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November 14, 2008

Newly "Dis-Organized" Party

Roy Meachum

Three months after Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn in as the first Democratic president since Woodrow Wilson, Oklahoma-born comedian Will Rogers said on his weekly radio show: "You've got to be optimist to be a Democrat and you've got to be a humorist to stay one." Mr. Rogers was also quoted: "I belong to no organized political party – I’m a Democrat."


Will Rogers commented on a situation that existed since a group of people gathered in a log cabin a few years before the Civil War and declared themselves Republicans. President Abraham Lincoln's election directly caused the breaking away of states; in turn, the Confederacy guaranteed the party's permanent sticking around – despite everything Democrats did. Everything.


Whatever the reality, since its borning, the GOP retained a generally solid front – and accustomed control of the White House – until last week revealed the party is no more organized than (gasp!) the Democrats. The Republican ticket received support from less than half the number of delegates in the Electoral College, as did Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden. In the popular vote, John McCain and Sarah Palin performed better but still fell on their collective rear. No bananas!


The existential problem was the party, as usual, formed ranks behind the White House; that enabled enemies to place blame, especially the economic crises, solidly on the GOP. A survey reveals one-quarter of registered party members left the elephant outside the booth and went for Mr. Obama. Independents, who tended to go with President George W. Bush in both his elections, shifted to the Democrats. I don't think these votes switched in the last few months but were in response to the long struggle between conservatives and moderates. Self-named liberals were registered Democrats a long time ago.


Religion seems to have had much to do with the splits and losses in the GOP. Because of Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy, Bible Belt states voted for the McCain slate. That's what results showed election night. According to surveys, most Americans support separation between church and state; they reject the notion that any church dictate binding morality, particularly over personal conduct. The GOP's Southern Strategy violates the Constitution.


Mr. Bush once celebrated life as a playboy; voters chose him to lead the country after he "got" religion, stopped both drinking and playing around. As with many who consider themselves "saved," the dying-duck president attempted to lift everyone up to his level of faith and behavior. I'm sure Laura Bush helped. There's absolutely nothing wrong in the First Couple's behavior, but it exceeds that of most Americans. It wound up embarrassing and costing the GOP.


Politics' Great Truth is the average citizen votes most frequently "agin" rather than "for." Our elections' generally poor participation probably results from the average person's indifference to politics, normally and particularly when lives are not impacted locally and directly. (By the way, post-election studies show this was far from a record turn-out, defying earlier predictions.)


Mr. Obama's African father and his Muslim name scarcely came into play for whites voting, according to exit polls. They may have mattered to all those folks who stayed home; we'll never know. Post-election day surveys cannot be trusted; people's positions tend to reflect the results.


Less than residents of any totalitarian nation, Americans still display mistrust in the governments they elect. The current administration has done little to allay fears. In the name of fighting terrorism, the White House and the Pentagon authorized access to telephone records and other intrusions on personal privacy.


No wonder that so many who uphold Republican principles voted against the party's ticket. We saw – in recent years – political apostasy by GOP officials with bigger government and still bigger budgets. We witnessed how Mr. Nixon's Southern Strategy demanded the party adopt bigotry, lest it lose the new allies. The GOP blamed Democrats for starting all America's wars. That was before Iraq's invasion and wasn't true anyway.


Except for the Eisenhower years, each time in my life the Oval Office was occupied by a Republican – especially this administration – there were efforts to bypass the Constitution to enable permanent GOP control of the nation. This may be reaction to FDR's four victories that appeared as if he owned the White House; I don't know.


In any event, George W. Bush's colleagues and cronies went too far – in all directions. We have witnessed an extraordinary number of indictments against administration officials, mostly middle status types. At least, the charges reached no height comparable to Nixon's attorney general and his chief advisors who spent time in prison. The current crop was indicted for following the absolutist position of Bush's vice president. Richard Cheney demonstrated the past eight years his belief that government officials should answer to no one – to hell with tax-paying voters and the Constitution.


In my view, the wreck of the Republican Party must be attributed to Mr. Cheney. Unwittingly he was also the chief architect of Barack Obama's November 4 triumph. In trying to finish the grab for single party rule started by Richard M. Nixon's crew, the vice president betrayed the GOP and all principles it stood for coming out of that log cabin.


At least the Republican Party will not have to contend with Richard Cheney as it sets about reorganizing after last week's drubbing. As a non-member of the GOP, I find that comforting – for this beloved republic.


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