We Americans don’t latch onto just any old myth. We pick only the ones that make us feel good about ourselves. So even if it was only the stuff of Hollywood movies, John Wayne became a giant in our culture, a genuine make-believe hero, because more than anything else he was the embodiment of American rugged individualism.
Whatever we are in America these days, we’re not that anymore. If we were, Barack Obama — a left-wing pol who sees answers to just about everything not in individuals but in big government — couldn’t have been elected once, let alone twice.
Once upon a time we were a center-right country and the GOP was the center-right party. It still is (except when it’s the far right party) but the country has moved left. And that’s why, I think, a new CNN poll says that a majority of Americans – 53 percent – say they view the policies of the Republican Party as too extreme. That’s up 17 points from just two years ago. And only 37 percent say they view the Democratic Party as too extreme.
In times of crisis it’s important to state the obvious, so here goes: The Republican Party is in big trouble. It not only needs a messenger that America can embrace, which will be no easy task — it also needs a message that will resonate with a majority of center-left Americans. How do Republicans accomplish that without abandoning their center-right principles?
Let’s start with the economy. I think Republicans are right when they say we have a spending problem – not a taxing problem. And yes, most Americans also think the federal government spends too much. But they also think President Obama is right when he says we need to raises taxes on the so-called rich.
According to a poll by Scott Rasmussen, 62 percent of Americans are in favor of raising taxes on millionaires. When John Boehner can’t get enough of his people to support a bill that would do just that, his party comes off as hopelessly out of touch with “ordinary” Americans.
There’s something to be said for Republicans who stand on principle and won’t go along with higher taxes on anyone, even millionaires, at least until the federal government stops its out of control spending – something President Obama and his fellow Democrats don’t seem to have much interest in. But being right and winning in the court of public opinion is not always the same thing. So Republicans can refuse to give an inch on taxes. They can stand on principle. And they can also lose the next election.
There’s also a fear factor that has taken hold of the GOP. Take the current gun debate. Republicans say we have enough gun laws and don’t need any new ones, not even after the massacre at Newtown. They may be acting on principle, but they’re also acting on fear, afraid of the blowback from Second Amendment purists who think they have a constitutional right to own just about any weapon they want, along with magazines that hold as many bullets as they want.
There are plenty of gun people out there who won’t vote for a Republican who supports a ban on so-called assault weapons. And GOP politicians know it. So when Congress convenes in January, and gun legislation is brought up on day one, it’s a safe bet that a lot of Republicans will vote “No” on any new gun laws.
They may or may not have the Constitution on their side, but they sure as hell don’t have the American people on their side. Another reason a majority of Americans see the GOP as too extreme.
And Republicans are also afraid of even the most pathetic dolts on the religious right. Ask any halfway smart high school kid how old the planet is and he’ll at least know the answer starts with the letter b. Ask any Republican the same question and you’ll see panic in his eyes. If he says 4.5 billion years old, the answer will infuriate those who think the Bible is a science book and believe the planet is only 6,000 years old. And if you infuriate the religious right, they’ll find a challenger to run against you in the primaries — someone as ignorant about science as they are. Or they’ll just sit home on Election Day. So if you’re a Republican who wants to win, you have to make peace with ignoramuses. This leads to stories in the media about how the “GOP is the Anti-Science Party.” You think ordinary Americans don’t notice that?
Republicans are even afraid of the craziest of the crazies on the right fringe – the “birthers,” the zealots who think Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fake, hiding the fact that he was born someplace outside the United States. The best you’ll get from a Republican is something like “I believe he was born in Hawaii, but people can believe whatever they want.” Wrong answer! The correct answer is, “I think they’re nuts.”
If you’re a Republican and you’re afraid of the fringe members of your own party, if you’re afraid you’ll offend them and they won’t vote for you, you don’t deserve to be elected to anything anyway.
There is one possible way out for the GOP, but it’s not a good one for the American people. If the economy heads south again and we go into another recession and more people lose their jobs, some Washington insiders are already saying that President Obama will no longer be able to blame George Bush for the mess. This time, he will own the economy and have to take the blame for whatever goes wrong. If the experts are right, Republicans would have a chance to come back from the dead. If the experts are wrong … oh wait … Is that Hillary Clinton I see off in the distance taking the oath of office?