The Republican Party is very much the victim of a sociological phenomenon. Technology provides new opportunities for individual conservatives to shield themselves from the cold, cold winds of electoral defeat. Cable news outlets compete for the right to tell conservatives what they want to hear. FoxNews leads the race at the moment. Rush Limbaugh is just the first among many equals in right wing radio. The message is one of narcoleptic comfort. Stay as you are. No need to re-examine cherished positions.
That leaves the GOP shrinking toward a point of singularity. As conservatives push for more extreme positions, more moderate folks leave the party. As they leave, the remainder of the party becomes more extreme. This drives more Republicans to become ex-Republicans, which drives the party even more toward the right. Just months ago, nobody would have thought that officeholders of national prominence would reach back to the slave holding side of civil war days and publicly contemplate secession from the union.
But there is a flip side to the Republican coin. As the GOP madly dashes rightward, the country is edging cautiously leftward. Two major studies by the Center for American Progress document what seem to be long term trends. Especially significant, the turn is most pronounced with younger voters.
4 out of 5 Americans reject core conservative theology, saying "government investments in education, infrastructure, and science are necessary to ensure America's long-term economic growth."
2 out of 3 say government must support poor, sick, and elderly folks.
3 out of 4 insist that "government regulations are necessary to keep businesses in check and protect workers and consumers."
3 in 4 say the "future requires a transformation away from oil, gas, and coal to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar."
- About 2 out of 3 voters say "the federal government should guarantee affordable health coverage for every American." Almost half "strongly support" the idea. Socialized medicine anyone?
A generation ago, folks like Jack Kemp tried to come up with conservative methods to solve social problems. Most of those ideas did not survive close examination, but at least the debate was well informed. The Republican side of most issues these days seems to be an equal mix of name calling (socialized medicine by a fascist President) and fact denying bumper sticker slogans (government must tighten its belt). A conservative friend surprises me, lamenting the reflexive mindlessness of what passes for debate. "My leaders are about as thoughtful as rats running through a maze."
The country has set sail. The ship is deserting the rats.
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