12/09/2012 08:40 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

BOTH SIDES NOW : Can GOP 3.0 Handle the Party's Extremists? Can Obama Rise to Greatness?

By Mark Green

Given the November results and a country trending Democrat demographically and economically, how can the GOP avoid an electoral cliff? This is the second of a three-part series discussing whether the party can adapt and grow or be relegated to near-permanent minority-party status.


*On Tea Party within Republican Party. Is the GOP respectably center-right or far-right -- and what would Buckley do with today's Bircher equivalents?

Ron and Wayne agree that the party is more extreme than mainstream (one-fourth for secession, no to UN on Disabilities Treaty, abortion is murder, rising seas no problemo...) After establishing his bona fides as the founder of the young Republicans for Goldwater in Virginia a looong time ago, Barrett concludes that the GOP is stuck as a Southern-based party that can't even hold his native Virginia "because it's become a modern state. Most Southern Republicans are waiting not to see Lincoln but any Jefferson Davis biopic that opens."

Ron concurs, saying the biggest divide today is not rural-urban or left-right but modern-past. "Who will vote for them if they're seen to be shilling for stupid people, like those who believe with no evidence that the earth is 6000 years old and cutting taxes on the top 2 percent somehow magically produces more jobs?"

Ideally, when you're in a hole, you stop digging... but how can the party do that when operatives and electeds try to win votes in November but the base is misinformed by Fox and shock radio with a commercial model to deliver an audience to advertisers for revenues? Conclusion on the Tea Party: it has cost the GOP as many as five U.S. Senate seats over two cycles and yet produced vital grass-roots energy: can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. John Boehner can't be enjoying his job.

*On acknowledging man-made climate change. To reduce their electoral disadvantage with young people and professionals -- and given the weight of science and polling -- can the GOP adjust its platform on climate change? Wayne and Ron marvel how the key Republican state of Texas is burning up and a Republican Louisiana was crushed by Katrina yet majorities of GOP voters, to quote Sen. Inhofe and Rush Limbaugh, theologically regard global warming as a "great hoax."

But why? "What's driving this is the same thing driving the party's position on tax rates -- donor-driven policies," concludes Wayne. Also, adds Ron, "not only is almost too late to alter policies now but they'd have to admit that they were lying before" when exonerating climate change for extreme weather -- see Sandy in the Northeast and tornadoes and fires in South and West.

Neither see cap-and-trade coming back anytime soon so long as the GOP elevates its donors over voters during fires and floods.

*On Obama as possibly a great president? We listen to biographer Jodi Kantor explain how, as a new U. S. Senator lacking managerial or foreign policy experience, Barack Obama was enamored of another literate Illinois politician and wanted to be a transformational president. Can he yet be? He's already historic --a black man twice winning national majorities -- but can he rise to Rushmore status?

Both think it's possible. Wayne says that "I'm 67 and Obama is the best president of my lifetime" in terms of accomplishments and values, "certainly as compared to Clinton who gave us financial reregulation and DOMA and certainly Carter and bomber Truman." Ron thinks that he has to keep pushing for big ideas and changes, like Obamacare ("even though not single-payer"). Well, does he recall his father being motivated by a desire for greatness and legacy or more likely by simply trying to get by one-day-at-a-time? The son acknowledges that the father had a "heroic" sense of the presidency (biographer Lou Cannon traces this to his lifeguarding days in Illinois), "for example the way he had the goal of ending the Soviet Union."

They agree that other avenues for second term bigness include immigration, climate change, universal voting registration and a more progressive tax code.

*Quick Takes: New York Post photo of doomed man? Least appreciated films of 2012?
More consensus. While the front page picture of a man pushed onto subway tracks about to be crushed and killed is horrendous, it is also legitimate journalism since newspapers often publish gruesome things... but they're dismayed that, in what behavioralists call "diffusion of responsibility," often no one acts in a larger crowd to a sudden tragedy assuming that someone else will.

Ron touts two excellent but little-viewed films -- Beasts of the Southern Wild and Queen of Versailles. The two are polar opposites in theme and protagonists -- the former follows a courageous six-year girl trying to survive in post-Katrina hovel and the latter a pair of nouveau riche climbers brought low by the bursting housing bubble.

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now, which is powered by the American Federation of Teachers.

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