Tuesday, June 08, 2004Only very recently have Republicans evinced any worry over their political prospects. With control of Congress since 1994, "winning" the Presidential election of 2000, and the return of foreign policy as a major political issue after 9/11, conservatives generally believed that they were looking at the beginning of a new era of dominance by the right.
This is the line we were fed, anyway. But I believe that there were several indications that, whatever the wisdom of their policies, their real political position was actually quite fragile. There are two key pieces of interrelated evidence. First, detailed polling of the voters on public policy issues reveals that conservatives narrative consistently lose to liberal ones. Now, if you put a candidate or party's name with a position's description, then the right does prety well. But if you remove any such identifiers, then the liberal story defeats the conservative one by large margins on nearly every issue, including foreign policy and taxes. The right has essentially been misrepresenting both its own positions and that of the left's, which is in the long-term an unsustainable political posture. There is bound to be a backlash by the voters if the right's agenda is ever fully implemented, the beginnings of which we are now beginning to see.
The second hint of Republican weakness has seemed to many a source of strength: their ruthlessness. Conservatives have relied on almost exclusively on ad hominem attacks in political debate, smearing the reputation of their opponents rather than rebutting their arguments. They have also consistently violated the norms of U.S. political conflict (bullying interest groups, mid-decade re-districting, dirty tricks, etc.), and completely shut the minority out of the legislative process. I have a simple question- if Republicans are in such a strong position, why do they need to do any of these things? They have been forced to act ferociously (and perhaps illegally) to win elections or pass legislation. Is this the behavior of a strong, confident majority party? Shouldn't the "majority" party be able to play fair in elections, argue the substance of issues, and get laws through congress without abusing the minority (and even their own)?
I'd say not. I think that Republican ruthlessness, rather than a source of strength, is instead a sign of weakness. This isn't to say that the left has only to wait around for the right to fall apart. It only means that we shouldn't be afraid of them. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.