Thursday, July 16, 2009

The GOP: A Gothic Tale

"May I call on you sometime?" Bill to Sookie, True Blood.

A haunted air of doomed Southern gothic spiderwebs the GOP. The vaunted party of Nixon-Reagan-Dubya lies doggo under the shade of a magnolia tree after spectacular defeats in 2006 and 2008. What is to be done? Do they look to Haley Barbour or Carobou Barbie?

If Governor Sarah Palin didn't exist Tennessee Williams would have had to invent her literary like. Palin is so -- how does one say this nicely? -- unpredictable that it is not inconceivable that she might even start a Third Party. Rush Limbaugh -- the mint-Julep sipping "Big Daddy" of the Republican plantation -- has said as much. Let's face it: the right wing of the party was not enthusiastic with Senator John McCain, the nominee in 2008. In fact, the right wing was not particularly impressed with any of the field other than Palin and Ron Paul. Congressman Paul, a true-blue Texas eccentric, ran as the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate in 1988. The relationship between Governor Palin and her husband with the Alaska Independence Party is, we cannot fail to note, as foggy as a moss-draped graveyard at midnight.

There is an air of spent fertility, of "stubborn and coquettish decay" about the Grand Old Party. Conservatism, by its very nature, doesn't react well to Change, which is, at present, the zeitgeist. After Reagan, after Gingrich, the party is out of ideas and now gravitationally pulled down into the nativist vortex of blood and race. Argumentum ad Reptilian Brain Stem.

At the Sotomayor hearings, the Republican opposition appeared not unlike immobile oak trees impeding the foregone conclusion of her confirmation, of progress. Standing athwart History yelling stop has lost its pessimistic magic. Pat Buchanan, a card-carrying member of the Sons of the Confederacy, seems pathologically obsessed nowadays with declining white birth rates in Russia and Europe. As the aging Buchanan prepares to meet his maker his various political and cultural concerns have concentrated, calcified, into the Great Subject of his life: Race. We also cannot fail to note that Pat Buchanan never created -- or adopted -- a child of his own to raise as a God-fearing, little gun-toting white Christian warrior. Buchanan's message is virtually indistinguishable -- particularly on Israel and immigration -- from that of David Duke, who burst onto the national scene a generation ago on the bayou.

The South has always romanticized the doomed rebel, fighting against all hope in moon-drenched quarters for his way of life, his civilization and his honor. But technological advancements and popular culture have internationalized the younger generation into de facto multiculturalists and liberal ironists. The House of Faulkner, as a result, is rapidly becoming a marginalized Southern, older gentleman's party. One of the dangers, however, of nostalgia for the Confederacy by this subset is that the romanticism for rebellion leads to an uptick in domestic terrorism. In April, the Department of Homeland Security noted that right-wing groups would face increased scrutiny.

Beyond the foggy estate of Barobour and Barbie is David Cameron across the Atlantic. In May David Brooks wrote:

"For years, American and British politics were in sync. Reagan came in roughly the same time as Thatcher, and Clinton’s Third Way approach mirrored Blair’s. But the British conservatives never had a Gingrich revolution in the 1990s or the Bush victories thereafter. They got their losing in early, and, in the wilderness, they rethought modern conservatism while their American counterparts were clinging to power.

"Today, British conservatives are on the way up, while American conservatives are on the way down.

"... (David) Cameron describes a new global movement, with rising center-right parties in Sweden, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, California and New York (he admires Schwarzenegger and Bloomberg). American conservatives won’t simply import this model. But there’s a lot to learn from it. The only question is whether Republicans will learn those lessons sooner, or whether they will learn them later, after a decade or so in the wilderness."

An acute observation. American conservatives can continue to nominate and lose with older South-Southwestern conservative men like Haley Barbour. Conservatives can also move to the center, veer younger and post-cultural wars, eschewing the voodoo of the Southern Gothic swamp. Former Congressman Joe Scarborough, Cameron and Chris Buckley have a lighter, less antebellum flavor to their folksiness. They seem to point in the only direction from out of the mournful Gothic past. Will the House of Faulkner figure this out before 2012? Or, in the tradion -- conservatives love tradition -- of Southern Gothic will conservatives continue to cling to a cause that is doomed. Then the question becomes: Does the bitter taste of continual electoral defeat eventually threaten violence in the uniform of rebellion?

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