A Team Of Rivals Will Not Work20 November, 2008
Since the election, there has been a constant drumbeat coming from right-wing blogs and the mainstream media. This drumbeat tells President-elect Barrack Obama that he must govern from the center, that he must work closely with the radical Republicans, that he must work with the Republicans and avoid, under all circumstances, giving the American people that for which they voted. Some liberal and progressive blogs are striking a similar tone. Even the President-elect himself, during the campaign and after the election, has seemed to agree. Supposedly, by trying to work with the right, he will be able to avoid the partisanship, contention and fury of thwarted conservatives.
It feels odd to disagree with a majority of politicians, analysts and bloggers (me being pretty much of a neophyte in this whole public policy thing). I do disagree. Not only do I disagree, but I disagree strongly, vehemently, violently.
The modern Republican Party is not about to compromise. They will not work with the new President. They will not under any foreseeable circumstance. Take a gander at this quote from one of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches in which he discusses the possibility of satisfying, or even compromising with, the radical Southern slave owners:
The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them, is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.
These natural, and apparently adequate means all failing, what will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly – done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated – we must place ourselves avowedly with them. Senator Douglas’ new sedition law must be enacted and enforced, suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our Free State constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us.
The modern neo-conservative brand of Republicanism sees anyone who disagrees with their position as an enemy to be destroyed, a traitor, a politician attempting to destroy America. They will not negotiate with an enemy, they will not compromise, they will not even fight fairly. Were progressives to attempt compromise with the radical Republican Party of the early 21st century, we would, in order to convince the Republicans that we are not oppressing them, that liberals are not trying to destroy the ideas and practitioners of conservatism, be forced to become radical Republican conservatives. Cut programs for the poor, dispossess the middle class, scrap any idea of health care reform, continue the failed policies in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, and gut environmental, safety and business regulations, and the Republicans — with the main-stream-media mouthpieces — would continue to fear progressives and see liberals as the enemy. And we, as liberals and progressives, cannot convince them that we are not their enemy. Ever.
I stated above that Republicans will not negotiate, will not compromise, and will not fight fair with those they view as an irredeemable enemy. Negotiation for a conservative means “I will tell you what I will accept, and you will do it.” Compromise means “Do it my way or it won’t happen.”
And for the last 30 years, these new conservatives have used the same set of tactics in order to manipulate the media, their followers, and, often, a majority of voters. PZ Myers (over at Pharyngula) has a good writeup about a small Catholic group which has taken Donahue’s Catholic League to task for their unfair, dishonest and disingenuous tactics. I’m going to steal some parts of Myer’s synopsis to expand from the Catholic League to the entire conservative movement.
- The neoconservatives have had a schizophrenic attitude: they simultaneously argue for the right of conservatives to impose their values in the public sphere, while arguing against the right of others in the public sphere to offer legitimate criticism of either the tactics or content.
- The neoconservatives i) manufacture controversy; ii) create and then try to intimidate the “enemy”; iii) bully the opposition; iv) complain early and often; v) attack popular culture; and vi) silence and deny the loyal opposition.
- The neoconservatives actively embarrass, intimidate, bully and distort reality and science to suppress critics of the Republican Party, the favoured businesses of the party, the individual politicians within the party and the coopted media outlets.
- The neoconservatives seize upon phrases, twist them into an unrecognizable form by creating new definitions for words, and then attack from pulpit, legislative floor, and media with a specific goal of defeating a useful or beneficial program.
As the drumbeat of inclusiveness continues, and gets louder, I hope that Barack Obama will ignore it. Were the Republican Party honorable, it might work. Were they willing to compromise or negotiate, it might work. Under the current political conditions, and for the foreseeable future, there is no chance.
As the Republican Party becomes more and more a party of the old south and the rural west, they become more conservative. This new conservatism is not the steel-rimmed glasses Main Street conservatism of old. It is radical religious right and radical anti-government with a healthy dose of racism tossed into the mix. It is a faith-based political theology which brooks no dissent, no compromise, no negotiation, no prisoners. The modern Republicans are eerily similar to the slave-owning oligarchy of the old south — unwilling to allow even discussion, much less compromise. They have put themselves in a political corner from which there is no easy way out.
For the next fifteen to twenty years, as the Republican Party becomes more and more a modern incarnation of the Dixiecrats, they will fight tooth and nail, using all of the tactics I describe above, to stop change. They will engage in the politics of destruction, feeding their narrowing base.
When confronting a political group who will commit political suicide rather than compromise with the ‘enemy,’ which denies even the possibility of good faith on the part of their ‘enemy,’ which denies the patriotism of opposing politicians, which denies even the validity of the election itself, which denies the reality of a loyal opposition, inviting one into the President’s inner circle is a recipe for chaos. President-elect Barack Obama, I know you will never read this, but please, ignore the calls for team of rivals. A cabinet of tension will only work with an honorable opposition. It did not work for Lincoln, it won’t work today. The honorable part of the Republican Party died eight years ago. It no longer exists.