Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Cold Hard Facts of Bi-Partisanship

It's 2000 all over again with a lot of talk about bi-partisanship between the Bush administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress.

But, believe me, bi-partisanship is not going to happen and its not going to happen because the Republican Party can't afford to have it happen.

The cold hard fact is that the Republicans are a natural minority party and have been so since the Great Depression and the New Deal.

Of course, the Republicans used to be a minority party because the upper and middle classe whites they represented were smaller than the Democratic constellation of the working class whites, blacks, liberals, and the South. Things have changed dramatically since the seventies, but the Republicans still emerge with a minority. Now, its because their Southern and rural base is declining. Urban areas like Phoenix, Denver, and Las Vegas are mushrooming while reliably white Republicans are leaving places like rural Colorado, Nebraska, or North Dakota and are being replaced by Hispanics and telecommuting Californians. That's why the Democrats are becoming more competitive in Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada and why the "natural base" of the Republicans is beginning to shrink back to depressed farm areas and the old Confederacy. The Republicans still control most of the land, but a majority of the people are leaning toward the Democrats.

Consequently, the Republicans don't have many options. I guess one can imagine that the Republicans can give up their base and try to out-Democrat the Democrats like Schwarzenegger is doing in California. If Bush does try to do bi-partisanship this is exactly what activist conservatives will accuse him of doing. However, given the hostility of blacks, hispanics, and independents to the right-wing, this doesn't seem viable. And it's not like the administration has any bi-partisanship skills to start with.

No, if the Republicans hope to win elections outside their Southern and rural base, they have to keep diggging deeply into their traditional bags of tricks. Even then, the Republicans are in a tough spot. Perhaps most importantly, the Republicans need to come up with a new stream of wedge issues to turn independents and traditional Democratic constituencies against the Democratic leadership. There are some candidates out there--mostly warrantless wiretapping, anti-immigrant proposals, support for Bush judicial nominees, and attacks on gay marriage. Maybe Republicans could rally around McCain's idea of putting 100,000 more troops on the ground (They could call it "Really Winning") and challenge the Dems to either put up or shut up on Iraq. However, the Republican think tanks haven't developed much in the way of new wedge ideas since privatizing Social Security and invading Iraq. The Republicans have both the presidency and an extensive communication apparatus in Fox and talk radio for promoting divisive new ideas. They just don't have the ideas to work with.

The Republicans also need to engage in a relentless demonizing of Democratic Party and liberal personalities as a second method for turning independents and traditional Democratic constituencies against the Democrats. Here, they are on stronger ground. Fox News, right-wing talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, and religious and conservative activist groups are just as committed to demonizing the Democrats as ever. Limbaugh is especially skilled at micro-analyzing Democratic documents and events to reveal the inevitable hypocrisies, absurdities, and self-contradictions. Likewise, Bill O'Reilly will continue his one-man cultural war and Ann Coulter will show as much contempt toward liberals as humanly possible. But if the conservative media is going to have any success at this game, they need the Bush administration to continue to feed it the red meat of creative new wedge issues. If the Bushies go bi-partisan, the talk show zealots won't want to, or be able to, help them.

The third dimension of any Republican come-back would have to be relentless negative advertising against the Democrats on every important issue before Congress. Every debate would have to be a hundred million dollar debate like the health care debate in 1994. One Republican tactic has been to be so aggressive that a battle-weary public is willing to go along with them just to bring the issue to a close. Perhaps the Republicans would have to go to the mat on every issue in order to make a comeback. But the Republicans could only enhance the present permanent campaign if they had even more obscene amounts of money than they have now. Really obscene money hard to raise when the Republicans don't have the leverage to extort it from business.

The Republicans have little choice. Their only chances for success are either continued hyper-aggression or waiting for the Democrats to blow it. However, I've never felt that waiting was part of the right-wing game.

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