BEYOND PETULANCE: Republican Politics and the Future of America
The prolonged economic crisis has severely tested the will and resilience of the American people. Nowhere is this more evident than in the high unemployment rate, the crisis in the housing industry with unprecedented foreclosures brought on by the meltdown on Wall Street, the moral confusion about our identity as a nation, the threatened decimation of the middle class and a host of other problems that have put this fair republic at risk.
It would not be fair or true to assert that any one political party or group can be held responsible for the dysfunctional politics that we see in Washington and in many of our state legislatures. The far right of the political spectrum will assert that the problems are a manifestation of the Democratic Party’s incompetence. More specifically, that it is a result of the presidency of Barak Obama who, in the estimation of some, has brought an amateurish approach to governance in the White House.
The far left or left of center will blame the recalcitrant Republicans and certainly the eight years of fiscal irresponsibility under the George W Bush administration. This blame-game tends to trivialize the perils we face and diverts attention from what needs to be done to remedy the ills that confront the society. The level of petty politics on both sides of the political divide is downright disgusting and it is hurting the country in very significant ways.
The Standards and Poor downgrade of the nation’s credit rating in 2011 was a sad result of this politics of obstruction and petulance. We have lurched from one manufactured and self-inflicted crisis to the next In a grand display of political harakiri we have inflicted unnecessary wounds on the nation’s body politic in order to sustain narrow partisan ideological positions. Polling data show that an increasing number of Americans have become disillusioned with the political process. They have either withdrawn from it completely, or have simply become resigned to a futility that they cannot do anything to effect change for the better.
A significant characteristic of this frustration is the anti-establishment paranoia that has gripped certain sections of the population and which has seen a dramatic increase in hate groups that have armed themselves in preparation for the ultimate political Armageddon. Cynicism about America’s future has become almost pernicious and might be at its worse since the Vietnam Era. This cynicism and disenchantment with the political process has placed our democratic way of life under great threat. At no time has the notion of America as an exceptional nation been more severely tested; and at no time has the urgency for an informed and engaged citizenry become more palpable and relevant.
While acknowledging that no one group or party can be blamed for the problems we face, disturbing trends have emerged in Republican politics in recent times which should be cause for great concern to those who regard America as an exceptional nation. These trends are worrying as they go to the heart of the viability of our democratic way of life as we have come to know it and as our Founding Fathers so eloquently understood it. It can be reasonably questioned whether the party as presently constituted is the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, or even Reagan, Jack Kemp or Bob Dole. As it now stands it is a party unworthy of its proud history. A shadow of its former self, it has disintegrated into disparate factions without any core philosophy to define and guide a viable pathway to progress.
There is no doubt that a gigantic battle is being waged for the heart and soul of the party. But there is a palpable paralysis of leadership on the part of those who should be leading the charge or at least demonstrating the courage necessary to reassert the historical elements that once made the party respectable. Instead one sees the absence of core convictions as is evidenced by a willingness to pander to interest groups in defense of ideology which often runs counter to the public good. This puts the country’s honor at risk and in the process hurts whatever reputation it has as an exceptional nation.
America’s reputation as a caring and gentle nation which takes care of its own and the stranger among us has been sullied in recent times. From the war in Iraq to its ambivalent approach to comprehensive immigration reform, to its abysmal record in treating with women’s issues, the Republican Party has found itself in opposition to issues that an increasing number of Americans care deeply about. This has led to much questioning of the party’s sincerity about a secure and vibrant future for America. Deep, philosophical reflection on the intractable problems that the nation faces seems to elude them. Such reflection is often replaced by facile, superficial commentary that hardly does any justice to the presenting problems of the day.
