After a lengthy hiatus from blogging over the holidays and during the seemingly interminable transition period, I re-emerged to write a diary today, my thoughts fully formulated and my mental outline ready to go.
Problem is, it turns out I have no need to write: Paul Krugman already did it for me today.
Krugman's column is one to print out, keep, and return to. It is the most consequential thesis, and the most important development politically in over a generation.
From today's column, which really must be read in full (my emphasis added):
The fault, however, lies not in Republicans’ stars but in themselves. Forty years ago the G.O.P. decided, in effect, to make itself the party of racial backlash. And everything that has happened in recent years, from the choice of Mr. Bush as the party’s champion, to the Bush administration’s pervasive incompetence, to the party’s shrinking base, is a consequence of that decision...
"Government is not the solution to our problem," declared Ronald Reagan. "Government is the problem." So why worry about governing well?
Where did this hostility to government come from? In 1981 Lee Atwater, the famed Republican political consultant, explained the evolution of the G.O.P.’s "Southern strategy," which originally focused on opposition to the Voting Rights Act but eventually took a more coded form: "You’re getting so abstract now you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites." In other words, government is the problem because it takes your money and gives it to Those People.
This past election was the true test of the continued efficacy of that strategy. On the one hand you had Barack Obama, an African-American candidate with Hussein as a middle name. On the other, you had a campaign invigorated only by a racist appeal to "real Americans", a marked distaste for "community organizers" (the sort of people who only help organize "Those People") and embodied by a candidate whose very popularity owed itself to thinly veiled racism. As nephewmiltie pointed out at RedState:
By the way: small government Sarah Palin actually increased spending in her state. So why did we presume that she supported small government and less spending? Simple: because she is a Republican from a state that doesn't have a Chicago, Detroit or Harlem in it.
Of course, Krugman goes on to point out that the 2008 election essentially rendered that strategy obsolete. The puppetmasters of the Republican Party were never as concerned with rolling back the Great Society as they were with rolling back the New Deal. Their racist base wanted the Great Society destroyed; the real power, however, used that racial resentment as a secret wedge to attempt to roll back the real target of their ire. It is FDR, far more than LBJ, who is the real enemy of the Republican Party. As I said before in Why the GOP is Seriously Screwed if Obama Wins:
[L]ooming on the GOP's horizon is its worst nightmare:the possibility that a majority of Americans might vote for an African-American for President.. And not just vote for one, but get used to one. Americans might become accustomed to the idea of an African-American family living in the White House, and being its public face to the world. That in the process, Americans might actually make leaps and bounds forward on the issue of race and thereby remove the most effective wedge in the Republican toolbox for decades.
And then all Republicans would have left is their deeply unpopular drive to abolish the New Deal. It would, in short, spell utter doom for the Republicans outside of the deep South and certain pockets of the Midwest.
Nor would it be an easy wedge to replicate...[snip]
And that is why this election terrifies the GOP. In just one election cycle, an entire agenda and electoral strategy spanning over three decades could be dashed on the rocks, with no credible replacement. Milton Friedman's privatization agenda would be dead in the water, without hope of rescue barring military coup. Republicans in this situation are like a desperate, dangerous cornered animal.
Krugman, as usual, puts it best. But he goes one step farther: it not just that Republicans will have to come up with a new playbook to remain competitive, but also that the constraints that used be upon the Democratic Party to create real change have essentially disappeared:
That’s why the soon-to-be-gone administration’s failure is bigger than Mr. Bush himself: it represents the end of the line for a political strategy that dominated the scene for more than a generation.
The reality of this strategy’s collapse has not, I believe, fully sunk in with some observers....
America in 1993 was a very different country — not just a country that had yet to see what happens when conservatives control all three branches of government, but also a country in which Democratic control of Congress depended on the votes of Southern conservatives. Today, Republicans have taken away almost all those Southern votes — and lost the rest of the country. It was a grand ride for a while, but in the end the Southern strategy led the G.O.P. into a cul-de-sac.
For the longest time, the progressive economic agenda was held hostage to vaguely economically progressive but socially retrograde racist Dixiecrats in the South. When truly progressive economics required that all our nation's people have equal opportunity to share in the nation's wealth, those erstwhile alliances became strained or broken. But today Democrats are no longer dependent on the likes of Zell Miller and his Dixiecratic friends to enact a progressive economic agenda. The Republicans have painted themselves into a corner as the Party of the South, and Democrats have largely cleaned our own house of the racists.
All that leaves for us is the question of whether enough of our Democratic officials will recover from their Battered Wife Syndrome and reject the temptations of corporate corruption to truly herald the advent of a 2nd New Deal.
Because at this point, the Republican Party is basically incapable of stopping us until they figure out a new strategy to win elections--a not impossible but truly monumental task. Nor are we as Democrats held back by the same constraints we once were. The time to seize the day is now, and the opportunity has never been more wide open.
Few in Washington yet realize the significance of this, but Krugman does. If you do nothing else today, read his column in full. Memorize it. You'll be glad you did.