Friday, May 16, 2008

The GOP's Tarnished Brand

Peggy Noonan wrote a piece in the Washington Post reflecting on the Republican's loss in Mississippi. She acknowledges the failures of the Bush administration, but blames the GOP for its dismal prospects in the upcoming elections. I'm not fan of Noonan's but I think she summed it up rather well.

What happens to the Republicans in 2008 will likely be dictated by what didn't happen in 2005, and '06, and '07. The moment when the party could have broken, on principle, with the administration – over the thinking behind and the carrying out of the war, over immigration, spending and the size of government – has passed. What two years ago would have been honorable and wise will now look craven. They're stuck.

Mr. Bush has squandered the hard-built paternity of 40 years. But so has the party, and so have its leaders. If they had pushed away for serious reasons, they could have separated the party's fortunes from the president's. This would have left a painfully broken party, but they wouldn't be left with a ruined "brand," as they all say, speaking the language of marketing. And they speak that language because they are marketers, not thinkers. Not serious about policy. Not serious about ideas. And not serious about leadership, only followership.

The Republicans gained their political advantages through incredible party discipline. Rove's divide and conquer strategy helped win elections but the need to cater to so many special interests kept the party from evolving its message on the larger issues like the economy and the war.

Cheney's cudgel kept anyone from stepping out of line, but also prevented development of leadership with the courage to think independently of the administration's agenda.

At the same time, some of the worst policies and leadership in the history of this country were uniting Democrats and converting independents, ensuring that the GOP would have fewer safe seats. (The lingering question of the Mississippi race seems to be whether they have any safe seats at all.)

Running away from Bush's debacles would have been difficult under any circumstance, but McCain's history as a Washington insider virtually ensures the failures of this administration will be rehashed endlessly for the next six months. Jaren Bernstein has a perfect summation of the legacy the GOP will be running from this fall.

For seven long years, we've tried entrusting our government to those who discredit it, defund it, and fundamentally disbelieve in its role, except when they seek a lucrative contract or a bailout. We gone down the road-and it is a crumbling road, with potholes and failing bridges -- where the solution to every problem is a tax cut, where critical agencies are staffed with cronies at best and opposition lobbyists at worst, where secrecy trumps transparency and cynicism rules, where budget resources are never available for expanding children's health care, but always there for war.
The biggest problem the Republicans face in rebuilding their brand is the fact that their agenda has finally been laid bare. They are the party of big business, and that's not going to change no matter how much populist rhetoric Huckabee spews. When a rising tide was floating all yachts, the average Joe simply didn't care that corporatists were plundering the treasury, gutting oversight and rewriting the rules to their liking.

Now that the economy is headed south with no bottom in sight, people are waking up to a new reality - the long shadows on the horizon tell us it's no longer morning in America. Unfortunately, tossing the arrogant plutocrats responsible for this travesty won't begin to wrest power from the oligarchy that wields the power. If Democrats can win the White House this fall, will they still have the backbone to unwind the policies that brought us to our knees?

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