The Republican Death Spiral

By Bob Burnett
Thursday July 16, 2009 - 10:51:00 AM

Out here on the left coast, we’re not big fans of the Republican Party. So we’ve taken a perverse delight in the events of recent weeks—the sordid Sanford and Ensign affairs and the awkward resignation of Sarah Palin. To these jaundiced eyes, it appears the Grand Old Party is locked in a death spiral, gathering speed as it plummets downward. 

Perhaps the entire party has followed their leader, Rush Limbaugh, and developed a nasty drug habit. That would explain the bizarre behavior of Sen. Ensign, Governors Palin and Sanford, and RNC Chair Michael Steele. If that’s the case, our recommendation is to “just say no.” 

Perhaps it’s Karmic retribution and, after eight years of George W. Bush, the universe is finally moving back into balance. Indeed, Dubya, the man once touted as the party leader, whose election was to signal 30 years of Republican supremacy, has become the symbol of everything wrong with the GOP. When Bush failed—when the Iraq “mission” wasn’t easily accomplished, the Neo Con dream of “empire” evaporated, and the economy went in the toilet—Americans woke up, realized the emperor had no clothes, and got pissed off at Bush and the GOP in general. 

It turned out that Republicans had no bench. Who would have thought that Dubya was the best they had to offer? They fielded a woeful slate of 2008 presidential candidates. And their nominee, John McCain, started his campaign with an acknowledgement that he didn’t know much about the economy and then picked a running mate, Palin, who knew even less than he did, about everything. 

Perhaps Americans have figured out that Republicans don’t have an ideology—other than opposition to whatever Democrats propose. The GOP pretends it wants small government, but Bush oversaw one of the largest expansions of the federal government in history. They claim they want to reduce our taxes, but most Americans now understand the GOP only cares about the taxes of the rich and powerful. Republicans acknowledge they are the party of the business elite and assert that qualifies to manage the federal bureaucracy, but Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the other principals in the Bush White House had questionable credentials as corporate executives and did a terrible job managing the federal government —it’s hard to imagine that the economy could have been more poorly handled than it was under Dubya. 

The roots of the GOP decline go back to the Reagan presidency that promulagated the key tenets of modern conservatism: Taxation deprives the people of money that is rightfully theirs. Reducing taxes on the rich will inevitably help the economy because “a rising tide lifts all boats.” The ideal role of government in a capitalistic society is to get out of the way, deregulation fosters a free market that is self-correcting. Over the past 20 years, these tenets have been discredited. Americans don’t like paying taxes, but they understand that cutting taxes only for the rich reduces funds for necessary governmental services and heightens inequality. And voters recognize market deregulation produced the financial meltdown and drained meaningful jobs from the U.S. economy. The failed GOP ideology wasn’t updated. In 2008, McCain and Palin sang from the Republican hymnal but no one joined in except the party faithful. 

Perhaps voters have finally realized that Republicans are iniquitous frauds. During the Reagan era, Republicans seized the moral high ground. They made family values a cornerstone of their party platform and labeled Democrats as purveyors of “sixties values.” The GOP brandished “the sanctity of life” and “personal responsibility” and turned these into effective wedge issues. 

Cracks in the GOP morals façade first appeared with Newt Gingrich, who became speaker of the House in 1994 and resigned in 1998 because of ethics violations. Then, after the invasion of Iraq, Americans realized that Dubya was a liar, a moral eunuch. By the 2008 election, Republican had lost their ethical luster; neither McCain nor Palin was a paragon of moral virtue. 

It helped that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama had a squeaky clean bio. And Obama fought for the moral high ground with his own spin on family values, defining “sanctity of life” as concern for individuals throughout life—not just at birth. Obama presented a two-sided notion of responsibility: individuals were responsible for themselves, their family and community, but society also had a responsibility to provide the perquisites of humanity such as education, a social safety net, meaningful work and civil rights. 

The 2009 Republican Party is dead, a walking talking corpse that has no brain, heart, or soul. Instead of ideology the GOP offers dogmatic negativity. In place of rectitude they feature sleaze and hypocrisy. Rather than mature leadership they provide vicious incompetence. Republicans aren’t an alternative, they’re a travesty. 

Of course in politics anything can happen. We may yet see the resurrection of the GOP. Meanwhile, it feels so good to gloat, you finally got what you deserved, you rotten scoundrels. 


Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at