Why should any American be concerned about the viability of the Republican Party? As an integral part of the political infrastructure of the country, the simple answer is that for good or ill the country needs the Republican Party, but it needs a party that can demonstrate the openness and bipartisan compromise that will make government function in the best interests of the people. The reason for the rising frustration of citizens with the political process in Washington is precisely because they do not feel that their government is acting in their best interests. For many, there is not a great deal that they can feel good about. What with rising unemployment and the inability of people to access health care and even save their homes? What with the continued escalation in the poverty rate and the widening gap between the richest one percent and the 99 percent? What of the almost 17 trillion dollars debt load which has made the nation for all intents and purposes, bankrupt?
Yet, in the midst of these and other troubles, they see a party at war with itself and which has taken the art of non-compromise to a new level. Worst, they see a party that is fast elevating petulance to an organizing principle of political action. This is not only reflected in the rigid adherence of many of that party’s members to certain orthodoxies, such as no tax increases, but in mindless obstruction of the policies of the president, even if these policies can redound to the good of the country.
In recent times this political temper tantrum has become too much a distressing feature of the resume of too many Republicans in Congress. It is galling to onlookers, many of whom are constituents of these Congress persons, to see this petulant display. It is especially galling when it is done in the Senate given the high esteem in which this body ought to be held. Yet, the many Republican filibusters that have rendered that body almost impotent in recent times might be the greatest display of the petulance that has come to define our legislators in Washington.
A single-minded commitment to peeve on the part of our policymakers, of whatever stripe, debilitates the reputation of the legislature and in time becomes a corrupting influence which undermines the very foundations of our democratic way of life. In the process debate is coarsened and positions hardened between both sides of the political divide. In the end critical decisions on matters of national importance are hindered or stymied.
The essential danger and logical outcome of Republican petulance is the further alienation of that party from the electorate which may very well set the stage for the dictatorship of one party. People do not expect the parties to agree all the time but they do expect them to govern with a spirit of compromise and forbearance. There can be hard, long and even fierce discussion of various viewpoints but Americans have come to expect that in the end their elected leaders will do what is best for them by setting aside their own political ambitions and prejudices and do one for the country.
Whether they want to acknowledge it or not, many have placed the Republican Party at the center of the collective depression that has settled on so many in the nation. This cannot be good for a political party that hopes to lead the government in the future. There is a great deal of work to be done and the party is challenged to reclaim its proud legacy, to redefine itself and to be the party that the people can once more become comfortable with to trust with presidential power. The party is presently adrift on a sea of moral confusion but the palpable truth is that America needs the Republican Party to be strong and healthy. But it must be mindful of the things that ail it and seek to heal them.
In critiquing the Republican Party in this book, the immediate charge will be that I am being partisan or biased in my views. It is not easy to dissuade persons from this position, but it may help to know that at present I am by registration and political instinct and persuasion an Independent. My interest lies in what redounds to the greater good of the country and I will stand side by side in support of anyone and any party that eschews cronyism, skullduggery and malfeasance in pursuing the country’s interest. An exceptional nation needs a robust democracy in which all views can contend and be respected for the greater good of the country.
The Republican Party is in the spotlight precisely because it is fast losing that sense of its place in building this robust democracy. It is fast becoming a fringe party. Its self-marginalization is making it a mere outpost in the American political landscape and this is not good for the long term health of the nation. We must remain optimistic that things will change for the better, but we cannot be blinkered to the existential threat that perpetual political rigidity and gridlock pose to the nation. The party can and must do better so it can prove itself worthy of the proud history it once enjoyed.
Raulston B. Nembhard
About the Author
The Rev. Dr. Raulston Nembhard is a priest at the St. Paul Community Church in Orlando, Florida. He has earned degrees from the University of the West Indies, Yale Divinity School and the Reformed Theological Seminary. He is also a trained Marriage, Couples and Family Therapist and is presently a Registered Intern in the State of Florida. He is also a trained family mediator.
He is the author of four other books:
You and your Neighbor in
a Broken World;
Muslim Rage and Christian Arrogance: A
Time for Reason, Repentance and Dialogue;
Finding Peace in the Midst of Life’s Storms;
Your Self-Esteem Guide to a Better Life
He has also authored an E-book:
Radical Obedience and Discipleship in the Theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer