The conservative crackup: How the Republican Party lost its mind

Source: Salon.com

Author: Kim Messick

“In a recent article, I argued that the Republican Party has been captured by a faction whose political psychology makes it highly intransigent and uninterested in compromise. That article focused on the roots of this psychology and how it shapes the Tea Party’s view of its place in American politics. It did not pursue the question of exactly how this capture took place — of how a major political party, once a broad coalition of diverse elements, came to be so dependent on a narrow range of strident voices. This is the question I propose to explore below.

In doing so, we should keep in mind three terms from political science (and much political journalism) — “realignment,” “polarization” and “gridlock.” These concepts are often bandied about as if their connections are obvious, even intuitive. Sometimes, indeed, a writer leaves the impression that they are virtually synonymous. I think this is mistaken, and that it keeps us from appreciating just how strange our present political moment really is.

“Realignment,” for instance, refers to a systematic shift in the patterns of electoral support for a political party. The most spectacular recent example of this is the movement of white Southerners from the Democratic to the Republican Party after the passage of major civil rights laws in the mid-1960s. Not coincidentally, this event was critically important for the evolution of today’s Republican Party.

After the Civil War and the collapse of Reconstruction in the 1870s, the identification of white Southerners as Democrats was so stubborn and pervasive as to make the region into the “solid South” – solidly Democratic, that is. Despite this well-known fact, there is reason to suspect that the South’s Democratic alliance was always a bit uneasy. As the Gilded Age gave way to the first decades of the 20th century, the electoral identities of the two major parties began to firm up. Outside the South, the Democrats were the party of the cities, with their polyglot populations and unionized workforces. The Republicans drew most of their support from the rural Midwest and the small towns of the North. The Democrats’ appeal was populist, while Republicans extolled the virtues of an ascendant business class: self-sufficiency, propriety, personal responsibility.

It will be immediately evident that the Republican Party was in many ways a more natural fit for the South, which at the time was largely rural and whose white citizens were overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon Protestants. The South’s class structure, less fluid than that of the industrial and urban North, would have chimed with the more hierarchical strains of Republican politics, and Southern elites had ample reason to prefer the “small government” preached by Republican doctrine. But the legacy of Lincoln’s Republicanism was hard to overcome, and the first serious stirrings of disillusion with the Democratic Party had to wait until 1948. That year, South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond, enraged by President Truman’s support for some early civil rights measures, led a walkout of 35 Southern delegates from the Democratic Convention. Thurmond went on to become the presidential nominee of a Southern splinter group, the States’ Rights Democratic Party (better known as “Dixiecrats”), and won four states in the deep South.

The first Republican successes in the South came in the elections of 1952 and 1956, when Dwight Eisenhower won five and eight states, respectively*. These victories, however, were only marginally related to racial politics; Eisenhower’s stature as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in World War II had a much larger role, as did his party’s virulent anti-communism. Nixon held only five of these states in 1960.

The real turning point came in 1964. After passage of the Civil Rights Act, Barry Goldwater’s conservative campaign, with its emphasis on limited government and states’ rights, carried five Southern states, four of which had not been won by a Republican in the 20th century. No Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of Southern states since, with the single exception of former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter’s 1976 campaign. The South is now the most reliably Republican region of the country, and supplies the party with most of its Electoral College support.

The South’s realignment explains a lot about our politics. But it doesn’t, in itself, explain one very important fact: why the post-civil rights Republican Party went on to become the monolithically conservative party we have today. We can put this point as a question: Why didn’t the Republican Party end up looking more like the pre-realignment Democrats, with a coalition of Northern moderates and liberals yoked to conservative Southerners? (And the Midwest along for the ride.) In effect, we’re asking how realignment is related to “polarization” — the ideological sorting out that has led to our present party system, in which nearly all moderates and liberals identify as Democrats and nearly all conservatives as Republicans.

