This past weekend the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held its annual conference in Washington, DC. Many Republican Party stalwarts and presidential hopefuls, such as Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck and former Vice President Dick Cheney, were in attendance.
After watching the videos and reading the speeches, one can clearly see a party that is at war with itself in terms of ideology and imagery. Are they the party of the “tea-baggers” with Dick Armey and Sarah Palin or the party of Mitt Romney, who has now moved to the right on abortion and gay rights when he once supported them and is against the health-care reform he championed as governor of Massachusetts? What do the Republicans stand for and which face will they turn to as they articulate their message?
On the one hand, the head of the Young Americans for Freedom’s California chapter, Ryan Sorba, was booed off of the stage for condemning CPAC for accepting sponsorship from GOProud, a group that represents gay Republicans. “I’d like to condemn CPAC for bringing GOPride to this event.… Guess what. Civil rights are grounded in natural rights. Natural rights are grounded in human nature.” Keynote speaker Glenn Beck contradicted Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s attempt to open the party to more Americans with the “Big Tent.” Beck said, “All they’re taking about is: ‘We need a big tent. We need a big tent. Can we get a bigger tent’ … what is this, a circus?”
A straw poll was conducted during the CPAC conference. One of the questions asked attendees when looking ahead towards 2012 was who would they vote for as the next Republican nominee for president? Texas Rep. Ron Paul received 31 percent of the votes cast; former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney received 22 percent and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was a distant third with 7 percent.
More telling than the question regarding the potential nominee are the next two questions. When asked if they were satisfied with the field of potential candidates, 53 percent of the respondents said no. When asked about the image presented by political figures, ideologues like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh both received 70 percent favorable ratings.
The problem with ideologies is that by themselves they are not rational. They tend to focus on and confuse the imagery of the “should be” and “ought to be” with the practical “is.” Without people who are able to inject pragmatism and tie logic and reason to an ideology, it can take an institution, group or country down some very perilous roads. This is why ideologues like Beck and Limbaugh would make terrible politicians. The ideologies they have articulated have made for very bad public policy. Ideologues are so focused on the “should be” that they fail to take into account the practical applications of the “how.”
During the President Bush 41 administration, neoconservative ideologues hijacked American politics and policy. The so-called Reagan Republicans co-opted American domestic and foreign policy. At the same time, Christian social conservatives controlled the parties’ social agenda in an attempt to redefine American values.
The fact that oil/energy companies had unchecked influence over American energy policy, while pharmaceutical and insurance companies were writing health care policy is an example of corporatism. President Bush and Vice President Cheney’s attempt to consolidate power within the executive branch through implementation of the Unitary Executive Theory is a clear example of autocracy. The invasion of sovereign nonthreatening nations and the use of unilateral foreign policy is a good example of militarism. The Bush 41 administration ignored the protections guaranteed by the Constitution through their attacks on civil rights and civil liberties, suspension of habeas corpus, warrantless wiretapping, ignoring the FISA court, extraordinary renditions and torture. These are examples of totalitarianism.
After eight years of ideological babble such as “compassionate conservatism,” “American internationalism,” “ownership society” and “war on terror,” Americans rejected this failed direction. They began to focus on real issues such as home foreclosures, affordable health care, outsourcing American jobs, global warming and skyrocketing energy costs.
The majority of Americans do not want the country to go backwards as the Palins, Cheneys and Romneys want to take it. The majority of Americans are not listening to the rhetoric and diatribes of Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Beck. Americans want to move forward and are looking for workable long-term solutions, not slogans.
As America moves towards the 2010 midterm elections and 2012, what will the Republicans stand for and which face will they turn to as they articulate their message?