[Marxism] The Republican march toward oblivion?

Jim Ferguson jim.ferguson1917 at gmail.com
Fri Mar 6 09:33:47 MST 2009


The Republican march toward oblivion

The Republican Party is hoping its screeds against "big government"
will catch fire as patience with Obama's attempts to fix the crisis
runs out. But that strategy may not work out the way the GOP hopes.

March 5, 2009

PERHAPS ALL we need to know about modern conservatism and its party,
the Republicans, was captured in Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's
nationally televised response to President Barack Obama's February 24
address to a joint session of Congress.

While Obama made one of the most forceful appeals in generations for
government action to address economic crisis and declining
working-class living standards, Jindal centered his response on a
folksy story about government bungling during the Hurricane Katrina
disaster in 2005.

As he told the story, he and Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee
bravely risked arrest to back down boneheaded government bureaucrats
who were refusing permission for private-citizen boaters to rescue
hurricane survivors.

It only took a day or two for liberal bloggers, and then the
mainstream media, to show that Jindal's story was not only inaccurate,
but most likely a fish story. Later, his press office had to admit
that the incident he described never really happened. Every subsequent
attempt that Jindal's office made to explain away the governor's tall
tale just ended up making him look like an even bigger putz than he
did during the speech itself.

It's hard to figure what Jindal was thinking when, in the age of
Google, it would take only five minutes of clicking to discover that
his story was phony. But it also illustrated the through-the-looking
glass take on the world that conservatives have today.

David Brooks, the conservative New York Times columnist, scathingly
reviewed the content of Jindal's speech on the PBS NewsHour with Jim
Lehrer: "To come up in this moment in history with a stale,
'Government is the problem, you can't trust the federal government,'
is just a disaster for the Republican Party. It's not where the
country is, it's not where the future of the country is."

No wonder opinion polls placed Obama's popularity around 67 percent,
while the Republicans in Congress wallow somewhere in the 30s. Obama
has staked his presidency on a break with the conservative-dominated
politics of the last generation. So far, he has had support from a
business elite that's depending on Washington to save its skin.

The Obama administration inherited a mound of crises that are the
legacy of decades of neoliberal economic policies and the position of
the U.S. as the world's only superpower following the Cold War. Given
this, the sense has grown, even among business circles and their
political representatives in Washington, that laissez-faire politics
are in need of an overhaul.

The challenge for the elites that have benefited so much from the
neoliberal era is to support a change in U.S. politics that will
address the parts of these crises that impinge on their ability to
reap profit and power, while containing popular demands for reforms to
health care, workplace rights or military spending that would
challenge them.

That's where the Democratic Party has proven its usefulness to the
people who run U.S. society.

All things being equal, big business prefers the Republicans, whose
generally open pro-business stances aren't usually balanced against
appeals to labor or the poor.

But the current Republican Party--saddled with responsibility for
unpopular policies, mired in corruption and having demonstrated its
incompetence in managing the affairs of state--has run its course as a
vehicle for carrying out, and winning support for, big business'

In the language of Madison Avenue, which every pundit seems to have
adopted these days, the Republican "brand" is damaged. And business
knows when it's time to pull a bad brand off the shelf.

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JUST HOW long the Republicans will stay off the shelf--whether "brand
Obama" can replace them--is a question that will determine mainstream
American politics over the next period, and maybe the next generation.
As Bloomberg News put it on March 1:

By shifting the focus of government policy away from upper- income
Americans and targeting the vast numbers who consider themselves
middle-class, Obama's proposals may yield dividends for the Democratic
Party. Just as Franklin Roosevelt used the New Deal to create a loyal
voter base that endured for four decades, Obama's approach to fixing
the economy offers the president an opportunity to recast political
allegiances among swing voters.

Even though Obama's proposals fall far short of the "class warfare"
and "socialism" that conservatives accuse him of, they are enough in
synch with popular sentiment to suggest that he could succeed in
"recasting political allegiances."

The Republicans, in response, have decided on a strategy of full-scale
opposition to Obama's economic agenda without really offering anything
credible as an alternative. The Republicans are banking on the
two-party system's in-built tendency to make every election a negative
referendum on the party in power--in essence, to give the electorate
the chance to "throw the bums out" in 2010 and 2012, rather than make
a positive endorsement of the party out of power.

Given the current crisis, it's a good bet that economic conditions are
going to be worse for ordinary Americans through most of Obama's four
years. The GOP is hoping that as conditions worsen, its screeds
against "big government" will catch fire as popular patience with
Obama's attempts to fix the crisis runs out. While this isn't a crazy
strategy--in fact, it's the only one they have--it may not work the
way the Republicans hope.

For one thing, as long as Obama is seen as "trying" to address
concerns of ordinary Americans, he will continue to get some benefit
of the doubt from the public. If the GOP thinks that simply railing
against a "big government" that is providing unemployment benefits,
health care and jobs to the unemployed will endear it to working
people, they're even dumber than Jindal made them look.

Second, the Republicans are carrying the baggage of policies
accumulated over three decades in which ordinary Americans have seen
their living standards decline. This is hardly a golden age that
Americans are anxious to return to.

Third, much of the GOP's conservative base was built on a backlash
against the social progress of the 1960s. If anything, the election of
a Black president, and the growing public support for the rights of
LGBT people, among other points, has shown that the social
underpinnings of this sort of backlash politics have eroded.

There is one final factor that would certainly derail the
conservatives' hopes for a comeback. And that is the possibility of a
revived labor and working-class movement from below.

In an interview published in the March/April issue of International
Socialist Review, socialist labor scholar Kim Moody suggests that
economic inequality and the political rejection of the neoconservative
agenda may produce "the next upsurge [of the labor movement] we [i.e.
labor activists] talk about a lot."

Moody lays particular stress on the potential for organizing in the
traditionally anti-union, but economically vital, South. If labor
manages to organize significantly in the South--currently, the
geographic base of the Republican Party--it will strike a blow for
labor. And It will also likely consign American conservatism's main
political institution to the shelf for a long time.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Columnist: Lance Selfa
 Lance Selfa is the author of The Democrats: A Critical History [2], a
socialist analysis of the Democratic Party, and editor of The Struggle
for Palestine [3], a collection of essays by leading solidarity
activists. He is on the editorial board of the International Socialist
Review [4].

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