by: Jimmy Garfield
Someone asked me recently if I think that the GOP can become more progressive. I had a hard time answering.
The fact of the matter is that there are two entities I need to talk about when answering the question. There is the Republican Party and then there is the GOP; in the past few years, there has been a distinct split between the two. The Republican Party still holds the conservative ideals of fiscal conservatism, individuality being more important than collectivism, capitalism as the best economic form possible. These are all laudable ideals, and they are exemplified in people such as Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME). Unfortunately, these have become the greatly shrinking majority of the conservative wing of American politics.
Quickly, we have been seeing a new radicalism emerge in this country, which, while it had been fermenting for some time, only recently came into its maturity. It took on new life in 2009 with the formation of the Tea Party. The original idea of the Tea Party was one that most people (even Democrats) could at least sympathize with. As their name is an acronym for Taxed Enough Already, it was a message that Americans were tired of the federal government taking so much in taxes and feeling that it was wasted or stolen by the people we entrusted to use it wisely.
Again, who could argue with that?
However, we soon saw a corrosive element enter the Tea Party, one of quiet large dollar donations that pushed a specific ideology and not one that focused on taxes. These donations led to a more conservative political ideology on all fronts.
Suddenly, it was no longer the idea that our taxes were too high, it was the idea that all taxes were wrong; that all government programs were inherently evil; that the social safety nets put into place during the New Deal were only there to stifle business; that business was the end-all-and-be-all of America and must be protected and freed from regulation at all costs; that socially-progressive ideas of same-sex marriage and women’s right to choose were morally wrong; and that if the Democrats/Liberals/Progressives/etc. were in favor of something, then they must, by definition, be against it.
The leaders of the Republican Party loved this. It was as if a gift from God had fallen in their laps. Here was a growing movement that pushed people away from the Democrats and became solidified in the GOP camp, one that didn’t cost them a dime to fund. Things were grand, and Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) were the kind of Republican leaders that pushed as hard as they could to make the Tea Party viable.
However, in the 2010 elections, they proved just how viable they were and began to challenge the Republican incumbents. To the Tea Party candidates, the issue wasn’t: “We have to defeat the Democrats;” it was: “We have to defeat the Republicans who aren’t conservative enough.”
And it worked. The GOP swept huge wins in the 2010 election in both federal and state races. John Boehner became Speaker of the House and began to push for a solidly Republican agenda. Only to find one problem: The monster he had helped to create he could no longer control. The most prominent example of this was July of 2011 when the debt ceiling was being raised. It had never been much of an issue before, but the Republicans decided to try and force President Obama to agree to things he did not want in order to pass the raising of the debt ceiling.
Now, this was unprecedented enough, but what happened next was staggering.
Boehner acted as a good Republican should: He sat in meetings with Obama, and they hammered out an agreement. Neither side got everything they wanted, but both sides got something. Boehner took this agreement back to the rest of the Republicans in the House and was promptly shot down. The very conservative GOP (who ran as Tea Party) refused the deal. Not because it wasn’t good enough but because they were pushing for no compromise. They wanted to force the issue by refusing to raise the ceiling unless they got everything they demanded — if they planned on raising it at all. Boehner was publicly humiliated, and he took it to heart. He went back to Obama and began holding a harder line, with more outrageous demands, and threatened that they would make no compromise at all.
To see photos and video of most Republicans in Congress who had been there since before the Tea Party entered the scene, you would think that they all had someone with a knife standing behind them. They looked scared.
Now with the Republican 2012 presidential primaries under way, the people who are showing up are those pushing the hard line ideology. The candidates are falling over each other to show how they are more conservative than the last guy, how they’ll take things even further than the other candidates, how they intend to dismantle all social (and most economic) progress of the last 80 years. And the most terrifying part is that they have throngs of people who love them for it. The hardliners are showing up in droves for the primary. What does that do to the rest of the Republicans, who hold conservative ideals, but not the fundamentalist all-or-nothing style of doing things?
It may not be in 2012, but we are headed for one of two things: Either the conservative GOP movement will expand, eat the Republican Party, and a hyper-partisanship will stall this country, or we will see the GOP become its own movement, break from the Republican Party, and become a new third party with limited electoral reach, but great influence in the future of American politics.
All we can do is wait and see.
Jimmy Garfield is a DePaul University graduate in Communications. A full-time political guru who worked in politics for 5 years, he now gets paid in the IT field. He reads more than is good for him, and loves having somewhere to vent his outrage at the world.