I don’t celebrate what has become of the Republican Party in America. In becoming a joke party, supported solely by people who believe in archaic forms of justice and morality, they have hurt American democracy by failing to act as a force of legitimate opposition. And I’m hardly the only one who thinks so.
There isn’t much to the GOP’s plan for America. One need only watch Mitt Romney’s nomination speech from the RNC. Light on facts, light on policy, and heavy on one singular message: let’s go back to when things were simple. To the GOP, this equates to smaller government, lower taxes, and fewer restrictions on land ownership and business practices.
If all the GOP were after was a ‘simpler’ America without many rules, they wouldn’t have been trounced so poorly in the last election. Taken at face value, “smaller, smarter, simpler” is a pretty good pitch. If their talking points and policy choices focused on economic conservatism and common-sense approaches to business (as they love to purport) they’d be doing a lot better.
Unfortunately for the GOP and US politics as a whole, the party has become overrun with some of the most backwards political statements in modern memory.
Republicans lost the election because they were against things no modern member of society need be against.
They wasted their time on ancient pro-life policies, and were outed over and over in 2012 as having no idea what they were talking about on the subject. They likened rape to having children out of wedlock, claimed rape as an act of God, and had lots to say on what happens in the event of ‘legitimate’ rapes.
Republicans failed to coerce minorities to vote for their platform as well, partially based on a number of painful choices over the last few years. The Republican immigration policy is a tawdry mess of mixed messages, and the lack of diversity in the ranks is pathetic. Most of all, they believe that nearly half the country are moochers.
Finally, republicans have fared poorly in the one area they stereotypically (though not historically) peacock about: the economy. As of late, Republicans believe that it’s been wise to hold the economy hostage. In 2011, Republican tactics got the US downgraded by Standard & Poor’s, and as I’m writing this congress has essentially given up trying to fix the fiscal cliff issue. It’s been an embarrassing couple of years for a party that would like to appear responsible with people’s money.
The point of this article is not to poke fun or deride Republicans for no reason. The point is to articulate that by focusing on the wrong things for the country, Republicans have become a much weaker party. In a 2-party system, having one weak, deluded, and hampered party doesn’t just mean that one side will more easily win—it means that it isn’t really a democracy anymore. At least, it’s not a competitive democracy living up to the potential of the idea.
“It is fine for the opposition to take on the role of a spoiler, exploiting all opportunities to damage the governing party but it hurts if now the damage is directed at itself and the country. It should distinguish between harm and harm not done to the country.”
That line was actually written about Botswana by Mmoloki Gabatlhaolwe, but it accurately describes the issue facing Republicans today. It’s more than fine to resist things. One could argue that resistance is the only real card that can by played by an opposition party. But continually and so stubbornly refusing to evolve arguments and make compromises damages the democratic conversation, simply by eliminating one voice from the discussion. Obama and the Democrats won the election not because their ideas were great, but because they were less asinine than those held by Republicans. That really shouldn’t be good enough.
America certainly isn’t alone in this. Tunisia, Russia, the previously-mentioned Botswana, and my own country of Canada and others share this problem. Sure, the degree of weakness varies wildly, but the problem is the same. If the dominant opposition of the leading party is weak, then the leading party isn’t properly challenged.
There’s a phenomenal paragraph by Thamsanqa Mlilo in regards to weak opposition in South Africa that sums up this point entirely:
I believe strong and credible opposition can provide a real challenge and scrutiny to government activities and provide a viable ideological alternative to the electorate and ideally provide a platform for democracy. A government kept on its toes by a vibrant opposition is likely to keep its policies and goals in check and, hopefully in sync with the needs of the population. However, the opposition itself has to be built on democratic foundations and if operating within a structurally permissive political environment it can foster national democracy.
The sad fact is, the Republican Party is incredibly important to the health of US politics. But their act isn’t even close to together, which means they’re nowhere near where they need to be. I hope they at least see where they went wrong, but evidence suggests they don’t really see it yet (link goes to Amazon for David Frum’s book Why Romney Lost. Here’s the Kobo link). Much like how a fight is only really worth watching if both combatants are evenly matched, democracy only really works when the debate is even, tough, and intelligent.