Monday, November 17, 2008

Democrats Become the New Conservative Party

In this month’s national election, Democrats captured the core conservative vote for the first time in nearly a century. Voters who were looking for a safe, non-controversial, all-American choice mostly voted Democratic.

The Republicans were the party of choice for conservatives for a lifetime, and it seemed inconceivable that they would ever give that up, but that’s exactly what they’ve done.

Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana, appearing on CBS, spelled out some of the ways the party gave up its conservative appeal:

As Republicans, we need to do three things to get back on track. Number one, we have got to stop defending the kind of spending and out-of-control spending that we would never tolerate in the other side. You know, when voters tell us that they trust Democrats more to cut their taxes, control spending, that tells you something is wrong with the Republican Party. We’ve got to match our actions with our rhetoric.

Number two, we’ve got to stop defending the kinds of corruption we would rightfully criticize in the other party. The week before the election, our most senior senator is convicted on federal charges — and that’s only the latest example.

Number three, we have got to be the party that offers real solutions to the problems that American voters, American families are worried about. We don’t need to abandon our conservative principles; we can’t just be the “party of no.” We need to offer real solutions on making health care more affordable, on the economic challenges facing families, on the international threats.

To be more blunt about it, the Republican party became the party of out-of-control deficit spending, economic troubles, foreign military adventures, official corruption, sex scandals, corporate giveaways, vices, voter suppression, controversy, and general lawlessness — nothing that a conservative could easily support. The Republicans in Washington have spent the last ten years trying to drag their feet on any work that needed to be done. That’s the opposite of the hard work that conservatives believe in. Nationally, Republicans have set out on a crusade, a war of sorts to overthrow many of the core principles of American culture and replace them with a cultish kind of religious extremism. To a conservative, that sounds like trouble that would be better avoided.

For their part, the Democrats — at least the core of the party — have come to see conservatives as a constructive part of a ruling coalition. And so it should be no surprise if the Democrats continue to carry the conservative vote for decades to come.

Jindal’s instructions to the Republican Party couldn’t be more clear, and others have sounded the same alarms, but to no avail. Most Republicans do not even realize that Jindal is a member of their party. When you talk about integrity, restraint, and priorities, you do not exactly sound Republican. Why, you sound more like President-elect Barack Obama — a Democrat. And so the call for the Republican Party to get back to basics seems destined to be lost in the cacophony of recriminations and strategizing.

Instead, the Republican Party seems to be preparing to embrace religious extremism and an all-out culture war over the next five years. The thought of converting American by force to a wacko version of Christian principles (that’s not the most charitable way of describing the plan, but that’s essentially what it’s about) might play well in a few states, but across most of the country, it is likely to cement the Republicans’ image as controversial and dangerous — exactly the wrong thing if they want to appeal to conservatives.

So what will become of the Republican Party? That is up to the Republicans, of course. But no political party has ever thrived by trying to overthrow American culture, and the Republicans will not either. If the Republicans continue down the road they are on, they will soon become a regional party, and in a few years, a third party, shut out of the debates, struggling to get on the ballot.