Don’t bet the farm the GOP is doomed

Has the GOP gone so far right-wing that the Democrats are in for good, or at least for many years?

Bloggers, newspaper columnists and TV talking heads of the liberal persuasion seem to think so. I wouldn’t bet on it, and not because Obama is slipping some in the polls over a still sluggish economy.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a union-card carrying community college teacher who voted for Obama.

But history, the subject I teach, shows the Republicans (and the Democrats) can bounce back from presidential election defeats, no matter how lopsided. Sometimes, it takes just four years.

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson buried Barry Goldwater in one of the largest landslides ever. Democrats called it “Goldwaterloo.”

Yet in 1968, the country elected Richard Nixon.

The Democrats rebounded with Jimmy Carter in 1976. The GOP returned with Ronald Reagan in 1980. It was Democrat Bill Clinton in ’92, but Republican George W. Bush in 2000.

So it’s a tad too early to call Obama’s victory a redefining election, meaning one that tilts the balance of political power to one party for a long time.

The current GOP might be too extreme for most Americans who aren’t from Bible Belt states like Kentucky, where I live, or from cowboy country out West. But morphing the Republican elephant symbol into a dinosaur (like I saw somebody do on the liberal Daily Kos blogsite) is premature.

Meanwhile, liberals scoffed when die-hard Republicans, smarting from Obama’s win, claimed America was still a “center right” country. “Right” is more like it. That’s the GOP’s ace-in-the-hole.

Politically and socially, America is the most conservative industrial democracy. 

The U.S. is the only one that still has the death penalty. We’re also the only one without some kind of comprehensive national health insurance. (Whatever health reform Obama gets from Congress likely will be much less inclusive than government-funded health care systems in other industrial democracies.)

Perhaps most telling, we are the only industrial democracy without a significant socialist party. (Brian Moore, candidate of the Socialist Party U.S.A., got 1,326 votes nationwide last November.)

“Socialism” isn’t a dirty word to a lot of people in London, England; Paris, France; Berlin, Germany; and Vienna, Austria. It is to a lot of people in London, Ky.; Paris, Tex.; Berlin, N.H.; and Vienna, Ill.

Because “socialism” is considered a big-time slam in American politics, the Republicans diss the Democrats as “socialists.” The Democrats fall all over themselves denying it.

The fact is, the Democratic and Republican parties are capitalist parties. By European standards, the Democrats would be center right and the Republicans far right.

Social issues like abortion and “the Three Gs – God, guns and gays” are huge in American politics. They are fringe issues or non-issues in other industrial democracies. So is religion, which often helps slant American society and politics to the right.

As a whole, American Christians are the most conservative Christians in the Western world. There is nothing like the Republican-friendly Religious Right in other industrial democracies.

Liberal pundits might argue that the power of the Religious Right is waning. After all, Religious Rightists were solid for the McCain-Palin ticket.

Yet while the GOP’s Christian Soldiers may be down, they, like their party, are not out. Even Obama feels compelled to end most of his speeches with a “God bless the United States of America.”

No doubt, the GOP’s way out conservatism – symbolized by Sarah Palin, who some liberal wag dubbed “Half-Baked Alaska” — turned off a ton of voters. But most people voted for Obama mainly because the economy was in sorry shape, not because they didn’t like the GOP’s conservatism on the social issues.

If the good times don’t start rolling again soon, the president and his party might find themselves in hot water in 2010 — and beyond. Liberal pundits might be wishing they’d hedged their bets, too.

Not coincidentally, many, if not most, liberal pundits live in Blue States where Obama clobbered McCain.  “When you tell somebody somethin,’ it depends on what part of the United States you’re standin’ in…as to just how dumb you are” is one of my favorite movie lines. It’s from “Smokey and the Bandit,” hardly a cinematic tour de force.

But the line is true. Geography influences politics in America. Where you are standing does affect what you think and why you think it, rightly or wrongly.

Red State Kentucky went big for McCain. (“I want to be in Kentucky when the end of the world comes because it’s always 20 years behind,” Mark Twain supposedly said.)

Anyway, I hope the liberal pundits are right. But from where I stand, I don’t see America turning a permanent Blue hue.

Indeed, Thomas Frank’s book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, is a cautionary tale for anybody who thinks a new Liberal Age has automatically dawned with Obama.

“Out here the gravity of discontent pulls in only one direction: to the right, to the right, further to the right,” he wrote about Kansas, one of the reddest of the Red States, where he grew up and went to college.

Gravity tugs the same way in Kentucky.

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About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a native Kentuckian, a professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance journalist. He is a member of the American Federation of Teachers and the Kentucky Education Association/National Education Association. He is the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, which he describes as "a strictly non-partisan chronicle of our political past from Gov. Isaac Shelby to Gov. Ruby Laffoon."
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