Last week we got a brief glimpse of what a reasonable Republican Party would look like. Faced with unspeakable destruction brought on by Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Romney surrogate and formerly as vicious an attack dog on President Obama as anyone in the GOP, suddenly began bestowing lavish praise on the president. Where once he was claiming that Obama had never learned how to lead anything, suddenly he was praising the president's leadership skills. For several days, in interview after interview, Christie spoke of the tremendous cooperation and assistance he was receiving from the White House, and the two spent Oct. 31 surveying the damage. It took disaster to get the facade of fake outrage at "big government" and the other unwarranted right-wing attacks against Obama dropped, but suddenly all Americans got to see how government should and could work when the goal is helping people and not merely dethroning the opposition party.
Such cooperation is not new, but it is decidedly rare today. In fact, it's hard to think of another instance of Republican cooperation throughout Obama's entire term. Instead, what we have gotten for four years is a party whose priorities are, in order, defeating the president and promoting an ever-devolving list of social policies that would turn the clock back to the mid 20th century.
A More Reasonable Republican Party
Previous generations of Republicans were different. When George McGovern passed away this week, Bob Dole reflected on how he, a conservative, and the late liberal had worked together in the 1970s to fashion legislation dealing with food stamps and lunches for school kids. He talked about how they worked together to feed hungry children around the world. This is a conservative Republican and formerly the party's standard bearer talking. Rather than be bound by a political party's immovable ideology, he and McGovern focused on their "shared values" and interest in bettering the lives of others.
Past Republican presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and, yes, even Richard Nixon, took the lead on protecting the environment, saving our wildlife, protecting the air and water, building infrastructure, growing and protecting Social Security and, yes, even building a relationship with former enemies like the People's Republic of China. It was Ronald Reagan, his bad old self, who extended a diplomatic hand to the former Soviet Union and, in so doing, helped to bring down the Iron Curtain.
The Republican Iron Curtain
But today's Republicans? They've spent four long years thwarting President Obama at every turn, refusing to help create jobs, regulate bankers, lower the debt or aid veterans. They sneer at diplomacy and embrace alienating allies and enemies alike. They didn't want to to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they started a new one on national health care. They deny global warming, sneer at evolution, fight science and think FEMA is overfunded. They've thrown the American people under the bus to try to regain power -- and it has worked somewhat. In 2010 they took back the House of Representatives on a promise to create jobs. Since then, they passed not a single jobs bill but spent a lot of time trying to take away our health care and talking about the lighter side of rape.
On Rape and Race
Their policies regarding women have been the most mind-numbing, with a long list of Republicans who've made bizarre statements about rape. There's Senate candidates Richard Mourdock, who described rape as "something that God intended to happen," and Todd Akin, who stated that in a "legitimate rape the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." And there's vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who referred to rape as a "method of conception" and once authored legislation that coined the bizarre term "forcible rape."
Meanwhile, presidential nominee Mitt Romney hasn't taken a side on women's issues. That is to say he's taken every side. He's endorsed Mourdock, backed away from Akin and chosen Ryan as his running mate. He's also been for and against women's right to choose, and in the middle. He's run a campaign in which he's either refused to take a stand on anything or, instead, taken multiple stands on everything.
On race, the party still seems challenged by the same old prejudices. When Republican Colin Powell, a retired four-star general and former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, endorsed President Barack Obama last week, the response from Romney campaign co-chairman John Sununu was that Powell had endorsed Obama because they had the same skin color. And there you have it, the modern Republican leadership, obsessed with race baiting and women hating -- old white guys who are terrified that the world is changing, that women, minorities and gay people play an important part in our society, today and for the future.
A Party Gone Mad
When exactly did the GOP go so completely crazy? While the voodoo economics and careless social policies owe much of their origins to the Reagan years, and the race baiting can be traced even further back, the train didn't run completely off the tracks until just a few years ago. After the 2008 defeat, the Republican party was desperate. Feeling endangered, they made a radical choice. Rather than head toward the middle, they went as far right as possible, pushing out many of the party's moderates in favor of extreme ideologues like Mourdock, Akin and Ryan, who think women are second-class citizens, not entitled to overseeing their own health care. Thus did they complete a makeover of the party, to the point that now Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Ann Coulter are the mainstream and even their lord Reagan would look out of place.
Now they are in a neck-and-neck race for the White House, with a candidate who promises the same things the Tea Party promised in 2010 but lifted not a single finger to achieve. He says he will create 12 million new jobs, but he doesn't say how. He says he will cut taxes and balance the budget, but he doesn't say how. He says he won't push to overturn Roe v. Wade, but he promises to appoint more Scalias to the Supreme Court. And he says he'll work with Congress like Obama couldn't. After all, he worked with Democrats to push through universal health care in Massachusetts (the same model he now opposes).
Well, sure, working with Democrats to pass health care legislation in New England is easy. Just wait until he tries to work with these Republicans in this Congress to do anything that would help the rest of us.
Shaping the Future
We don't need a new president. We need a new Republican Party, and by "new Republican Party" I mean the old Republican Party. We need to get back the Dick Lugars and Bob Doles and Dwight David Eisenhowers, men who were ideologically different from Democrats but who were still reasonable, intelligent, well-intentioned leaders who put America first. Today's Tea Party-dominated GOP is a real horror show, and it needs to be replaced, immediately.
A victory on Election Day may give this do-nothing, power-over-policy party a temporary victory, but in the end their harmful policies will lead us nowhere, and eventually the GOP will fall from grace. Their days are numbered. There may still be enough old-fashioned, grumpy, woman-, minority- and gay-hating followers to elevate them to national office, but their way of doing things is dying out. They will not block progress in the long run. And for their benefit and the nation's, it's best to force them to change now.
Show them this Election Day that America is looking forward, not back. Make the cooperation like we saw between Christie and Obama become a regular happening, not just something that happens when necessitated by an emergency. And within a few years, we'll have a better Republican Party and a better U.S.A.