It’s important to ask this question for at least two reasons. First, because it highlights the fact that realignment and polarization are analytically distinct concepts — a point often passed over in discussions of this subject. The sudden migration of Southern whites into Republican ranks is obviously connected with polarization; what we need to know is exactly how and why. Which brings us to the second reason. Because the answer we’re led to is so refreshingly old-fashioned and therefore, in today’s intellectual culture, completely counterintuitive: They are connected through the agency of political actors.

Kim Messick lives and writes in North Carolina. He’s working on a novel.

 

GOP War on Caterpillars

From: Religion Dispatches

By: Sarah Morice-Brubaker

“You guys, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus thinks it is TOTALLY UNFAIR for people to suggest that the Republican party treats women voters like voiceless, unintelligent, subhuman pests. Why, that’s as absurd as suggesting that Republicans have waged a war on caterpillars!
“If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media
outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then
we’d have problems with caterpillars,” Republican National Committee
Chairman Reince Priebus said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s
Political Capital with Al Hunt airing this weekend. “It’s a fiction.”
So, dude, quick question: What if a lot of caterpillars themselves said their rights were being attacked? Would it still be obvious fiction? Oh, except, ha ha ha, that’s a ridiculous suggestion because caterpillars can’t talk and don’t vote, lack self-awareness, and don’t have opinions on public policy that affects them.
Okay, what if—just for grins, because obviously what I’m about to say is total science-fiction territory—we imagine that there’s, I don’t know, a REALLY WEIRD species of caterpillar that votes, thinks, talks, forms opinions on policy, has legal rights, is self-aware, and… uh… is actually a person? And what if a significant number of these mythical creatures raised protests about how Republican policies were infringing on their rights? I mean, really: try hard to imagine, as outlandish as it might seem, that the protests were not simply coming from “the Democrats” or “every mainstream media outlet” but the caterpillars themselves!
If it’s too difficult to imagine, try watching this video, but mentally changing the gender of the caterpillar. Also, every time the narrator says “hungry,” mentally append the words “… for equal protection under the law.” 

See, Mr. Priebus, the thing about arguments by analogy is that the two things being compared have to be sufficiently similar to warrant the comparison and the conclusion implied thereby. That’s what allows me to say, for example, “Reince Priebus comparing a ‘war on women’ with a ‘war on caterpillars’ is like Eric Fehrnstrom’s now-infamous Etch-a-Sketch remark about Romney: Each is an unintentionally revealing slip that confirms a lot of voters’ worst fears.”  But I can’t say, “Reading Priebus’ remark was like having mechanical pencil lead jammed into my tear ducts.” Because having pencil lead jammed into my tear ducts leaves lasting damage only on me, whereas your remark… well. Of course, what’s really rich is that in other contexts Priebus claims to cares a whole lot about the rights of entities that can’t speak, form opinions, be self-reflective, or vote. Because he describes himself as a “100% Psalm 139 pro-life republican”. And it’s in the name of that commitment that he can’t grant any legitimacy to the widespread alarm over what Republican policies mean for women.I just…. arrrgh. This really is the logic of a certain brand of anti-abortion conservatism, isn’t it? I claim to be “100% pro-life” because I profess to care about those in the human community who cannot speak, reflect, or vote.  But because of that commitment I’m under no obligation to give a rat’s patootie about things said, reflected upon, or voted for by a large proportion of the human community. Fetuses at every stage of development are really tiny people, beloved of God, who just want to be loved and cared for, and who hope for an army of principled selfless defenders. But women are like garden pests. Wow, good thing that Republican War on Women is a complete fiction. Otherwise I might be worried. 

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/sarahmoricebrubaker/5863/

Could the GOP Collapse on the Payroll Tax be a Turning Point Moment?

“The Republican leadership’s collapse in the battle over extending the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits could also be a turning point moment that shifts the political momentum just as we enter the pivotal 2012 election year.

From: HuffPost

By: Robert Creamer

“In recent American politics, every major shift in political momentum has resulted from an iconic battle.

