The last week has seen McCain/Palin rallies turn ugly. Frustration and anger have boiled over into violent, racially charged comments more akin to Frankenstein villagers than a mainstream political rally. Their guy hasn’t brought the country together, and the current presidential poll numbers are salt in the wounds of the House and Senate losses from 2006. The idea of having lost control of government a mere two years after having complete control is too much for many of them to handle. They may not be able to, or want to, identify where their frustration is coming from, but the writing is on the wall. Republicans are watching the final death throes of the Reagan Revolution.
Many Republicans had spent the years after Ronald Reagan’s administration begging and pleading with the American people. “You remember how great Ronnie was? Well, give us complete control and you will really see what we can do.” President Clinton’s mishaps and 9/11 gave them the ad campaign to do it, and from 2003 to 2007 they had accomplished Reagan’s dream, or at least what the neo-conservatives had turned Reagan’s dream into: a Rambo/Gordon Gekko hybrid riding a wave of conservative ideals, waving a list of great white whales that would soon be banished.
The problem was members of the Right’s unwillingness to waiver from their misguided cronyism, their inability to acknowledge anything positive from the other side, and bottomless greed, which prevented them from cutting spending but rather accelerating it far faster than any Democrat ever has. Then there were their sex scandals, which made blue dresses seem quaint.
Images take a beating
The Rambo imagery has slowly been wiped away by an executive branch’s disastrous meddling in two wars causing troops to be underfunded, underequipped, burdened with never-ending tours and substandard medical care when they finally return. The Gordon Gekko model has shown its true outcome the last few weeks: Greed is NOT good. Republicans look in disbelief as almost every major aspect of government has been left in far worse condition than when they gained control. Disaster relief, infustructure maintenance, housing, medical care — all of it is worse.
Add to this the Republicans’ current identity crisis. Moderate ideals are ridiculed as giving into the liberals. Fiscal-conservative ideals are stymied by President Bush’s never-ending spending habits. Neoconservatives look around at the rest of the party as traitors for not putting Bush’s face on the $1 bill. And then there is the Religious Right. Grossly underreported is their frustration at the party for not introducing constitutional amendments getting rid of abortion and gay marriage while they had the chance. In the end, the neo-conservatives would never jeopardize the party’s two strongest anti-Democrat campaign points. So who runs this party today? There isn’t one person on the right who appeals to all four of these groups, let alone three of them
Tactics will get worse
What’s left? The Rovian tactics used so effectively in 2000 and 2004. It’s not enough to disagree with your opponent, but you have to create a feeling of fear and hatred, something people who are attending these rallies are more than willing to embrace. The rudderless ship is filling up with people who think Democrats are EVIL (!). This will get worse before we’re all done.
The sad thing for the Republicans is regardless of who wins, the revolution is dead. This outcome is understandable with Sen. Barack Obama as president, but Sen. John McCain has always been a moderate and both he and Palin would have to deal with a strong Democratic Congress. And whoever takes office will have their hands tied with the burden of messed-up policies and spending left to them by the outgoing administration.
Eventually the right will spend the next two decades talking about the good old days, screaming about how the other team cheated, the media was unfair, and desperately waiting for the next Reagan who will never come.
Matthew McNeil is the host of a radio show on KSTP AM 1500.
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