Saturday, July 15, 2006

Identity crises

The attack dogs of the conservative right are enjoying the fruits of what seems to be a Pundits' Full Employment Act. From across the limited spectrum on the right side of the ideological dial, conservatives and their apologists have been working hard to illuminate the Democratic Party's current disunity and lack of philosophical cohesion (not that anyone needed the conservatives to tell them that).

We've heard them say it, adopting it as some almost desperate mantra: the Democrats don't have a message, they're fragmented, they're a party without a center or a soul. All or some of which is true enough. The problem is, there's no monopoly on being a party in trouble. And the Republican Party is very much in trouble.

If the Democrats have issues in terms of defining themselves for an increasingly restive electorate, let the word go forth that the Republicans are subject to the same identity crisis -- that little matter of "speaking with one voice" -- and the more pernicious problem of a need to redefine itself as separate from the domestic and foreign-policy disasters over which the GOP presides.

As the party in power for the last six years, the greater burden is on them, not the Democrats, to clearly and fully define what they are. In our purple nation of 2006, with two foreign wars underway, a rising crime rate, a steadily ballooning deficit and the relentless polarization that has stained this country since 9/11, at home and abroad, the time's come to say it plain: the Republican Party has profoundly more to lose this November than the Democrats do.

For the Republican Party -- eager to shake off old notions of who and what Republicans are, a party facing discord within its own ranks as the poll numbers dive (see "Apocalypse Tuesday II") -- the midterm elections in less than four months time had better be the start of nothing less than a transformation of some of its most enduring philosophical infrastructure.

The party's my-way-or-the-highway mindset against abortion on demand, for example, runs up against Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whose reportedly mild pro-abortion position complicates the pat, doctrinaire tendencies of the conservative right. Just when they think everyone's On Message, they get a curveball from one of their own, a woman whose name gets more and more traction as a possible presidential candidate in 2008.

The GOP's equally reflexive stand against gay marriage goes up against the stand taken by former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whose name continues to surface as a possible contender for the presidency in 2008 (and presumably with the blessing of at least some of the conservative bedrock).

The Republican Party faces a need to reach out to Hispanic Americans at the same time it tries to presumptively criminalize many of their number, as the immigration issue keeps swirling. Likewise, the Republicans, ever attentive to the idea of making the GOP a "big-tent" organization, hope to follow up the meager increase in votes from African Americans in 2004 -- despite the party's less than stellar track record on matters of domestic rights.

But really, at the end of the day, despite the importance of abortion, gay marriage and immigration, it's the war that remains the dominant issue, the eight-hundred-pound gorilla consuming all the oxygen in the American room.

The stage is set for a Republican defeat in Congress this year, and the Republicans will have no one to blame for it but themselves. Whether they can rebound from that probable defeat and make changes in handling the Big Issues that dominate the hearts and minds of Americans will speak volumes about their ability to fend off another beating -- the one they may take in 2008.

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