The Republican party is doing its best to distract people from high unemployment, high gas prices, and general uncertainty in the country. They are doing this through a series of bizarre controversies and statements involving women, reproductive rights, and anachronistic attitudes that are sure to turn off independents and moderates. I feel like I have entered an alternate reality programmed by Democratic operatives to have the GOP destroy its chances in the 2012 election.
It’s only March so they can bounce back, but Limbaugh’s bullying slur of a Georgetown student cannot help but make conservatives look mean, vicious and petulant. Moreover his refusal to apologize or admit being wrong adds to the notion that people like him have low self-esteem and believe that admitting error somehow makes them look weak. We’ve all known people like that, people who can’t admit they are wrong even when it’s obvious. Their bluster is usually a sign of low self-esteem and self-loathing. Given Limbaugh’s past addiction to pain killers (no doubt trying to escape from his internal conflicts), one can’t help but feel he’s a deeply troubled soul. But this incident was so bizarre — and he doubled down on the air even after massive criticism — that I have to wonder if he’s not back on pain killers or something else. It’s not rational.
If it were just Limbaugh, the GOP wouldn’t be in that much trouble. Scott Brown (R-Mass), in a tough election campaign, has condemned Limbaugh’s remarks and called on him to apologize. Other Republicans have distanced themselves from them as Limbaugh loses sponsors. He’s already past the prime of his career, this could be what pushes him over the edge.
Yet it isn’t just Limbaugh. GOP efforts to exempt Catholic institutions from including birth control coverage in their health care plans feeds into the narrative that Republicans are anti-woman. After all, many of the same policies cover viagra. Considering the Santorum quotes I discussed in my last blog entry the GOP appears to be waging a full blown culture war around the issue of birth control and sexuality. Add to that the numerous state initiatives around birth control, abortion and “personhood,” and Republicans are pleasing their base by driving away independents and moderates.
Some in the Republican party blame the Democrats, but given the scope and intensity of these efforts it’s a self-inflicted wound. This is the result of a tea party movement that has overtaken the GOP with such zeal at turning back the clock to ‘retake America’ that they forget that they represent about 30-35% of the population. The tea party activists, like many on the far left of the Democratic party, believe so fervently in their ideals that they ignore the fact that the US is a centrist country. It’s not even center-right, it’s moderate/centrist.
Any political strategy aimed to changing the country has to appeal to independents and moderates. By driving them away, the GOP risks losing the House, giving up a chance at the Presidency, and blowing a chance to win the Senate.
It’s not that the country believes in the Democratic vision. The 2010 election, while driven primarily by a bad economy, shows that there is concern that the Democrats spend too freely, don’t want to make needed entitlement reforms, and are too beholden to special interest groups. Any Democrat wanting to push the country leftward has to address these concerns, either allaying them or finding creative policies to convince the center that they understand the critiques.
Perhaps the most common cognitive bias in political discourse is the belief that more people agree with ones’ point of view than actually do. Inbred blogs (by that I mean blogs/websites where only like minded people post — and then gang up and personally attack those who dare whisper heresy against the dominant perspective) reinforce that. That leads them to think “everyone is agreeing, how can the rest of the world not see the obvious truth?! All we have to do is get the word out and not surrender on principle!”
President Obama suffered criticism from the hard core left early in his term, though even the ideologues who call Obama “Republican lite” seem to be coalescing around the President in response to the over the top policies and rhetoric coming from the right. All of this has helped the Democrats recruit good candidates for the 2012 Congressional elections, turning what some thought would be another major Republican victory into a potential Democratic comeback.
Even George Will now asserts that the Presidency is likely beyond Republican reach and the focus should be on not losing the House and if possible gaining the Senate. That certainly would limit the President’s capacity to bring about change. Yet at this point with the primaries raging and red meat rhetoric dominating, the Republicans risk digging themselves a hole too deep to escape from. If they moderate to regain the center they’ll dampen the motivation of their base. Perhaps they need a constructive defeat to purge the party of the shrill negativity and prepare the way for a more positive conservative message.
Democrats should be heartened but not confident. It is still early March; a lot can change. Romney could sweep super Tuesday and start recovering from the mud fight. Democrats have to recognize that even if the Republicans push independents away, Democrats still need to lure them back in order to close the deal, especially if they want to win the House back.
The Republicans have squandered an opportunity. After the 2010 election President Obama was willing to deal and compromise, but due to tea party pressure and a weird “commitment” to Grover Norquist, they decided to hold out and demand things be done their way or no way. Instead of using the election to force Democrats to accept Republican policies and tweaks of health care as a quid pro quo for Democratic priorities, they hunkered down. And now, with Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum leading the way with inane, bizarre and even offensive quotes, they may be on the verge of handing power back to the Democrats.
UPDATE: I was wrong – he did apologize. He did not do so unequivocally, and many think it still didn’t go far enough. I think the lose of sponsors at a scale unprecedented for Limbaugh despite numerous controversies convinced him he had to start damage control.