I felt an intolerable weight oppressing my breast, the smell of the damp earth, the unseen presence of victorious corruption, the darkness of an impenetrable night.~ "Heart of Darkness," JOSEPH CONRADIt has been over two years since Republicans last "governed," and that term should be used advisedly since the leadership styles of George Bush and Dick Cheney would hardly be recognizable to most of their executive branch forebears: A toxic combination of demagoguery, hubris and obfuscation that stole a march on FDR's most famous words: "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."
Fear, in fact, has been the Republican Party's greatest weapon: Fear of people with funny names and skin colors. Fear of people who do not worship the Christian God. Fear of people who are not red-blooded Americans. Fear of people who don't spout patriotic slogans or wear American flag lapel pins. But now the screw has turned and fear has become the Republican Party's enemy as it attempts to build on its House majority in the run-up to the 2012 elections.
Fear is palpable practically everywhere you go these days, whether it be a hospital waiting room, PTA meeting, union hiring hall or shopping mall. Americans are fearful of losing their jobs if they still have them or finding work if they don't. They are fearful of being able to make mortgage and car payments. They are fearful of being able to send their children to college. They are fearful of being able to pay for medical care for their aging parents, let alone themselves and their kids.
And fear is one factor in polls showing that pre-2010 election support for Republicans among all-important independent voters has evaporated. One poll reveals that independents would vote Democratic for the House by a 42-33 percent margin, a 28 point reversal in a mere five months. The reason? Many independents, a goodly number of whom said Democrats were taking the country in the wrong direction, now believe that the Republicans are doing so.
Those fears are encapsulated neatly, if unintentionally, in the Republicans' multi-trillion dollar plan to eliminate the federal budget deficit by taking from the poor and giving to the rich while freeing Wall Street of regulations and oversight.
This chicanery begs a question that is central to the GOP's present and its future: Why would a party that once proudly referred to itself as The Big Tent unashamedly embrace scaring the bejeezus out of people as a way to govern? Think death panels. Think re-education camps. Think Soviet-style rationing. Think President Obama not being a U.S. citizen.
The answer, I believe, has less to do with the party being bereft of policymakers as lacking a diversity of voices that characterize the Democratic Party, although those voices can often sound like players in a food fight.
No policy proffered by a Republican today stands a chance if it doesn't pass Tea Party and Christianist purity tests because it is those fringe groups who are the tail that wags the Republican elephant. As it is, the Tea Party bloc in Congress is refusing to go along with House Minority Leader John Boehner's compromise with the White House that adverted a government shutdown, while it suddenly seems within the realm of possibility that the Democrats will take back the House in 2012, their fecklessness notwithstanding.
Oh, and check out the line-up for the first Republican presidential debate on South Carolina on May 5: Newt Gingrich, Buddy Roemer, Ron Paul and Tim Pawlenty. All have one thing in common: They're not even remotely unelectable.
Ronald Reagan famously remarked "Stick with your folks." But you've got a very big problem when your folks are so out of step with the American mainstream, onetime party worthies like Bob Bennett and David Frum are banished from the Republican temple, your leading presidential wannabes bar one engage in fear mongering, class warfare and say and believe nutty things that further separate them from most voters, and that one candidate has had to tack hard to the right while running from his greatest accomplishment.
Today's America scarcely resembles the America of FDR, let alone Eisenhower or Reagan, but exploiting people's fears for political gain rather than trying to ease their fears for the greater good is perhaps the biggest reason why the Republicans are unable to govern and their time in the electoral wilderness will be long.