Friday, January 06, 2012


Republican Dilemma: Rearm or Rethink

Already two of the faces on the left have disappeared: Herman Cain, caught out by sexual misconduct accusations; Michelle Bachman, once leading in the polls, then coming last in the Iowa Caucuses, deciding she's had enough; and Texas governor Rick Perry probably going to do the same. The Republicans are in a bind. Martin Kettle, offers an unusual take on the contest today. He compares the Republicans with British Labour, suggesting parties in opposition either have to 'rearm' or 'rethink'. Rethink is clear enough but 'rearm' is to increase conviction or, to simplify, 'get more angry'. Together both approaches can achieve success but alone an opposition party will founder.

He suggests Labour have always been ready to rethink- hence Revisionist Labour in the 1950s and New Labour in the 1990s. Despite Maurice Glasman's attack on Ed Miliband in the New Statesman recently, Kettle sees some merit and originality in the piece: parties will always cast around for a while and 'thinkers' will often prove loose canons.

However, he sees only an angry attempt to 'rearm' in the US Republicans, a route doomed to failure if it continues. Also useful is the recent Economist piece which lists the positions from which currently, it seems, all candidates must not waver:

Nowadays, a candidate must believe not just some but all of the following things: that abortion should be illegal in all cases; that gay marriage must be banned even in states that want it; that the 12m illegal immigrants, even those who have lived in America for decades, must all be sent home; that the 46m people who lack health insurance have only themselves to blame; that global warming is a conspiracy; that any form of gun control is unconstitutional; that any form of tax increase must be vetoed, even if the increase is only the cancelling of an expensive and market-distorting perk; that Israel can do no wrong and the “so-called Palestinians”, to use Mr Gingrich’s term, can do no right; that the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and others whose names you do not have to remember should be abolished.

Within the closed world of Republican supporters, these beliefs merely seem bankable 'commonsense' but to independent and mainstream voters they are looney tunes. John McCain did some corkscrew turns to fit in back in 2008 but since then his party has 'rearmed' like mad and shifted hugely to the right under the imperatives of the Tea Party movement; poor old Romney has been recanting his moderation like a Catholic adulterer in confession. All this bodes ill for success in November. The Economist, however, suggests that if the stalemate persists then some credible moderate candidates, who have till now stood back, might enter the fray even at this late stage; in mind are the likes of Jeb Bush, John Christie or Mitch Daniels. So Obama scores well against most current candidates and, with the economy beginning to show signs of vigour, must now have a good chance of winning, for which three cheers!

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