Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Remaking the Republicans

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I think of Washington as that place where politicians spend their days waving around the feathers that create hurricanes on the other side of the world, or at least Louisiana. At swearing in ceremonies, they should all be required to take the Hippocratic oath. First do no harm.

You're not going to get that kind of modesty from the Democrats if the polls are right, and they take the country top to bottom with a solid majority. The main question for me, then, is whether the Republicans (if they lose) will manage to cast aside their eight war-mongering, scandal-ridden, pork-addicted, gay marriage-hating, Constitution-ripping, regulation-busting years to regroup and form an effective, and thoughtful opposition.

You may have heard rumors of that, the yin and the yang, as opposed to the boot and the Democratic doormat we got during the Bush era, or the opposition for the sake of it the Republicans offered during Bill Clinton's thwarted administration.

There used to be differences after all, and they often did some good. The Democrats were the party actively promoting civil liberties, kind of, as well as pushing for social safety nets. And if you can imagine it, Republicans were fiscal conservatives with an allergy to big government, and moderation in foreign affairs.

I admit being attracted to the GOP as a kid, mostly because the pork barrel Democrats had a strangle-hold on my home state of Kentucky, where somehow tax money never did reach the schools that floated near the bottom of our fifty states, or alleviate the need in rural areas.

Appalachia was altogether shameful with grinding poverty and environmental policies essentially set by outsiders from coal companies who weren't forced to live where the runoff from strip mining turned all the well water to such a disgusting sludge that you needn't bother adding coffee because it was already a thick, brown, toxic brew.

Why not vote for local Republicans in protest? Now, after eight Republican years nationally, why not vote Democratic to protest Bush's hasty wars, immoderate greed, and vicious authoritarianism?

Unfortunately, we need more than an anti-Bush. It troubles me that plenty of Democratic loyals would have Obama rush around like toddler on Coke, yanking the troops out of Iraq without strategic considerations, dishing out tax cuts, and rebates and economic incentives to Bush's middle-class and working class victims without a clear idea either where all that money's going to come from, or frankly where it's going in the end.

When Bush handed out cash this fall, Americans didn't go out and grease anybody's economic wheels. No, we stuck it under our mattresses. Now, I hear the banks that Mr. Paulson has given a big chunk of his 700 billion dollars to have likewise decided to sit on it like chickens in their nests. In Europe, at least, they've made it a provision of their bailouts that the banks must actually use the money for its intended purpose--giving loans. Why didn't we think of that?

That's the kind of idea an effective opposition should have come up with, accountability. Frankly, we could use plenty of ideas on all fronts, both inside and outside the Democratic party.

If maverick McCain's campaign is any sign of the GOP's near future, I doubt they'll be much of a gold mine. As brash as Unilateral Bush, McCain tosses out new solutions daily to every problem we face from the economy to Afghanistan. Every Palin campaign stop, the Republican lunatic fringe is once again rallying against that ever present menace of gay marriage, as well as insufficiently patriotic Americans, as if all Americans need for success is a red white and blue heart, and the queers biting the dust. Which is only slightly more unrealistic than Obama's virtuous mirage of ending war and uplifting the downtrodden poor with a combination of good thoughts and money, plenty of it.

Maybe all an effective opposition has to do, on either side, is respond to every speech from every party with the mantra, "It's more complicated than that. Have you thought it through?"

The new Republicans, if I had a say, would be a lot like my grandparent's generation. What government was supposed to do was get the roads built and make sure the schools worked. Its job was practical stuff, plus the bare extra to give everybody a shot at the American dream which they defined as enough prosperity to keep the wolves from the door, and the self-respect of having earned it.

By and large they backed away from social engineering and left questions like abortion and sexual identity to a person's own conscience. What mattered was what you gave to the family and community. How hard you worked. What you were made of. Thrift was valued, but so was generosity. And religion (like politics), never got talked about at the dinner table. It wasn't polite, and besides. Somebody might choke.

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