In 1995 the tide of the 1994 “Republican Revolution” was reversed when Speaker Newt Gingrich and his new Republican House majority shut down the government in a battle over their attempts to cut Medicare to give tax breaks to the rich (sound familiar). The shutdown ended with – what pundits universally scored — as a victory for President Clinton. That legislative victory began Clinton’s march to overwhelming re-election victory in 1996.

In 2010, Democrats passed President Obama’s landmark health care reform. But they lost the battle for public opinion – and base motivation. That turned the political tide that had propelled President Obama to victory in 2008 and ultimately led to the drubbing Democrats took in the 2010 mid terms.

The Republican leadership’s collapse in the battle over extending the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits could also be a turning point moment that shifts the political momentum just as we enter the pivotal 2012 election year.

Here’s why:

1). Since the President launched his campaign for the American Jobs Act, he has driven Congressional Republicans into a political box canyon with very few avenues of escape. The jobs campaign has made it clearer and clearer to the voters that the “do nothing Republican Congress” bears responsibility for preventing the President from taking steps that would create jobs.

Until the payroll tax/unemployment victory, the President had failed to persuade the Republican dominated Congress to pass any provision of the bill – save one aimed at helping veterans. But the polling shows that the public has become more and more disgusted by Congressional intransigence. Since 64% of Americans believe that Congress is run entirely by the Republicans (and from the stand point of stopping legislation itis managed entirely by Republicans), the overall unhappiness with Congress has translated into distain for the “do nothing Republican Congress”.

Congress now has lower approval ratings (11% in the latest poll) than at any time in modern history. Senator Michael Bennett presented data on the Senate floor that showed that Congress is less popular than BP during the gulf oil spill. It is way less popular than Nixon during Watergate. About the same number of Americans have a positive view of Congress as support America becoming a Communist nation. That makes it the worst time imaginable for House Republicans to throw a political tantrum that threatened to increase the tax burden of everyday Americans by $40 per paycheck — $1,000 next year – right after Christmas.

Last weekend, the Senate Republican Leader thought he had blazed a path for Republicans that led out of that political box canyon – at least in so far as the extension of the payroll tax holiday and unemployment. The bi-partisan agreement to temporarily extend the payroll tax holiday and unemployment insurance seemed to give Republicans a face saving option that – at least temporarily — took them off the political hook. But Tea Party stalwarts in the House threatened to mutiny if Boehner went along – and all week – there the House Republicans sat, at the bottom of that canyon with no escape.

House Republicans bet that the President and Democrats were desperate enough to extend the payroll tax and unemployment that they could hold those provisions hostage the way they had held hostage the debt ceiling in August. In an act of unfathomable political ineptitude, they failed to appreciate that this time, Democrats occupied vastly higher political ground.

Failure to continue the payroll tax holiday would have immediately decreased the take home pay of 160 million Americans. By refusing to agree to the compromise that had passed the Senate with an overwhelming bi-partisan majority, House Republicans made it certain that they would have been held responsible.

They might as well have hung out a huge flashing sign in Times Square that said: “Republicans are responsible for cutting your take home pay and eliminating your unemployment benefits.”

Even the conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal called on them to throw in the towel.

Democrats had every incentive to hang tough. In the end by refusing to take the escape hatch opened for them by McConnell, the nation watched House Republicans dragged kicking and screaming to support the President’s popular payroll and unemployment extensions.

The outcome of the battle was unambiguous. No one could doubt who stood up for the economic interests of the middle class and who did not. And no one could doubt who won and who lost.

National Journal reported that:

House Republicans on Thursday crumpled under the weight of White House and public pressure and have agreed to pass a two-month extension of the 2 percent payroll-tax cut, Republican and Democratic sources told National Journal.

In the end, Republican intransigence transformed a moment that would have been a modest win for President Obama into an iconic victory.

2). Strength and victory are enormous political assets. Going into the New Year, they now belong to the President and the Democrats.

