On Tuesday, November 4th, 2008, the Reagan Revolution came to end. We are, perhaps, at the beginning a new political revolution that will shape the next generation. Perhaps.
The Republican Party, stewards of that Revolution, were seen to have betrayed the ideals of Reagan and suffered for it at the polls.
In the last decade, Republicans have consistently used Reagan as a rhetorical foil, while they systematically destroyed not only his revolution, but the very nation he loved.
And now, spurned at the polls by an angry electorate, Republicans are wondering how to rebuild. Many, oddly enough, are arguing that the party was not conservative enough. Their message was good, these men and women argue, only the delivery failed.
This, my friends, is called “Denial.”
The Conservative cycle that began in the election of 1980 is over, as that same election marked the end of the Liberal cycle that began in 1960. This is simply the way politics and history work. Cycles begin and end.
And yet, the “Grand Old Party” now finds itself behind history. They refuse to admit that their message no longer fits the mood of the nation that they destroyed. They have no one to blame but themselves in this. Ronald Reagan (for whom I harbor great affection) is dead, both literally and figuratively. He was a man of a moment, and that moment has now passed. Republicans are, at this time, captives of their own history, seemingly unable to break free from past glories, like faded high school athletes who, lacking any other success, constantly refer to the “big game” of thirty years ago. Pathetic.
As a political historian, I believe that the Republican Party will fade away, or at least become a regional Southern party, if it does not change its thinking on a host of issues. They have set up a website, “Rebuilding the Party,” where people can offer their solutions to this problem. It’s worth a read, despite being partially hijacked by the Ron Paulistas.
This, too, is not unusual in American history. After all, the Federalist, the Whig, the National Republican (no connection to today’s Republicans), the Anti-Masonic, the American (a.k.a. the Know-Nothing) parties all came and went. We may well be at the moment when one of the two major parties fades away, and will soon be replaced by a new coalition of some flavor or another. This would be a welcome change in our political life.
Under President Bush — whose 2000 “victory” turned out to be a classic Pyrrhic Victory — and Vice President Cheney, the party moved in a fascist direction. I am not exaggerating, and have chosen that term specifically.
Fascism envisions an all-encompassing state and excuses illegal activity as necessary for “security.” This despite the fact that total security is simply impossible. The list of the crimes of the Bush administration against the people who elected them is long and terrifying. Bush and Cheney consistently appealed to the fears of the American people in order to expand the power of the state — the exact opposite of Republican rhetoric, and yet Republicans went along and criticized those who resisted as “un-American.”
All of this, ironically, laid the groundwork for President-Elect Obama’s victory.
The United States needs a diversity of opinion in our political sphere. We need a true “conservative” party, but one that can adapt to the needs of the times. The current Republican Party is not that party. It may develop in that direction; or it may disappear.