Friday, January 2, 2009

The GOP plays to the base

The Republican Party has always relished looking backward.

That accounts for its earnest obsession with naming everything from streets to schools after Ronald Reagan.

As the GOP flails about after their Nov. 4 drubbing, there's a lot of puffery about rebuilding for the future, which folks agree basically means going on Facebook and Twitter more.

But the party is still stuck in the past. Case in point: Michigan GOP chair and national party honcho hopeful Saul Anuzis' gauzy Republican blueprint can be summed up with the bumper-sticker philosophy of, "What Would Reagan Do?"

What Republicans desperately want to do is crank back the clock to 1980. But while their party is static, politics and the populace are not. There are 75 million more of us now, with minorities accounting for much of that growth. Whereas Americans blamed the '70s economic malaise on the era of big government, today we're grousing that the feds weren't minding the store while our 401(k)s shriveled.

In the last few weeks, some Republicans have gone even further. They've sought to rocket the Wayback Machine to 1962 or even 1929, bizarrely longing for the glory days of Herbert Hoover and Jim Crow.

It started with the proposed $14 billion bridge loan for Chrysler and General Motors. Dick Cheney invoked the scourge of the GOP, declaring it would be "Herbert Hoover time" if Senate Republicans nixed it. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blew up the deal anyway, leaving the White House to reluctantly come through with the funds.

But the soon-to-be top Republican isn't done yet. McConnell has vowed to put the brakes on any fiscal stimulus package proposed by Barack Obama, even though a clear majority of Americans backs it, as opposed to the auto loan. This is precisely the tight-fisted philosophy championed by Hoover that plunged America even deeper into Great Depression.

Oh, and it also caused the 31st president to be laughed out of office and ushered in 20 straight years of Democratic rule.

There's a reason why few Republicans have attempted to rehabilitate the reputation of the stocky free-market stalwart decades later. Why McConnell & Co. would want to follow in the footsteps of such a dismal failure is mind-bending.

It's worth noting that conservative and liberal economists today are remarkably united behind the federal government pumping billions into the parched economy. Obama also has pledged to keep his promise to cut taxes for the middle class, which should make Republicans (and their constituents) happy, but alas, no. They still seem miffed that they've stopped winning elections on the issue.

If Republicans have a better plan to jump-start the economy, let's hear it. But opposing the stimulus just because a Democrat proposed it doesn't fly in these desperate times. And that kind of crass politicking usually doesn't pay off.

Just ask outgoing state House Minority Craig DeRoche, whose legacy after clawing against any compromise on Michigan's budget last year is losing nine seats.

Then there's Chip Saltsman, a jovial, jowly guy with a penchant for sending CDs featuring that hot new classic, "Barack the Magic Negro."

Just another member of the tin-foil hat brigade who shoots off those chain e-mails that Obama won't be inaugurated because there's *PROOF* he's not a U.S. citizen, right?

Yeah, only Saltsman's no nut job. The former head of the Tennessee GOP now wants to run the Republican National Committee. So he decided there was no better way to court RNC members than with the gift of a goofy racist ditty. Seriously.

Both Anuzis and current RNC Chair Mike Duncan did the logical and honorable thing by condemning Saltsman. But the dustup hasn't wounded the Chipster one bit.

As Maine GOP Chair Mark Ellis snorted, "When I found out what this was about I had to ask, 'Boy, what's the big deal here?' because there wasn't any."

I'm not one to normally get bent out of shape over the politically incorrect uproar du jour. People say and do stupid things; it's human nature. Apologize and move on. But Saltsman hasn't done that, of course, and it's really the aftermath that's significant in this case.

Republican strategists are now saying that it's Duncan and Anuzis who have hurt their own chance by speaking out. Saltsman evidently has received a warm reception from RNC members by ripping his opponents for playing to the national media, not the base.

Let's pause for a minute here. A flagrantly bigoted (and juvenilely unfunny) song doesn't offend the GOP base (how apropos), but denouncing it does.

What century are we living in, again?

This incident confirms the worst stereotypes of the Republican Party as a mean-spirited, racist relic tone-deaf to modern America. This is not the sort of publicity any group needs, especially one that has taken big thumpings two elections in a row.

The fact that many leaders don't see this as a problem guarantees that the GOP will be wandering in the wilderness for awhile.

If Republicans wanted to continue living in the past, they probably should have stuck to churning out those commemorative Reagan dimes.

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