"In contrast to the vitriolic rants you'll find on some political blogging sites, Palmer gives in-depth analysis and commentary." --Dan Cook, The Free Times


On Republican Relevance

President Obama is benefiting from high approval ratings. This is likely a combination of several factors. He is still basking in the glow of his honeymoon, his visibility makes him seem like he is engaged in the issues, his recent trip to Europe received good reviews, and President Bush provides such a low set of expectations in many voters' minds that it makes Obama look better by comparison. Obama's popularity makes it difficult for his political rivals to challenge him directly, but if they do not distinguish themselves in any meaningful way, they risk becoming increasingly marginalized.

This marginalization is reflected in Republicans' poor approval ratings and is the result of self-inflicted wounds. These sour reviews of Republicans likely stem from three problems: 1) their reliance on tactics instead of strategy, 2) the rigidity of their platform and its disconnect from political reality, and 3) a changing demographic.

A single long term strategy beats a dozen short term tactics almost every time. John McCain and Republicans in general were unsuccessful in last year's elections because they kept switching from tactic to tactic without tying them into a coherent strategy. For example, as I argued last summer, Republicans tried to peg Obama as a covert radical Muslim, a political neophyte who wasn't ready for primetime, a typical corrupt Chicago politician, a liberal elitist, and an unpatriotic racist who has a racist Christian pastor.

Since Obama's inauguration, however, it seems that Republicans are still relying on tactics instead of strategy. Republicans are hitting Obama for being too popular (which makes no sense, especially since Republicans criticized people who didn't support President Bush as being unpatriotic), for spending too much money (even though they have no credibility on fiscal responsibility), for being too partisan (even though he has genuinely reached out to Republicans), and for being too liberal (even though being too conservative is never a problem). The problem for Republicans is that when they engage in opposition merely for opposition's sake, voters will not take them seriously. The lack of constructive ideas coming from the GOP is leading Democrats to brand them as "the party of no."

Republicans are against wasteful spending. They are against tax increases. They are against creating or expanding social programs. But what are they for? Other than more tax cuts, Republicans don't seem to stand for anything. What is their platform? Since President Obama's economic policies are unacceptable to them, why don't they propose a policy of their own and show how it can benefit average people?

There comes a time when a party platform simply has to be modified in order to keep up with a changing nation. Put another way, conservatism in its current form does not match what voters are looking for now.

I've been unemployed for 3 months.
We need more tax cuts!

The mortgage company is raising my interest rates again.
You shouldn't have moved into a house you couldn't afford!

I work on the assembly line at a General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan. Will I have a job in 6 months?
You should give up your health insurance and start making cars that people want to buy!

I lost 60% of my savings when my bank failed because it was overleveraged, but the former CEO is getting a $20M golden parachute.
We need less regulation! The government needs to get out of the way!

I'm concerned about our public schools.
Gays are getting married in Iowa! We must stop these activist judges!

Republicans were able to successfully brand Democrats as engaging in class warfare in the past. This was because Democrats often made the mistake of equating wealth with immorality. People weren't rich because they worked hard and made good decisions in life. They were rich because they were unethical corporate bigwigs who exploited the little guy.

But now Republicans are making the Democrats' mistake in reverse. People aren't poor because their wages aren't keeping up with their expenses or because they lost their jobs. They're poor because bought too much car, too much house, and too much plasma television. Granted, some of the people currently struggling did indeed live beyond their means (just as some wealthy people became wealthy by exploiting others). But there are also many more people who have tried to live responsibly, but are struggling because of deceptive practices on behalf of creditors or job losses or rising interest rates and fees. When conservatives complain about people owning two cars without understanding the circumstances involved, it makes Republicans seem both pious and out of touch with average people.

The current banking and economic crisis has proven that Wall Street cannot police itself. So "less regulation" is the last thing voters want to hear. People are now looking for government to play a greater role in protecting the public when it comes to financial affairs. Conservatives will have to reconcile "limited government" for small businesses with meaningful government regulations for huge corporations. And as long as people are concerned with where their next paycheck is coming from, complaining about gay marriage and abortion will put conservatives on a fast track to irrelevance.

Dude, what happened to my country? There have been some important demographic shifts in America over the past few years. I wrote about the Republicans' problems concerning race and age shortly after the election, but it goes beyond that.

Voters are becoming increasingly sophisticated. The 2008 election generated a lot of voter interest because people's lives were disrupted on multiple fronts. They were losing their money. They were worried about energy prices. They were still sending their sons and daughters to Iraq. People were looking for solutions instead of platitudes.

Sarah Palin complicated matters by combining platitudes with incoherence and vitriol. This was followed by Rush Limbaugh's "I hope he fails" remarks. Others have complained that Obama hasn't gone to church in X number of weeks since the inauguration. The point of these criticisms is that there is no point.

While it is customary for a politician's detractors to take potshots at him, there comes a point where the criticisms become so absurd that they say more about the people making them than they do about their target. If voters tune Republicans out when they start talking about Obama bowing to the king of Saudi Arabia and wanting to turn this nation into a communist state, they might not tune back in in when the Republicans actually have a credible argument to make. Childish Republicans are making Obama look like the grownup in the room, and therefore more presidential.

Taking all of these issues into consideration, Republicans need to grow their base, make their arguments relevant to people's lives without being patronizing, and display a bit more intellectual maturity. If Republicans continue down their current path of playing to an ever-shrinking base by engaging in the same rhetoric of tax cuts, gay hysteria, short term smokescreens, and McCarthyism, they will only reaffirm to the broader electorate that they don't deserve to be taken seriously even if they are not personally in lockstep with President Obama or his Democratic allies in Congress.

9 comment(s):

S.W. anderson said...

Good point made very well.

Now for a few observations to keep the dialogue going.

"Republicans are hitting Obama for being too popular (which makes no sense, especially since Republicans criticized people who didn't support President Bush as being unpatriotic)..."

This touches on two defining characteristics of conservative Republicans, especially those actively engaged in politics:

1, Devotion to revisionist history, as in consistently implying the world started over on Jan. 20, 2009, and anything that occurred previously no longer counts.

2, Hypocrisy, as in do as I say, not as I do.

Re: your interesting GOP typical responses to what really concerns the voting, taxpaying public.

"I work on the assembly line at a General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan. Will I have a job in 6 months?"

Republican response: Your problem is you belong to a union, make a decent family-supporting wage and get benefits, while China has tens of millions of autoworker wannabes fresh in from the countryside who are willing to work for 80 cents a day, no benefits. So, their bid is 80 cents a day, what's your bid?

"I lost 60% of my savings when my bank failed because it was overleveraged, but the former CEO is getting a $20M golden parachute."

(Note: Unless the person had way more than $100,000 deposited in a single bank, he/she wouldn't have lost a cent because the FDIC insures bank savings accounts up to $100,000, now raised to $250,000.)

Republican response: We must make the Bush tax cuts permanent, because if we don't that CEO won't start a new business or at least buy a third home and second yacht — the things that keep our economy growing and strong.

"I'm concerned about our public schools."

Republican response: Publlic school teachers are unionized spawn of the devil, liberal lowlifes and underperforming parasites. Defund public education and turn the money over to the private sector through vouchers. It's no big deal; half of students don't bother to graduate anyway.

Anthony Palmer said...


Good to see you again. I haven't abandoned this blog, but I've been unbelievably busy over the past two or three months because of classes this semester. In blogging, if you don't post, your readers will flock to someone else who does. So I really appreciate you sticking around.

People need to realize that there will always be someone somewhere who will be willing to do the same job for less money. Sure, that may make conservatives happy because that's what the "free market" is all about. But, as you correctly point out, sometimes you simply can't compete because your competition will work for peanuts. They have a different standard of living in those areas, so making $2 an hour is acceptable to them. That won't work in the US.

I've been reading a few political blogs since I've come out of hiding and I'm finding myself to be increasingly disappointed with the blogosphere. There's too much "noise" out there and not enough substance. So I really appreciate you responding here with thoughtful, constructive, and cogent arguments without all the wretchedness and bile--be it from the left or the right.

S.W. anderson said...

AP, I know you've been working in a postgraduate program. Good luck and godspeed with that.

Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate the knowledge and thought you put into your posts.

In the conflict over free trade and globalization, I see on one side people who really believe a country is about community, about being in this life together and needing to pull together; and on the other side, people who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing, people perfectly willing to sell out their fellow Americans if it means making one additional dollar of profit for themselves.

DB said...

Hey hey, welcome back. I am glad to see you are still following the fun!

I think a lot of the GOP problems are stemming from a lack of leadership and allowing a far-right group of people to speak on their behalf. They are also too focused on demonizing the opposition and the President as well which comes off really bad to the general population. This is a habit they have picked up over the years and have really honed in the last election with the unpatriotic claims.

