Saturday, August 13, 2011

The GOP has become the Gene Hackman Character from the Birdcage

I was watching The Birdcage on TV today (the 1996 remake of the french film La Cage Aux Folles). As I watched the Gene Hackman character I realized something funny and sad - his character was a caricature, an exaggeration, in 1996, but today the character plays like any number of GOP leaders or presidential candidates.

Watch this clip from the film dealing with gays in the military and prayer in schools and ask yourself - is there anything funny about Hackman's portrayal? 

It was funny in 1996 because it represented a fringe element of the Republican party - a party that had nominated George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole - Dole stood at the podium during his nominating convention and said:
The Republican Party is broad and inclusive. It represents many streams of opinion and many points of view. But if there's anyone who has mistakenly attached themselves to our party in the belief that we are not open to citizens of every race and religion, then let me remind you, tonight this hall belongs to the Party of Lincoln. And the exits which are clearly marked are for you to walk out of as I stand this ground without compromise.
What happened to the GOP? The Hackman caricature has become reality. Is there anything spoken by the Hackman character (then for shock value laughs) that is not today a standard part of a GOP candidate's stump speech?

Since the 1960s, the Democrats have become ever more beholden to leftwing interests and activists. But the political reality of being one of two parties in a right of center country has tempered the party's liberalism and resulted in a greater willingness to compromise and moderate. The GOP, however, has found considerable success via a strategy that targets very conservative base voters. At one time it may have been mere strategy, but those base voters now dominate the elected members of the party and truly set it's priorities.

It's a sad thing to see...

I think the GOP continues to win because most independent voters identify with the GOP on issues such as the size and scope of government, taxation, and, often, foreign policy. Meanwhile, social issue are less salient and independents have been able to tolerate the GOP's increasing social conservatism - but as the GOP moves ever more right in the face of a larger society that is becoming ever more tolerant it will become harder and harder for independents to turn a blind eye to the GOP on social issues.

With Democrats becoming more accommodating on issue such as taxation and spending cuts the party is positioning itself rather well to become the new home of those independent voters.  The great danger for the Democrats is that the party's liberal base will feel rejected and stop supporting the party. The liberal base, however, has never been quite as large as the conservative base - so the Democratic party can become America's moderate and dominant party even without liberal activists - and I think it's likely that it will.