One of the reasons why the debt ceiling battle inflicted political damage on President Obama is that it made him appear ineffectual – a powerful figure who had been ensnared and held hostage by the Lilliputian pettiness of hundreds of swarming Tea Party ideological zealots.

In the last few months — as he campaigned for the American Jobs Act — he has shaken free of those bonds. Now voters have just watched James Bond or Indiana Jones escape and turn the tables on his adversary.

Great stories are about a protagonist who meets and overcomes a challenge and is victorious. The capitulation of the House Tea Party Republicans is so important because it feels like the beginning of that kind of heroic narrative.

Even today most Americans believe that George Bush and the big Wall Street Banks – not by President Obama — caused the economic crisis. Swing voters have never lost their fondness for the President and don’t doubt his sincerity. But they had begun to doubt his effectiveness. They have had increasing doubts that Obama was up to the challenge of leading them back to economic prosperity.

The narrative set in motion by the events of the last several weeks could be a turning point in voter perception. It could well begin to convince skeptical voters that Obama is precisely the kind of leader they thought he was back in 2008 – a guy with the ability to lead them out of adversity – a leader with the strength, patience, skill, will and resoluteness to lead them to victory.

That now contrasts with the sheer political incompetence of the House Republican Leadership that allowed themselves to be cornered and now find themselves in political disarray. And it certainly contrasts with the political circus we have been watching in the Republican Presidential primary campaign.

3). This victory will inspire the dispirited Democratic base.

Inspiration is the feeling of empowerment – the feeling that you are part of something larger than yourself and can personally play a significant role in achieving that goal. It comes from feeling that together you can overcome challenges and win.

Nothing will do more to inspire committed Democrats than the sight of their leader — President Obama – out maneuvering the House Republicans and forcing them into complete capitulation.

The events of the last several weeks will send a jolt of electricity through the Progressive community.

The right is counting on Progressives to be demoralized and dispirited in the coming election. The President’s victory on the payroll tax and unemployment will make it ever more likely that they will be wrong.

4). When you have them on the run, that’s the time to chase them.

The most important thing about the outcome of the battle over the payroll tax and unemployment is that it shifts the political momentum at a critical time. Momentum is an independent variable in any competitive activity – including politics.

In a football or basketball game you can feel the momentum shift. The tide of battle is all about momentum. The same is true in politics. And in politics it is even more important because the “spectators” are also the players – the voters.

People follow – and vote — for winners. The bandwagon effect is enormously important in political decision-making. Human beings like to travel in packs. They like to be at the center of the mainstream. Momentum shifts affect their perceptions of the mainstream.

For the last two years, the right wing has been on the offensive. Its Tea Party shock troops took the battle to Democratic Members of Congress. In the Mid-Terms Democrats were routed in district after district.

Now the tide has turned. And when the tide turns -when you have them on the run – that’s the time to chase them.

We won’t know for sure until next November whether this moment will take on the same iconic importance as Clinton’s battle with Gingrich in 1995. But there is no doubt that the political wind has shifted. It’s up to Progressives to make the most of it.”

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partnersand a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.


Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-creamer/why-gop-collapse-on-the-p_b_1167491.html

The Dangerous Reagan Cult

Exclusive: Ronald Reagan’s anti-government philosophy inspires Tea Party extremists to oppose any revenue increase, even from closing loopholes on corporate jets. Democrats try the spin that “even Reagan” showed flexibility on debt and taxes. But Robert Parry says it is the “Reagan cult” that is at the heart of America’s crisis.

From RSN, by Robert Parry

“Exclusive: Ronald Reagan’s anti-government philosophy inspires Tea Party extremists to oppose any revenue increase, even from closing loopholes on corporate jets. Democrats try the spin that “even Reagan” showed flexibility on debt and taxes. But Robert Parry says it is the “Reagan cult” that is at the heart of America’s crisis.

