Jack Germond, the recognized sage of many campaigns, once wrote that in 1968, George Romney - who was then seeking the Republican presidential nomination - made so many misstatements that he placed on his typewriter a key that would simply declare "Romney later explained." His son does not make as many glaring errors, for instance, he has not stated that he has been "brainwashed," but he has made small missteps aplenty.
But this year, the Romney syndrome has hit nearly all of the Republican field. From Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and of course Mitt Romney, the bizarre nature of the GOP discourse has become a matter of mirth. From birth control, to child labor, issues of war and peace, Republicans have tripped over themselves to remind the voter that they not only are far-right on stances, but almost from a different age and time. Perhaps Eugene McCarthy's rejoinder to a press inquiry, regarding what he thought of George Romney's brainwashed comment, actually could cover the whole GOP field for 2012. McCarthy said in that case, "a light rinse would have been sufficient."
Possibly President Barack Obama is being granted a wish that Republicans would destruct with a campaign of a thousand self-inflicted cuts. If obsession is the first step toward ruination, the right wing's hatred of Obama has finally rendered it incapable of offering the nation a coherent voice. Every time a Republican denounces Obama, it is done with such dripping contempt and in such a dismissive scowling style that suggests something bordering on the sinister. Obama is not simply mistaken on an issue, he is endangering the constitutional foundations of the nation. He is the other to be opposed by the righteously familiar. There is a whiff of implied violence in nearly all the Republican observation on Obama. He is a symbol of a changing America which they despise.
And they need to get a handle on the problem. George W. Bush, for all his shortcomings, embraced multiculturalism. He appointed African-Americans to the cabinet and spoke Spanish with skill. He tried to rebuild the Republican party around a more lasting contemporary foundation. As Dwight Eisenhower tried to construct "modern Republicanism," Bush's "compassionate conservatism" represents a humane and sensible philosophy. The 2012 field has found that the base is angry and instead of facing them as Eisenhower did with Joseph McCarthy essentially calling him out, they instead have chosen to pander.
The tea party was able to make hay in 2010 because Obama had yet to introduce himself to many Americans. Now he is a more comforting sight and as the economy improves, the energy venting against him diminishes. If they are not careful, Republicans might find themselves subject to a backlash. The white heat denunciations have almost reached their limits. As Obama has an united Democratic Party behind him, independents will feel an intellectual need to disassociate from a Republican Party that gives off the foul odor of intolerance.
Despite its imperfections, the Democratic Party has stayed the course on changing to fit the times, even occasionally being in the vanguard. It has sheperded the civil rights revolution, protected from attempts to roll it back and even expanded it to gay Americans. It has been the party of the first Catholic candidates in 1928 and 1960, the first gay rights platform debate in 1972 and a woman vice presidential candidate in Geraldine Ferraro and then Obama in 2008. Quickly it is becoming an "all-American" party of the most post-modern type.
Republicans did place Sarah Palin on the ticket in 2008, 24 years after Democrats nominated a woman on a national ticket. Of course, don't forget Joe Lieberman in 2000, the first Jewish candidate.
If Republicans become the candidate of an older America, it will risk doing to itself what Democrats did in 1900 with their selection, William Jennings Bryan. Bryan, the great commoner, held on to a fundamentalist vision of a nation of small towns. Nominated again in 1908, he lost; in 1925, he denounced evolution. Until 1932, the GOP was known as the representative of a new age, while Democrats were more often than not representatives of a world frozen in time. For Republicans this is a warning.