Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Quo Vadis, Republican Party?

PerryScope By Perry Diaz

With the Republicans routed last November and the Democrats now controlling the Executive and Legislative branches of government, there is a lot of talk about the future of the Republican Party. The Republicans have been looking for a leader to pick up the pieces and restore the Grand Old Party to its glorious past.

Leaderless and rudderless, where is the party of Abraham Lincoln going? Quo vadis, Republican Party?

In an apparent attempt to draw support from African-Americans, Latinos, and other minorities -- who delivered a solid block of votes for President Barack Obama last November -- the Republican National Committee (RNC) elected Michael Steele as its chairman. Steele, who is of African-American descent, immediately went to work in trying to sell the Republican Party and its “conservative philosophy” to minorities. Projecting the GOP’s image as a “big tent” that welcomes all Americans, Steele’s message is not resonating well with minorities. Instead, he’s making the right wingers of his party fuming mad.

With his political head getting squeezed -- like in a vise -- between the right wingers and the mainstream moderates and conservatives of his party, Steele is frantically trying to please both sides. But it is like walking a tightrope with no safety net to fall into if he slips. And he knows that all it takes is one slip to end his political life.

Recently, there have been speculations that Steele was on his way out. During a GQ magazine interview, Steele was asked, “Does a woman have a right to choose abortion?” He replied, “Yeah, absolutely!” If there was one issue that the Republican Party would fight to death, it would be in defense of its anti-abortion stand. And for Steele to utter “right to choose” makes him an anathema to the powerful “right to life” forces within the Republican Party.

There were talks that Katon Dawson -- the former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party and the person whom Steele defeated for the RNC chairmanship -- has been quietly soliciting support for a “no confidence” vote on Steele. However, if Dawson were to succeed in ousting Steele, it would be unlikely that he will get the coveted chairmanship for himself. Interestingly, one of the reasons why he lost to Steele was his 12-year membership in a racist “whites-only” country club -- the last bastion of Southern segregation. Although he claimed that he had resigned his membership, it would be hard to dispel the perception that he has racist tendencies.

The question is: Are the Republicans searching for the “great white hope” to unify their seemingly divided party? Or would they stick it out with Steele and make the most out of him? If the Republican leaders were to use their heads instead of their ideological beliefs, they could prevent their party from disintegrating and start the task of rebuilding it. Otherwise, the 2010 mid-term elections could further solidify the Democrats’ grip on Congress, particularly in the Senate where the Democrats are just a few votes shy of reaching a filibuster-free supermajority.

The next two years would be crucial to the Republicans’ goal of defeating Obama in 2012. There is a guardedly optimistic mood among Republicans that Obama could become -- like Jimmy Carter -- another one-term Democratic president. However, it would take another Republican with a Reaganesque charisma to match up with Obama whose charismatic personality has enthralled millions of Americans. Today, that Republican “presidential timber” has yet to emerge. But who knows? Politics is the ultimate game of the “possible.” Didn’t Obama prove that last November?

Obama also proved that he is a skillful master of the “art of war.” When he saw a power vacuum within the Republican Party, he adroitly moved to fill that vacuum with the person of his choice. At a White House meeting with Republican leaders last January 23, he told them: “You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.” In one short sentence, Obama catapulted Limbaugh to the top of the Republican Party, filling the void created by the departure of George W. Bush and John McCain. As expected, many Republicans fell for Obama’s cleverly executed bait. They turned to Limbaugh to lead them in their fight against Obama. And with Limbaugh emerging as the Republicans’ undisputed de facto leader, he could now use his radio talk show as his “official” Republican pulpit to attack Obama and the Democrats.

But wait a minute. Is Limbaugh going to be effective in leading the Republican Party? Some Republicans are worried that Limbaugh might just be the opposite -- he could be the “kryptonite” that could weaken the party just like what it did to Superman.

Limbaugh’s famous line, “I hope Obama fails,” has been widely circulated and criticized by Democrats and some Republicans as well. If Obama fails, then America will fail too -- a notion that scares the hell out of millions of Americans who are tiptoeing on the edge of losing their jobs, homes, and life savings.

Indeed, Limbaugh’s blistering assaults against Obama have unleashed a backlash against him. Bloggers had a heyday lambasting “El Rushbo” as Limbaugh calls himself. They labeled him “Tokyo Rose.” One blogger said, “Rush Limbaugh is the Tokyo Rose of our time. At least, Rose did her subversive, anti-American broadcasts from Tokyo, not from the USA.” Another cyberspace habituĂ© blogged, “Tokyo Rose was as unconcerned about giving accurate, undistorted views of the world situation back in her day like the failed top 40's radio disk jockey turned ideological know-it-all Limbaugh is today.”

In a recent survey conducted by McClatchy-Ipsos, it showed President Obama to be twice as popular as Limbaugh -- 65% to 30%. The survey also showed that a solid 33% of all Americans have "very unfavorable" opinions of Limbaugh.

A few days ago, former Vice President Dick Cheney, during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” was asked, “Is Rush Limbaugh kryptonite?” Cheney replied, “No, Rush is a good friend. I love him.”

It is interesting to note that a few days before the November 4, 2008 elections, Cheney came out to endorse John McCain. With Cheney’s 15% favorability rating at that time, his endorsement was viewed by many as a “kiss of death.” Does Cheney’s endorsement of Limbaugh have the same morbid effect?

The Republican Party has a monumental task in changing its image from a destructive obfuscator to a constructive opposition. Nothing is gained by bringing down the president of the United States of America. He is the people’s president. If he fails, so will the people. All Americans are all in this together.