I think it dawned on me two or three days ago, after the New Hampshire primary, that most of the people with whom I discuss politics are more frustrated, but it’s not evidenced in the words they’re choosing so much as in the way they’re saying them. They’re disgusted by Obama and his power-grabs, but more than this, they are tired of watching the GOP try to lead them to slaughter again in 2012. It’s bad enough to watch Obama walk all over the newly-minted Republican majority in the House of Representatives, but to see that the party has done nothing to substantially improve our position in the coming elections is frustrating in the extreme. Worse, Tea Party members are seething over many of the same things, noting that with Boehner and the boys on Capitol Hill, there’s been no willingness to stand up for our conservative values. Watching this primary process play out has been like feeding the party’s base feet-first through a meat-grinder. Various surveys reveal that as much as 60% of the party would like more choices, which is to say more conservative choices, and it’s been apparent for some time that most are not happy with the “inevitable nominee,” Mitt Romney.
When the people with whom I discuss politics come to the subject of Speaker John Boehner, virtually every one of them regards him as weak, and most will offer some form of mimicry of tears and whining. These are conservative people, and not a crowd of leftists to whom John Boehner should be natural fodder for mockery. To see people who turn out in election after election for the Republican party now openly mocking the highest-ranking Republican now serving in our government is an astonishing development for which I cannot remember a precedent in all my life. What seems to lead to this growing contempt is the sense that in all of these elections, we go forth to the polls to support a party that walks away from us and our values in the end, and to add insult to injury, cries about it. None of the Republicans with whom I speak are happy about the direction of the party, and worse, since this is Texas, some are noting the antics of our governor in his campaign and have begun to whisper that he’s an embarrassment too. Most seem to think that since he’s fallen well below the 10% mark in polling, he ought to “just come on back home before he makes a fool of us all.”
So it is that the GOP is now largely being defined by dueling caricatures of a Massachusetts big-government liberal, an outcast libertarian, a former Speaker(who at least didn’t cry), a former Senator who whiffed last time at bat, an Obama Ambassador, and a Texas gunslinger, while the rest of us are left standing in astonished dismay at the spectacle: How are we to win anything with these as our standard-bearers? This is the problem most conservatives I know now face in horror, as they try to see any reason that they should see some light at the end of the tunnel, with any of these as the vehicle. To be sure, after more than a year of “Mitt is most electable,” emanating from the establishment media like bad gas, there is a certain group that will settle for the Massachusetts liberal because they see him as less embarrassing than the remainder. So goes the predictable lamentations about our situation, and yet I must wonder if there isn’t some hope, somehow, that we will resurrect the Republican party, but failing that, replace it with something better.
I was having a conversation with a neighbor on Thursday, and he owns a ranch, complete with several hundred head of cattle, but he is also an entrepreneur, owning several businesses. He’s twenty years my senior, and he doesn’t waste too many words, so when we wandered into the subject of politics, he turned his head and spat, turned back and said: “The problem with our party is that they keep trying to win with professional losers. They ought to try that Palin gal from Alaska. At least she seems to know what the hell is going on.” I really had no answer for that, except to nod approval, and say “Yeah, but she’s not running.” He murmured “I know it, so you’d better get used to Obama,” as he turned his head and spat again, as if for punctuation, and finished his thought: “We’re in for pure hell…but we’ll make it through.”
It’s fair to say my neighbor isn’t probably representative of the average American. He’s a veteran who served in Vietnam, and he bears the scars of a life of hard labor, and his skin is leathery from years under the punishing wind and Texas sun, but he is representative of a fair bit of political thought in middle America, inasmuch as he’s spent his time building and growing businesses, and running his cattle operation, and made good use of the talents with which he was gifted. He lives a simple life, and doesn’t have a large number of frills, not because he can’t afford them, but because he doesn’t need them. When the Republican Party walks away from this man, they’re walking away from the base that shows up to elect Republicans to city councils, county precincts, and legislatures. They walk away from a man who you will never find at a protest rally or Tea Party event, but who has never failed to show up at the polls. The fact that this man is now resigning himself to four more years(or an eternity) of Obama should tell you something about how he views the state of the GOP, as much as it tells you about his view of the political future we face.
Part of the problem really lies with us. For too many years, we have ceded governance to a permanent political class that rules with elections serving only as a formality that gives legitimacy to their rule over us. Many speak in vague terms of “change,” and “throwing the bums out,” but seldom do we actually pursue that goal. Everybody hates Congress, except for their own Congressman and Senators, so that foolish polls asking about the “approval rating of Congress” has no bearing whatsoever on the fact that in election after election, more than 90% who seek re-election return without fail. We often lament the fact that this seems to be the best the party has to offer, but is it? Is our mostly silent assent to be led by a party that only theoretically represents our interests a signal that we are satisfied? The Tea Party hints that this may not be true, but like my neighbor who never fails to vote, it’s clear we need to become a good deal more active and stop waiting for a solution from the top. It may be the last remaining spark of light at the other end of the tunnel we have, but we should follow it nevertheless.