Thursday, April 28, 2016

Damon Linker has an excellent...

...piece in The Week, "Donald Trump and the power of denial," which links to a 2013 piece by Walter Russell Mead in The American Interest, "The GOP Needs To Talk About Bush: Part One," that both say something I've been trying to say for some time now: the GOP can't move forward until it confronts the failures of the last Republican administration. It's one reason, I think, that the current "presumptive nominee" of its party is a thoroughly unqualified outsider.

First from Mr. Mead, whose focus is on foreign policy (all emphasis mine):

Many Republicans don’t like to admit this out loud, especially the power establishment that was close to the Bush administration or served in its upper echelons, but the Bush administration was a first class political disaster for the president’s party. Until Republicans find a way to talk about what went wrong and how future Republican administrations will do better, the GOP will face a stiff headwind of well-merited public distrust.

A lot of official Republican discourse tries to skate past the failures of the Bush years, but this won’t do. It’s a bit like a hostess trying to keep up the bright cocktail party chatter around an eight hundred pound tuna fish rotting in the living room. It isn’t convincing, and the effort does not inspire trust in her judgment. Voters are very familiar with the multiple policy failures of the Bush years (two long unfinished wars, a botched hurricane, no significant domestic reform, frozen immobility on immigration, deficits out of control, the middle class in deepening trouble, the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression); the failure of the party to grapple with those failures, to ask what went wrong and what must change, and above all to tell voters why the next time will be different is the key to Republican vulnerability at the polls today.

And from Mr. Linker:

The right has been deep in denial for years. Honed under the last Republican president into a sure-fire method of inspiring confident resolve in the face of adversity, denial of reality has by now become almost second nature to many party apparatchiks and their intellectual compatriots in the right-wing media. Of course we'll find weapons of mass destruction! The occupation is going just fine! It's not Bush's fault that New Orleans got caught with a bull's eye on its back when Hurricane Katrina blew by! You can't expect the president who's been in office for seven and a half years to take responsibility for the worst financial crisis in seven decades!

I actually think that 9/11, Katrina and the financial crisis could have happened on anyone's watch and that Bush shouldn't get too much blame for them. (I really do.) I mean, who could have predicted (or stopped) 9/11 from happening? Sure, there was the famous memo that Bin Ladin was determined to strike in the U. S., but seriously, what was President Bush supposed to do with that information, close all the airports in America? For how long? And the memo didn't even mention airports. And as for Katrina and the financial crisis (which was many years in the making), stuff happens. Natural disasters strike all the time and financial bubbles eventually pop. (Remember the dot-com bubble? How about the 1987 stock market crash?)

My problem was more with how W. responded to these crises. And in each he was shown to be in way over his head. I won't go into all the mistakes he made following each (we've been through all that a million times already), but just suffice it to say that, as Clark Clifford once said about another Republican president, Bush was an "amiable dunce."

But back to the present -- where does this leave today's Republican Party? With a not-so-amiable dunce who's at least figured out that the party needs to change course.

The 2016 race began with 16 or so candidates who mostly stood for GOP orthodoxy (and the policies of the last administration): tax cuts for the rich, spending cuts for everyone else, entitlement "reforms," free trade, immigration reform, neoconservative foreign policy, etc. Except one, of course, and he's now the "presumptive nominee." Why? Lots of reasons: celebrity, the willingness to "tell it like it is," etc. But, most important, Trump is appealing to the party's base which is no longer buying what the establishment is selling. Trickle-down economics didn't trickle down, free trade deals sent manufacturing jobs overseas, and the ill-considered wars of the Bush years brought middle class kids home without limbs.

Now, Paul Ryan and others still don't get it. They think that if they just speak a little LOUDER then the base will grasp the wonders of the Republican Party's dogma. But Messrs. Linker and Mead are right: until the GOP deals honestly with its failures and its outdated ideology it will be hopelessly lost in the wilderness.

1 comment:

Ed Crotty said...

Bill Clinton showed a much more mature approach - foiling the millennium bombers. I think President Gore's response pre-9/11 would have been extremely different ( but maybe not ) . Perhaps the financial crisis would have been averted as well (again, maybe not ). Then again, the economy could have melted down anyway and 2016 would be Romney's re-election to lose. I think Republicans need to face that Americans DO want a government that governs, and DO want a government that cannot be "drowned in a bathtub". I listened to the Ezra Klein/Grover Norquist podcast the other day and I sincerely believe that he ( Grover ) is the source of so much suffering in this country. One man personally holding us all back. I say it with both admiration and disgust.