GOP faces quandry

During his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama outlined a number of initiatives on guns, education, immigration and job creation. Of course, the punditry and the right-wing naysayers dismissed the agenda as unattainable. With the smugness of the all-knowing, the usual suspects rejoiced in the ability of Congress to do nothing. Their hatred for Obama is so pathological, they would reject anything he proposes. Not since the eve of the Civil War has the atmosphere been so toxic.

Yet Obama’s offerings did not represent a fool’s errand. For most of his term, he has gradually changed many minds on specific issues. Only through gerrymandering and cheap tricks, like tougher voter identification restrictions, do Republicans survive. Despite the GOP’s near-insurrectionary style, Obama has been unable to get his message across. On issues from gun control, abortion, climate change and fairness, Obama has reversed the older trends in public opinion. Republicans are beginning to be champions of the past who aren’t in very good position for the future.

Republicans have tried to shift their message. But as Obama has noted, they are averse to saying yes to him. They would rather choke than agree with anything, however mild. The hearings on Chuck Hagel have become an exercise in nonsense, with John McCain making the whole exercise so personal that he appears unhinged. Same for Lindsay Graham, whose venom has prematurely aged him. As for Ted Cruz, he has reached new lows in reaching heights of choleric debate.

This has not escaped notice from the American people. Obama’s victory over Romney was a beginning, not an end, to progressive fortunes. But the Republican right does not seem to notice or to care. It clings to an older version of America. Now that does not mean it cannot whip up enough prejudice, half-truths and assaults on rationality for another election. Possibly in 2014, it will succeed in strengthening its hand in Congress. But odds do not favor them if they continue on their current path.

This shows they never have understood the Obama phenomenon. Despite a long recession attached to a modest recovery, Obama has remained personally popular. If the old Clinton dictum, “it’s the economy, stupid,” had held true, there would have been a President Mitt Romney. No, Obama won chiefly because he embraced the politics of inclusion. Republicans cling to 2000 Census data and 1950s attitudes. Despite high youth unemployment, Obama swept that vote. Despite high minority unemployment, he ran up huge majorities with that sector. It was not about economics; it concerned open-mindedness.

Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both embraced the great American barbecue notion of materialism without limit. Obama’s message of including those long left out of the mainstream appeals to the voters’ best instincts, perhaps a Focus rather than an Lexus and a sense of real, not corporate community. Obama’s appeal to the best in people rather than the worst might yet be the secret of his success. The “baby boom” was an emerging generation, more transitional, while younger voters have displayed more altruism. There has been a silent revolution of attitude, which has boosted Obama regardless of economic problems.

Crassness has driven Republican views. Did you lose at cards? If you did, vote Republican. Your car suffer a flat? Vote for the good old GOP. People of different sexual preferences scare you? Stay scared, my friends, and vote Republican. Hubert Humphrey described it as getting “out of the wrong side of the bed” vote. But he warned if you feel that way, “don’t take it out on your country.”

The nastiness route, devoid of principle or ideology, is just that, nasty. Republicans are no longer a pro-conservative party; it is an anti-Obama party. This view may yet be that venerable party’s undoing.