Thursday, September 11, 2008

The GOP's Dwindling Base

Growing older gets a little better when you've hung around long enough to see a political trend culminate in your team's favor.

If you noticed the white, regional entity the Republican Party has become during its convention, the "bounce" McCain-Palin have enjoyed in weekend-based polls shouldn't upset you much.

David Frum, noted in a recent "New York Times" article, "As America becomes more unequal, it also becomes less Republican. The trends we have dismissed are ending by devouring us."

"The Vanishing Republican Voter," was a tough article for Frum to write. He's basically saying that the disparity of wealth in America is the result of successful GOP policies.

To wit: There is now more inequality within nations, because there's less among them.

"Today," he notes, "the lifestyles of middle-class Chinese increasingly approximate those of middle-class Americans, while the lifestyle of upper and lower Americans increasingly diverge."

With all their flag-waving it was hard to tell the Republicans were working for the Chinese middle-class (unless you were really paying attention) all these years.

Frum takes a strange turn when he generates numbers showing that the wealthiest Americans actually vote Democrat and observes how good that's been for the Bill O'Reillys of the world who portray themselves (and the GOP) to middle class Americans as bulwarks against "liberal elites."

Now incomes are "flat-lining" and the mood of middle-class Americans has "soured," he says.

His pieces depicts the state of affairs in once solid and Republican Fairfax, Virg., which thanks to growth fueled by Republican policies, is now plagued with increasingly urban problems and going Democrat in response.

The analysis inverts the Democratic quandary of the 1980s where decades of New Deal policies had lifted the unionized, manufacturing working class into the solid middle and, in doing so, made them Republicans.

The Democrats, it was argued at the time, had been so successful in improving peoples lives that they'd shrunk their own base.

Reduced to a rump party, prospective candidates were forced to reckon with an influential left wing that could not be ignored but, conversely, alienated the great mainstream of American political thought (such as it is) come general election time.

Frum's article tells us that Republican success in putting space between rich and poor, while shrinking the middle, has left the party with a conservative core out of touch with that same and great mainstream America.

"In short, the trend to inequality is reality, it is large and it is transforming American society and the electoral map," he writes. "Yet the conservative response to this trend verges somewhere between the obsolete and irrelevant."

Thomas Frank sees much the same reality in a Sept. 10 piece by the "Wall Street Journal."

Revisiting Sarah Palin's treacle-laced convention speech about "our hardworking small-town people," he sees naught but cynicism:

"Leave the fantasy land of convention rhetoric and you will find that small-town America, this legendary place of honesty and sincerity and dignity, is not doing very well. If you drive west from Kansas City, Mo., you will find towns whose main street is largely boarded up. You will see closed schools and hospitals. You will hear about depleted groundwater and massive depopulation.

"And eventually you will ask yourself, how did this happen? Did Hollywood do this? Was it those 'reporters and commentators' with their fancy college degrees who wrecked Main Street, U.S.A.?

"No. For decades now we have been electing people like Sarah Palin who claim to love and respect the folksy conservativism of small towns, and yet who have unfailingly enacted laws to aid the small town's market enemies."

He goes on to say Republicans, in some form of power or other for the last 28 years, have never raised "an anti-trust finger" to help the family farmer in his battle with "the big food processors."

The "Wall Street Journal" columnist spoke with the president of the Kansas Farmers Union to give his piece a little spine. The guy gave Obama a 100 percent rating on farm issues.

McCain got a zero.

"If any farmer in the Plains States looks at McCain's voting record on ag issues he would not vote for him," the Farmers Union president said.

Frum, for his part, reasons that the Republican policies at issue led to wage growth of almost 25 percent, "Yet almost all of that money was absorbed by the costs of health insurance, which doubled over the Bush years."

A simple cause to a rather complex problem.

Undeterred, he asserts that Republicans who look at health care as "not our issue" are courting electoral disaster: "Conservatives need to stop denying reality."


Frum's struggle to reconcile Republican "success" with the country's current state of affairs matches the confusion of a McCain candidacy that promises change from a guy who has worked in the Dirksen Senate Office Building for more than two decades.

Frank concludes that McCain, "seems to think that small-town people can be easily played. Just choose a running mate who knows how to skin a moose and all will be forgiven. Drive them off their land, toss their life chances into the grinder of big agriculture and praise their values. The TV eminences will coo in appreciation of your in-touch authenticity and the carnival will move on."

The question is whether or not the American people - that mysterious franchise which brought you eight years of George W. Bush - will follow those TV eminences into another thicket of character assassination and faux issues.

So far, the GOP is crowing loudly, so good.

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