Ever since the great British historian Edward Gibbon wrote “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” (1776), writers have adapted a portion of this title to describe “The Decline and Fall” of everything from a regime to a prominent family or person. So there should no alarm when it is applied to a political party.
The Republican Party, now 159 years of age, shows all of the signs of decline and possible death. A party that began with a vision of free men and free territories has declined to an aggregate of naysayers dominated by a cadre of political absolutists who continue to bring the nation to the edge of financial chaos if they don’t get their way. When their demise is final, I suggest this limerick be on the gravestone:
Here lies the party of “no.”
They knoweth not which way to row.
There’s no doubt about it,
Their record doth shout it,
’Twas truly their time to go.
It might turn out that this ailing party might not be pronounced dead. It might exhibit the behavior of radioactive particles and die slowly over a period of time by the rhythm of a half-death. Politically, this means they can only be a nuisance.
The story could begin with the honest recognition that this party has provided and then defended a significant number of flawed chief executives. Historians have consistently ranked Grant, Harding, Hoover, Nixon and George W. Bush as inadequate presidents. This might be put aside as history, but this party still puts forward flawed candidates who exhibit few qualities accepted as “presidential.” Once nominated, the party continued to support its candidate regardless of the baggage they carried. Pandering to interest groups, adjusting positions to suit each audience and winking at character weaknesses became diet de jour.
At the same time, Republican candidates for both houses of Congress gave evidence of ignorance in several branches of science. One, who was a doctor and a member of the House Science Committee, admitted that he believed the earth to be a mere 10,000 years of age. Another, a candidate for the Senate, offered the opinion that women who had been raped have within their biological makeup a means to nullify a pregnancy. Also, there were the usual charges that Obama was not a certified American but was a certified socialist or communist.
What can you say about a party that has members of Congress who were desperate and accepted disaster relief from the government during Hurricane Katrina (sent only 10 days after the flood) then turned around to withhold disaster relief for 91 days after Hurricane Sandy flattened and destroyed the Northeast coast? When the vote finally came, 179 House members and 36 Senate Republicans voted against relief.
Again, what can you say about a party that, for the sake of expediency and obstruction, adapted a respectable, time-tested, parliamentary procedure to bring legislative progress to a stop? The filibuster, the continuous use of speech to kill a proposal, had been used throughout Senate history as a means to give a minority party some way to check the power of the majority. The present Republican Party has used this practice in a way not envisioned by our founders. A rarity was changed to a routine tactic to stop any piece of legislation this radical Republican junta defined as unacceptable.
An especially obnoxious assault on democracy was the attempts of several Republican governors to keep large numbers of voters from voting. Any device to obstruct voters from voting was tried, including creating long lines that would test the patience of voters enough that they would give up and go home. Fortunately, this resulted in a backlash resistance and an even stronger turnout. These ruses to control election results failed this time and it is too early to know if the governors will repeat this assault on an open ballot box.
There are a good many more bits of evidence of Republican Party decline, but the general message is that they might stave off their decline if they reverse course from a negative to a positive source of political thought and practice. They cannot be a viable political force by trying to destroy all traces of the New Deal and resisting the natural rights of women. The spirit of a progressive society is too powerful for any party to crush. As long as the Republican Party placates the whims of the tea party, it will continue to decline.
Allan Powell is a professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College.