In her self-help books from several decades ago, “The Dance of Anger” and “The Dance of Intimacy,” Harriet Lerner talks about the way many relationships are a two-way street, and that when one partner starts to change, a likely first reaction from the other partner will be to escalate efforts to return to the previous balance, even if that balance was not very good for either of them.
This provides us one way of looking at the current situation in the Republican Party. Since the racism, anti-communism, and sexism that helped them win elections for the last few decades have stopped getting the same results, the response of most Republicans is to increase their attacks on workers, escalate their “War on Women,” intensify their appeals to racism. The strategies that they have used to “win” for much of the last 40 years are no longer working the way they used to, but instead of stepping back, reevaluating, and making sensible changes the way a few Republican operatives are urging them to do, most Republicans are doubling-down on their old ways of doing things.
While a few so-called Republican intellectuals argue for changes in the policy proposals that Republicans make (I’m looking at you, David Frum), and a few elected officials make half-hearted gestures on one or two issues (I’m looking at you, Marco Rubio), most are claiming that the only problem they have is in the packaging of their rhetoric. They believe that if Republicans just put on a happier face and choose their words more carefully without altering anything of substance (they are looking at you, Todd Akin and Richard Murdoch), they can reverse their electoral defeats on a national level.
Most conservatives, not just in the base but also among elected officials, are becoming even more right-wing in their speeches (I’m looking at you, Ted Cruz). In his recent speech to the 2013 CPAC gathering, Cruz says that if holding onto his convictions and speaking them loudly and obnoxiously makes him a “wacko bird,” then he is happy to be a wacko bird.
Even as other elected officials slap him down for his rudeness in the Senate (I’m looking at you, Diane Feinstein), Ted “Wacko Bird” Cruz promises to get louder, ruder, more obnoxious, and more confrontational. This is not a personality flaw (or at least not only a personality flaw), it is an attempt to get the same electoral victories the right wing has gotten used to by increasing their vitriol and obstruction. This continues to give Republicans a bad name, even among many who have voted Republican.
Efforts to school Wacko Bird Cruz in the proper protocol for senatorial behavior (I’m looking at you, John McCain) will undoubtedly fail. He is immune to pleas to be more conciliatory, since his success comes from rejecting compromise.
Such efforts to moderate Wacko Bird Cruz and his ilk will continue to fail, because they take him at his word, instead of understanding that the proclaimed reasoning behind his pronouncements has nothing to do with whether it makes sense, whether it corresponds to reality, or whether it will win votes in the Senate. His loud and blustering attitude comes from an acute understanding of his political base and what they want to hear.
To tell the truth, Republicans are caught in a death spiral of conflicting necessities. Unless they change, they can never win the upcoming generation of voters, who are decidedly more liberal on gay marriage, immigrant rights, abortion rights, and pocketbook issues like increasing the minimum wage, to mention a few issues where the Republicans are firmly on the wrong side of history. But if they change, they will lose the base they have, the older, whiter, more conservative base, the Limbaugh listeners, the Beck blusterers, those addicted to the Ailes illness called Fox News.
Another false notion creeping around the commentariat is that Republicans at the state and local levels are doing just fine, and some of them are very popular because they are moderate. But looking at actual Republicans engaged in actual governance in the states, most are escalating attacks on women’s health, on voting rights, on union rights, on taxes on the rich. From Kasich in Ohio to McDonnell in Virginia to Walker in Wisconsin to Brownback in Kansas to Jindal in Louisiana to Haley in North Carolina to Snyder in Michigan, these Republicans at the state level are not moderate at all, but rather the worst kinds of right-wing anti-people politicians.
Sometimes these politicians hide their policies behind rhetoric that sounds moderate, and that fools some of the people some of the time, but that doesn’t mean that they are moderates in real life, they just play ones on television.
Measured by the volume of their anger, the wacko birds play a much more dominant role in our politics than their numbers and support would justify. But they are fighting losing battles, and we need to help them on their way.
Time, memory, math, and common sense are not on their side.