As a lifelong Democrat (my father worked for JFK) and a recent Democratic Congressional candidate, I have spent my life working to beat the pants off Republicans. And as a citizen who has suffered through the abuses of the Bush administration and the Republican rubber-stamp Congress, I would like nothing more than to see the architects of the last eight disastrous years banished to the far reaches of outer darkness.
However, if the Republican party were truly to disappear as a national political force (a fate they themselves wished on the Democrats), the nation would actually be worse off for it. By the way, this seems to be exactly what the current leadership of the Republican party has in mind. For the past eight years, the conservative wing of the GOP -- who are currently at the helm of the party - have steered a course straight for the rocks, alienating nearly every segment of the country except for the most reactionary elements of conservative America. From Latinos to big business, from Reagan Democrats to suburban moms, GOP leaders have waged war against the mainstream of our country, and they are now getting the full blowback of that ill-conceived and unjustified war.
So why not let the Republican party, now in the hands of a disgraced and disreputable conservative minority, head straight for the dustbin of history, where much of America now believes it belongs? Shouldn't there be some consequences for their recklessness and irresponsibility? From a moral standpoint, absolutely. But from a practical standpoint, we still need a responsible - and I emphasize the word "responsible" - opposition party.
The past few months of the financial crisis demonstrate the dangers of a renegade and irresponsible opposition. While the Republican leadership might have been expected to navigate a compromise in Congress with the help of the White House, the Democrats in Congress and President-elect Obama, instead they resorted to their old stonewalling tactics, determined to sabotage any constructive, bipartisan action. In the name of a rigid and outmoded ideology, they went back to the barricades when the rest of the country was trying to muddle through this mess together. The result--the GOP further alienated mainstream America.
Not that there are not a few voices within the party who have tried to be responsible. Even Bob Corker, who ultimately came down on the side of the know-nothings, tried to make a responsible argument against the auto bailout before he was drowned out by the voices of the Republican stonewallers. And there are other examples of moderate Republicans who could make important contributions to a national debate aimed at practical solutions, if they weren't swamped by the forces of extremism in their own party.
Ironically, the Republicans will have a real opportunity during the early days of the Obama administration to stake out reasonable opposing positions that might offer to restore a least of modicum of their vanished credibility with the American public. And responsible voices of opposition would likely be welcomed by the Obama White House, as they always are in times of crisis. After all, Barack Obama has promised not only change, but also a new approach to leadership that bridges historic partisan divides. When will the Republicans - both moderates and reasonable conservatives - push back against the extremist elements in their own party? It would not only be good for the GOP - possibly rescuing it from oblivion - but it might even (gasp!) be good for the country.