Holding the Coalition Hostage

Seeing the news about Senator Larry Craig’s lewd conduct arrest and guilty plea* and an incisive analysis of the power of hypocrisy to disaffect voters away from the Republican party, I find myself glad of the fact that I have a reasonable and principled position to take in what I see as a necessary reinvention of the GOP. The struggle is being played out right now in the Presidential primary.

We can continue to be the party of social orthodoxy, as many would have us become. This way of thought is congruent with, but broader than, the constituency of the “religious right.” We can profit from going part way down the road Ron Paul describes in his vision of a Constitutional libertarian utopia, but his vision is ultimately unrealistic and unachievable. The likeliest source of political strength for the GOP in the future is to renew the alliance between the Chamber of Commerce and the Security Hawks.

Now, as we know from the Clinton years, not even Democrats are opposed to a strong, vibrant economy, and Democrats who get elected President (other than ones named Carter) are not quite as shy about using military force to pursue American interests abroad as some Republicans would portray them as being.

But it’s a question of priorities rather than willingness to use the military when our backs are against the wall. Security Hawks preach the gospel that the world is a dangerous place, filled with dangerous people who mean to do us harm. We are best served, they argue, if we take the fight to them and keep our homes and families safe. This requires military adventures, and some of our young men and women will die in these conflicts. But better that than another 9/11. The distilled essence of Security Hawkery is found in Rudy Giuliani’s stump speech highlighting the “terrorists’ war on us.” Giuliani is doing his level best to get that alliance forged under his leadership, as appeals like this to tax-cutters on the economic-pornography channel CNBC demonstrate.

Almost all of the other Republican candidates, with the exception of libertarian idealist Ron Paul, are focusing their appeals to the socially orthodox, and in particular to the religiously socially orthodox. Mitt Romney is hoping to reach out to the moatdiggers and the religious, and would be doing better if he weren’t a Mormon and therefore thoroughly distrusted by evangelical Christians.

I’m not suggesting that other Republican candidates are in favor of high taxes or pounding our swords into plowshares. But it’s a question of priorities and appeals to different segments of the party (until about February 6, 2008) and the public (thereafter). And I think Rudy’s got the right stuff to both pull together a winning coalition and put together viable governing policies. Certainly the polls so far suggest that whatever it is Hizzonner is doing is working.

The danger is that the social orthodoxy crowd, by virtue of its nature of wanting to get people to all think and act alike, will not be able to tolerate not being in the driver’s seat of the national agenda anymore. One wonders if these types would not secretly (or not-so-secretly) be happier with another Clinton in the White House to rally against. If they don’t get their way, if they don’t feel that they have a seat at the table and that their agenda is being pursued, the noises they’ve been making suggest a danger of a schism. A schism, in turn, would virtually guarantee Democratic victories in general elections for the foreseeable future, and in that sense the social crowd can hold the GOP hostage to some degree.

Thus the question the Republicans must wrestle with during this primary — can this coalition be held together? Are the social types bluffing with the implied threat of a schism? (For some of them, I have to wonder.) Will the moatdiggers and gun nuts rights enthusiasts be able to overcome their distrust of Hizzonner and stay with the team, or will they bolt with the churchy types and create a real schism?

I tend to think not. American political thought gravitates towards a bipolar view of things, and while many may be dissatisfied with the way the Republican party realigns itself, in terms of its policy platforms and its leadership, they will quickly find that going their own way is a quick route to obsolescence and that there is no room for them at the Democrats’ inn. But this is not a new alignment of politics — it is two factions that found common cause in the early 1980’s hanging together for convenience and lack of an alternative.

That sort of governing coalition — akin to the last scene in True Romance, when everybody is pointing guns at everyone else — may seem like no way to run a railroad. But it’s probably better than the foggily-conceived soak-the-suburban-rich tax hikes that the other party has in mind if they were to be given a free hand with all branches of government.

* Senator Craig was apparently soliciting a gay sex act in a public men’s room in the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport. Tawdry, cheap, and unsophisticated — I’m as shocked by this bit of crude and unappetizing solicitation, by someone with the means to have gotten higher-class sex if he had wanted it, as I was by George Michael’s similarly low-rent sexploits. I mean, really. Aren’t gay men supposed to have a little class? Heterosexuals seeking discreet encounters use call girls — aren’t there similar services for those seeking the pleasures of male companions?

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.