What they need to do, as it is easy to point to their problems, is to become the loyal (not vile) opposition to the President and work with him. They do not need to tear him down for everything he does, but offer alternatives. A humble approach would do wonders for their image with the people. From that movement a leader would surely be born because they won't just collectively decide to become the positive alternative to Obama. Someone has to lead them out of the darkness. But right now, everyone is jumping on the anti-Obama pile up.

Man do I miss this blog! If you and SW both disappeared I may have no reason to check my reader lol!

Thomas said...

Welcome back, Anthony. I have missed your blog too. To be fair to congressional Republicans, I always though President Bush froze them out of the decision-making process. I have heard liberals and conservatives complain that Bush never met with them.

Michael Rodgers said...

Anthony Palmer is my hero.

Anthony Palmer writes probably the most thoughtful, thorough, deliberate, and clear political commentary in the state, if not the country. Yes, his form is a little long for a blog post, but it's worth it every time.

Anthony Palmer said...


Good to see you again. You have touched on something that will be the subject of my next post (whenever I can find the time!). There's both a leadership vacuum and an abundance of spokesmen who are probably better off not speaking. The way people are rationalizing the very things they used to condemn (both on the left and the right) is very frightening.

Your third paragraph is the most important one. Opposition for opposition's sake doesn't benefit anyone. The GOP hasn't presented any alternatives to Obama's agenda whatsoever. So they can complain about taxes and socialism and whatever they want. They still haven't proposed any new solutions.



You have exposed one of the biggest misconceptions people have about Bush. You are right that he didn't really talk much with the Dems. And he didn't talk much with the GOP either. But where the GOP went wrong was not challenging him. So that's how Bush and the GOP got tied together. And that's why the GOP has so little credibility when it comes to spending and deficits.



Thanks a lot for the compliment. I'd blog fulltime if I could, but it doesn't pay the bills. I think I'll have a little more time this summer, but we'll see.

Anonymous said...

The republicans will never be relevant until they figure out how to appeal to the non taxpayers in the country. They have to get that 18, 19, and 20 year old college vote. The ones drinking beer and smoking dope on daddies money. Then pursue the uneducated low wage earners. Promise them lots of stuff and services. From there I think it's pretty much a cake walk.

Khaki Elephant said...

Hello, Anthony. Long time!
Like you I've been crazy busy these days but getting back to the groove.

I do feel the need to correct the Republican responses to the concerns of Americans that you listed . . . though I admit your version is the spin the left has successfully pushed to many Americans to date.

I've been unemployed for 3 months.We need more tax cuts . . . for businesses. I don't know about you, but I don't know anybody who is employed by somebody who is poor. If you overtax businesses they cut the workforce. Ireland cut business taxes during a time of high unemployment and their economy boomed back to life.

The mortgage company is raising my interest rates again.You shouldn't have moved into a house you couldn't afford . . . The fact is that we all have to live with our choices and 90% of us make our mortgage payments, often times with sacrifice. Giving a hand up but not a hand out may seem trite, but it's actually what people used to believe. And on the right we still do.

I work on the assembly line at a General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan. Will I have a job in 6 months?You should give up your health insurance and start making cars that people want to buy . . . on second thought, forget about it. You couldn't build cars that people wanted to buy because of retooling costs and government intervention. But it's all moot now. The Obama administration has seized GM and placed their people in charge. And since we know how well the government runs all of their institutions you are screwed.

I lost 60% of my savings when my bank failed because it was overleveraged, but the former CEO is getting a $20M golden parachute.We need less regulation! The government needs to get out of the way . . . for most industries. However, we tried to regulate the banks but the democrats blocked us, even accusing us of racism in the case of Fannie Mae. Follow the money. Banks contribute to Democrats. What we need to do is remove shills like Frank Dodd and Barney Frank from oversight positions for industries that contribute huge sums to their campaigns.

I'm concerned about our public schools.Gays are getting married in Iowa! We must stop these activist judges . . . but first let's talk about your concern. We believe that "choice" applies to more than vacuuming out babies. You should be allowed to choose the schools your kids attend. Public schools are paid for by your tax dollars. It's your money, it should be your choice. If you are concerned about your area school, we want to give you the same kind of choice that millionaires like Obama have, the choice to find a school that you trust.

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