In the debt-ceiling debate, both Republicans and Democrats wanted Ronald Reagan on their side. Republicans embraced the 40th president’s disdain for government and fondness for tax cuts, while Democrats noted that “even Reagan” raised the debt limit many times and accepted some tax increases.

But Reagan – possibly more than any political leader – deserves the blame for the economic/political mess that the United States now finds itself in. He was the patriarch for virtually every major miscalculation that the country has made over the past three decades.

It was Reagan who slashed taxes on the rich to roughly their current level; he opened the flood gates on deficit spending; he accelerated the decline of the middle class by busting unions and slashing support for local communities; he disparaged the value of government regulations; he squandered money on the Pentagon; he pushed more militaristic strategies abroad; and he rejected any thoughtful criticism of past U.S. foreign policies.

Reagan also created what amounted to a “populist” right-wing cult that targeted the federal government as the source of nearly all evil. In his First Inaugural Address, he famously declared that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

It is that contempt for government that today is driving the Tea Party extremists in the Republican Party. Yet, as with many cults, the founder of this one was somewhat more practical in dealing with the world around him, thus explaining some of Reagan’s compromises on the debt ceiling and taxes.

But once the founder is gone, his teachings can become definitive truth to the disciples. Flexibility disappears. No deviation is permitted. No compromise is tolerated.

So, at a time when government intervention is desperately needed to address a host of national problems, members of this Reagan cult apply the teachings of the leader in the most extreme ways. Since “government is the problem,” the only answer is to remove government from the equation and let the corporations, the rich and the magical “market” dictate national solutions.

It is an ironic testament to Ronald Reagan’s enduring influence that America’s most notable “populist” movement, the Tea Party, insists that tax cuts for the wealthy must be protected, even minor ones like tax loopholes for corporate jets. Inside the Tea Party, any suggestion that billionaire hedge-fund managers should pay a tax rate equal to that of their secretaries is anathema.

Possibly never in history has a “populist” movement been as protective of the interests of the rich as the Tea Party is. But that is because it is really a political cult dedicated to the most extreme rendering of Ronald Reagan’s anti-government philosophy.

Astro-Turf ‘Populists’

Granted, the Tea Party also can be viewed as an astro-turf outfit financed by billionaires like the Koch brothers and promoted by billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch. But Election 2010 proved that the movement is capable of putting like-minded politicians into office, especially when discouraged elements of the American Left choose to sit on the sidelines.

During the debt-ceiling battle, the GOP’s Tea Party caucus showed it was strong enough to block any compromise that included a revenue increase. The thinking is that the “evil” government must be starved even if that means defending indefensible tax loopholes and shoving the world’s economy to the brink of catastrophe.

The Tea Party’s rabid enforcement of the Reagan orthodoxy instills such fear among top Republicans that every one of the eight presidential hopefuls at a recent Iowa debate vowed to reject a deal that would include just $1 of higher taxes for each $10 in spending cuts. Even supposed moderates like Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman threw up their hands.

But the Reagan cult reaches far beyond the Republican Party. Last February, a Gallup poll of Americans cited Reagan as the greatest president ever, with a five percentage point lead over Abraham Lincoln.

These days, virtually no one in Washington’s political or media circles dares to engage in a serious critique of Reagan’s very checkered record as president. It’s much easier to align yourself with some position that Reagan took during his long career, much like a pastor selectively picking a Bible passage to support his theological argument.

When negative national trends are cited – such as the decline of the middle class or the widening gap between rich and poor – the self-censorship demands that Reagan’s name not be spoken. Instead, there are references to these problems deepening “over the past three decades,” without mentioning whose presidency got things going big time.

Creating an Icon

And there is a self-interested reason for this hesitancy. The Republicans and the Right have made it a high priority to transform Reagan into an icon and to punish any independent-minded political figure or journalist who resists the group think.

