be fascinating. Despite all their yelling, clamoring and demands that McCain is a heretic, McCain responds by proceeding to thrash his opposition. I am unsure if I’ll ever vote for John McCain, but I do recognize his ascendancy as a sign of a fundamental power-shift in the Republican Party.

Here we have a politician, outside of the Karl Rove mold, and he is winning, and there’s nothing Rush Limbaugh can do about it. That outrages Rush, but it fascinates me, because it signals a change. Essentially what is happening in 2008 is the more Rush Limbaugh yells, the more the party moves away from him and his ditto-heads. Indeed the era of the “ditto-head” seems to be coming to a close, and that is real change.

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