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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Tapscottia Seems to be Growing: What Stephen Douglas and George W. Bush Have in Common Seen in Thomas, Noonan Columns

I'm still on break from active blogging here but there are a couple of columns out today that absolutely must be read by everybody who cares about, thinks about or depends upon the future of the two-party system.

People have been predicting the demise of the current parties for decades, but the coming of the Internet is providing the tools to empower outsiders to oust insiders and force reforms needed to make our government more responsive, transparent and accountable.

That this was inevitable was made clear by Hugh Hewitt's book, "Blog: The Information Reformation that is changing your world." Glenn Reynolds' superb "An Army of Davids" develops the implications of blogs and much else from the technology side.

Peggy Noonan looks at Unity 08, a budding collection of Democrat and GOP centrists who think voters need more options because there is too much partisanship in Washington. Right solution, but proposed to the wrong problems, Noonan argues, accurately in my view.

The problem is much deeper, she says:

"Partisanship is fine when it's an expression of the high animal spirits produced by real political contention based on true political belief. But the current partisanship seems sour, not joyous. The partisanship has gotten deeper as less separates the governing parties in Washington. It is like what has been said of academic infighting: that it's so vicious because the stakes are so low.

"The problem is not that the two parties are polarized. In many ways they're closer than ever. The problem is that the parties in Washington, and the people on the ground in America, are polarized.

"There is an increasing and profound distance between the rulers of both parties and the people - between the elites and the grunts, between those in power and those who put them there."

Noonan says she feels something in the air, that "a big breakup" is in the offing, one that will somebody be viewed by historians as one of those paradigm shifts in American politics such as resulted from the slavery crisis.

Go here to read Noonan's full column. Then send it to as many of your friends as you dare.

She is not alone is that feeling. Cal Thomas senses it, too, noting that the immigration debate now going forward in Congress is at bottom a contest about the future of the GOP. President Bush and GOPers like Sen. John McCain who back the Senate comprehensive immigration "solution," think Republicans will gain millions of Hispanic voters:

"It won't work, because even if all illegals end up becoming legal and voting for Republicans (which is unlikely), the conservative disgust and abandonment of the GOP would outweigh any short-term gains the party might enjoy."

Go here for the full Thomas column and forward it, too.

Immigration is functioning today for the GOP much as the slavery issue did for Democrats in the years leading up to the Civil War. The party's most prominent leader, Sen. Stephen Douglas, thought he could straddle the issue with his doctrine of Popular Sovereignity. But that position simply provided the fuel for further ignition of the flames of war because it didn't resolve the issue one way or the other.

Similarly, Bush, McCain and company are trying to straddle the immigration issue by trying to seem tough on border enforcement while moving forward with what amounts to the biggest immigration amnesty in American history. It won't work because Bush and the GOP leadership have totally underestimated the intensity of opposition in the party's base and indeed far beyond the conservative realms of the electorate.

The GOP went from nowhere in 1854 to Lincoln in the White House and congressional majorities in a decade. Thanks to the Internet's power to link like-minded people, I doubt it will take so long this time around for a new party to become ascendant.

FRIDAY UPDATE: Geraghty Inches This Way?

Maybe it's my imagination but this sounds just a tad like a guy who is packing a few things in ancticipation of a move:

"If you ask Frist, Hastert, or Boehner to assess their work in recent years, they would probably say they’ve done a darn good job. The public and conservatives disagree. One could argue the last truly conservative and truly significant bill to get through Congress was Welfare Reform back in 1996.
"So, yes, the Republican Party of Bush, Cheney, Frist, McCain and Hastert has lost its way.
"We need one of two things. We need either a new party that is consistently conservative, or for the Republican party to remember it’s supposed to be the conservative one."

Jim notes that the Perot detour taken by some conservatives in 1992 played a role in putting Clinton in the White House for the first term. It's a fair point, but I would argue that Perot was a transitory distraction, not an enduring attraction, because he was all about charts and eccentricity rather than principles and a serious long-term vision for the nation.

More important, there was no Internet in 1992. Had there been, Perot's, shall we say, quirks would have been surfaced much more quickly and he would not have gotten nearly as serious a hearing in the mainstream media as he did.

As for now, I argue that since the GOP has demonstrated that it cannot be relied upon as a vehicle for achieving conservative reform, the significant question then is how do we get to that new consistently conservative party and make it a winner? In my humble opinion, that is a discussion of far greater importance than whether we should let ourselves be suckered yet again.

Go here to read the full Geraghty take.

UPDATE II: Will GOP Ills Sink Conservatives, Too?

Andrew Cline comes at these issues from a slightly different - and definitely more disturbing - angle by warning that public disgust with the GOP could also take down the conservative vision of limited government:

"The average American voter must understand that there is another alternative method of governing -- one that he supported only a dozen years ago. It might be too late to salvage the Republican wreckage before November, but as long as the public knows that conservative ideas still represent a promising and viable alternative to the current mess that the Republicans have made in Washington, there is hope for 2008.

"If the public becomes convinced that conservatism is synonymous with the policies of the past five years, the conservative movement could sink along with the GOP's majority. And that truly would spell bad news for everyone for years to come."

Cline is Editorial Page Editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. Go here for the full Cline piece.