The first step in this process occurred in the late 1980s, with aggressive cover-ups of Reagan’s crimes of state, such as scandals over the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages affair, Contra-cocaine trafficking, and the Iraq-gate support of dictator Saddam Hussein.

Faced with furious Republican defenses of Reagan and his inner circle, most Democrats and mainstream journalists chose career discretion over valor. By the time Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, the refrain from Democrats and Washington pundits was to “leave that for the historians.”

Those who didn’t go along with the cover-ups – like Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh – were subjected to ridicule from both the right-wing and mainstream media, from both the Washington Times and the Washington Post. Journalists who challenged the implausible Reagan cover-ups also found themselves marginalized as “conspiracy theorists.”

Leading Democrats decided it made more sense to look to the future, not dwell on the past. Plus, acquiescing to the cover-ups was a way to show their bipartisanship.

However, Republicans had other ideas. Having pocketed the concessions regarding any serious investigations of Reagan and his cohorts, the Republicans soon went on the offensive by investigating the heck out of President Clinton and his administration.

Then, having stirred up serious public doubts about Clinton’s integrity, the Republicans trounced the Democrats in the 1994 congressional elections. With their new majorities, the Republicans immediately began the process of enshrining Reagan as a national icon.

By and large, the Democrats saw these gestures, like attaching Reagan’s name to National Airport, as another way to demonstrate their bipartisanship.

But Republicans knew better. They understood the strategic value of elevating Reagan’s legacy to the status of an icon. If everyone agreed that Reagan was so great, then it followed that the hated “guv-mint” must be that bad.

More Accommodations

Increasingly, Democrats found themselves arguing on Republican ground, having to apologize for any suggestion that the government could do anything good for the country. Meanwhile, the Clinton-era stock market boom convinced more Americans that the “market” must know best.

Going with that flow, President Clinton signed a Republican-sponsored bill that removed Depression-era regulations in the Glass-Steagall Act, which had separated commercial and investment banks. With the repeal, the doors were thrown open for Wall Street gambling.

In the short run, lots of money was made, encouraging more Americans to believe that the government and its “safety net” were indeed anachronisms for losers. People with any gumption could simply day-trade their way to riches.

Reagan, it seemed, was right all along: government was the problem; the “free market” was not only the solution but it could “self-regulate.”

That was the political/media environment around Election 2000 when the wonkish Vice President Al Gore ran against the brash Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who came across to many as another version of Ronald Reagan, someone who spoke simply and disdained big government.

Though Gore could point to the economic successes of the Clinton years, including a balanced federal budget and the prospect of the total elimination of the federal debt, the major media mocked him as a know-it-all nerd who wore “earth-toned sweaters.” Meanwhile, mainstream journalists swooned over Bush, the regular guy.

Still, Gore eked out a narrow victory in the national popular vote and would have carried the key state of Florida if all legally cast votes were counted. But Bush relied on his brother’s administration in Florida and his father’s friends on the U.S. Supreme Court to make sure that didn’t happen. Bush was declared the winner in Florida and thus the new president. [For details, see Neck Deep.]

In retrospect, Election 2000 was a disastrous turning point for the United States, putting into the highest office in the land an unqualified ne’er do well who had lost the election.

But this outrage against democracy was largely accepted because of the muscular right-wing machine, the on-bended-knee mainstream media and the weak-kneed Democrats – a political/media dynamic that Reagan had helped create and had left behind.

The progress that the Clinton administration had made toward putting the U.S. financial house in order was quickly undone as Bush pushed through two massive tax cuts benefiting mostly the rich and waged two open-ended wars financed with borrowed money.

Years of Reaganism also had taken its toll on the government’s regulatory structures. Reagan had consistently appointed regulators who were hostile to the very concept of regulating, such as Anne Gorsuch at the Environmental Protection Agency and James Watt at Interior. He also elevated Alan Greenspan, a “free market” admirer of Ayn Rand, to be chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.

