Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Ostrich Syndrome

“I am not part of the problem. I am a Republican.”
- Dan Quayle

Leave it to Dan Quayle to miss the obvious. The Republican Party’s problem is that they are a big part of the problem and that they fail to see it.

I was one of those Reagan Democrats in 1980. In the ’76 election cycle I’d been an ardent Jimmy Carter supporter. I worked the phones, went door to door, and tried my best to make the Carter case. Like many Evangelical, blue collar Democrats of that era I was tired of Nixon’s chicanery, wage and price controls, and the WIN (Whip Inflation Now) buttons that Gerald Ford and the Republican Party had circulated around the country. As a Democrat I was ready for someone to breathe life back into the politics of the New Frontier. By 1980 I’d seen the light. Jimmy Carter, the man I’d wholeheartedly supported, then, in a few short years, revealed himself to be a man far too small for such a big job. From the Iran hostage crisis to the great malaise speech; from confrontations with killer rabbits to the Arab oil embargo; from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to eight percent unemployment and rampant inflation, I’d seen enough. Hence, I decided to vote for Ronald Reagan along with millions of my fellow Democrats.

Friends thought I’d left leave of my senses. “He’s just a washed up actor.” “Where’s your sense of loyalty?” “He’s too conservative.”

But the die was cast. The election results held little suspense. Reagan won in an electoral landslide. Some Democrats blamed it all on John Anderson, who’d garnered eight percent of the total vote and siphoned what they perceived to be support away from Jimmy Carter. The truth, denied by the Democratic Party, was that America was tired, on the brink, and hungry for change. We wanted once more to be proud to say that we were Americans. And, Ronald Reagan was, as we saw it, the agent of change.

While I was keenly aware of the problems we faced as a nation, it wasn’t those things that made me pull the Republican lever in the voting booth. More than any other thing it was Reagan’s belief in “we the people” that produced the extraordinary change in me. As with John Kennedy in 1960, I was once again inspired to believe in the American possibility, that my role and contribution to this nation’s welfare was valuable, and valued. Reagan’s words, spoken at his 1981 inaugural, hit a deep chord in me:

“We hear much of special interest groups. Our concern must be for a special interest group that has been too long neglected. It knows no sectional boundaries or ethnic and racial divisions, and it crosses political party lines. It is made up of men and women who raise our food, patrol our streets, man our mines and our factories, teach our children, keep our homes, and heal us when we are sick—professionals, industrialists, shopkeepers, clerks, cabbies, and truck drivers. They are, in short, “We the people,” this breed called Americans.”

Many of my friends said I’d been deceived. All I could do was take my place in the ranks of the deceived, un-intelligent, and un-enlightened. What they failed to see was that so many of us weren’t looking for much. We weren’t demanding detailed policy positions, nor were we looking for miracles. What we did seek was someone who would lead us, someone who would tap into the hope, someone who believed in us, someone who would summon us to do the great work needed to turn the country around. Our reasons may not have seemed to be intellectually superior, nor did they seem to make sense to the Party elite.

Almost a generation has passed since the Reagan revolution. Here in 2008 the worm has turned. The same problem that plagued the Democratic Party in 1980 now bedevils the modern Republican Party. The country is ready for change. Eight years of Bill Clinton and eight of George W. Bush have once again brought the nation to the brink. Weary of war, tired of the politics of division, trembling at the economic precipice built on years of uninterrupted greed, many are once more crying out for change. And, as it was in 1980, people are looking for someone who will once more re-kindle the notion that this country isn’t just for the strong and swift or the connected insider.

For many of us, this is what election 2008 is all about. It’s why many of us, swimming against the tide of expert opinion, are supporting Mike Huckabee.

The power brokers in the Republican Party, almost exclusively, have missed this. To them, Mike Huckabee and his little platoons are nothing more than backwater buffoons. It’s a replay of 1980. The only thing different is the party doing the scorning and heaping on the derision.

A few do seem to get it. In the January 28th edition of “The American Conservative” Michael Brendan Dougherty made the following observation:

“The establishment Republicans don’t want some hillbilly preacher to be president.” To Carter and others, the conservative establishment’s contempt for Huckabee feels familiar. It mirrors the liberal establishment’s disdain for conservatives generally. And so just as Beltway conservatives have taught middle America to resent the liberal elites, so Huckabee and his supporters have leveraged evangelical discontent at those who tell them to “sit down and take what the party gives you.”

That’s it! Many of us are tired of being spindled and mutilated by the Republican Party machine. We’re tired of the promise of inclusion, followed by the politics of exclusion and contempt. We’re tired of the power brokers telling us what to think, when to think it, how to express it, and who embodies the things we believe in. We’re tired of them. We’re looking for someone who will speak to…us, and for us. Other than Mike Huckabee, we’ve seen the Republican landscape for what it is – a vast wasteland.

In a recent campaign speech, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama expressed an uncanny understanding of what swept Ronald Reagan into office:

“Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like, you know, with all the excesses of the 1960s and ‘70s and, you know, government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think ... he tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”

My God, even a liberal Democrat gets it. How can it be, then, that Republican power brokers don’t? Like ostriches with their heads buried in the sand, they stubbornly cling to the antiquated notion that they are the gatekeepers, that they will be the ones to anoint the heir to the Reagan revolution. In their contempt, and arrogance, they’ve refused to see that it’s us, the men and women who “patrol our streets, teach our children, raise our food, or man our mines” who are the heirs. If they continue to refuse to see that the results of election 2008 will produce the same sort of landslide that propelled Ronald Reagan into the oval office a generation ago. This time, though, it will be a Democrat who is being propelled on the wings of hope and change.


Douglas said...

I understand what you're saying, but I have a question. I could be wrong, but I believe it's unlikely that Huckabee will win the GOP nomination. Do you have a second choice, or will you just stay home?

Phil Dillon, Prairie Apologist said...


Mike Huckabee may not win the nomination.

My fall back is John McCain, but that backup support isn't firm. Beyond that I don't have any options on the Republican side.

Douglas said...

John McCain is absolutely unacceptable to me. He has no executive experience, he has an angry temperment, and he's a kiss-up to the mainstream media.

I'm here to tell you that if McCain is nominated, the Democratic candidate will win, because about half the Republican party (my half) will be bummed about it.