In the 1980s, the looting of America was underway in earnest, but the elites of Washington and New York saw little to protest since they were getting a cut of the plunder. The real losers were the average Americans, especially factory workers who saw their unions broken or their jobs shipped overseas under the banner of “free trade.”

Feeling Good

But many Americans were kept entranced by Reagan’s feel-good magic.

Taking office after a difficult decade of the 1970s, when America’s defeat in Vietnam and the Arab oil price hikes had shaken the nation’s confidence, Reagan simply assured everyone that things would work out just fine and that no excessive sacrifice was in order. Nor should there be any feelings of guilt, Reagan made clear.

By the late 1970s, it was widely accepted even among many Republicans that the Vietnam War had been an abomination. But Reagan simply rebranded it a “noble cause,” no reason for any serious self-reflection on America’s imperial role in the world.

Reagan then allied the United States with “death-squad” regimes all over Latin America and across the Third World. His administration treated the resulting carnage as a public-relations problem that could be managed by challenging the patriotism of critics.

At the 1984 Republican National Convention, Reagan’s United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick labeled Americans who dared criticize U.S. foreign policy as those who would “blame America first.”

To continue this sort of verbal pummeling on those who continued to get in the way, Reagan credentialed a bunch of thuggish intellectuals known as the neoconservatives.

For the rest of the country, there were happy thoughts about “the shining city on a hill” and “morning in America.”

In reality, however, Reagan had set the stage for the tragedies that would follow. When George W. Bush grabbed power in 2001, he simply extended the foreign and economic policies of the Republican cult leader: more tax cuts, more militarism, less regulation, more media manipulation.

Soon, the gap between rich and poor was widening again. Soon, the United States was at open war in two countries and involved in secret wars in many others. Soon, the nation was confronted with new scandals about torture and deception. Soon, the federal budget was flowing with red ink.

And near the end of Bush’s presidency, the de-regulated excesses of Wall Street pushed the country to the brink of a financial cataclysm. Bush supported a bail-out to save the bankers but didn’t do much for the millions of Americans who lost their jobs or their homes.

Second Thoughts?

One might have thought that the financial crack-up in 2008 (plus the massive federal deficits and the botched wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) would have confronted the Reagan cult with an existential crisis of faith. It would seem obvious that Reagan’s nostrums just didn’t work.

However, after only a brief interregnum of Barack Obama, the Republicans seem poised to restore the Reagan cult to full power in the United States. The new apparent GOP frontrunner, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, is already being hailed in the Washington Post as “The Texas Gipper.”

The Washington Times (yes, Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s right-wing propaganda sheet is still around) fairly cooed over Perry’s tough attacks on Obama, depicting America’s first black president as someone who apologizes for America and isn’t deserving of its soldiers in uniform.

“One of the powerful reasons for running for president of the United States is to make sure every man and woman who puts on the uniform respects highly the president of the United States,” Perry said. “We are indignant about a president who apologizes for America.”

As far as Perry is concerned, America has nothing to apologize for.

These are themes right out of Ronald Reagan’s playbook. And it appears likely that Election 2012 will be fought over terrain defined by Reagan, even though he left office in 1989 and died in 2004.

It is already clear that President Obama will be on the defensive, trying to justify a role for the federal government in America and explaining why the Reaganesque policy of low taxes on the rich must finally be reversed. Obama also is certain to shy away from any serious examination of how U.S. foreign policy went so wrong, so as not to be labeled “apologist-in-chief.”

Rick Perry or whatever other Republican gets the party’s nomination will hold the high ground of Reagan’s lofty standing among the American people. The GOP nominee can continue blaming “guv-mint” for the nation’s problems and promising another “morning in America” if only the nation further reduces the size of “guv-mint.”

With Democrats also trying to associate themselves with the “greatest president ever,” it appears doubtful that any serious effort will be made to explain to the American people that the charming Reagan was the pied piper who led them to their current demise.”

[For more on these topics, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a two-book set for the discount price of only $19. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book,Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

emphasis mine