Clint Eastwood talks to a chair. Bill Clinton talks to a nation.
The lead that President Barack Obama currently enjoys in the polls is very good news for the nation. I don't just mean that in the sense that the better candidate with the better policies is leading. Not just that it appears America will be spared yet another Republican president who feels that a smirk passes for foreign policy. Not just that the middle class won't be devastated by another round of gift giving to the 1% and corporate incentives to ship jobs overseas. Not just that the deficit won't be driven skyward by more trickle down mythology and military adventurism. Not just that the climate will not continue to race toward Venusian while a Republican commander-in-chief pretends that global warming is a joke.
Nice as all those things are, there's something even more important behind these poll numbers.
There's a deep conviction among conservatives that it's not the message that's wrong, but the messenger. Mitt Romney, like John McCain, is too leaky a vessel for their hopes. He's tainted with the sin of past compromise and lapses in conservative orthodoxy. Even though all of the deep crimson conservatives who piled into this season's competition foundered so badly that they could not win a majority of votes even from highly conservative Republican primary voters, the right is convinced that if the banner of conservatism were only held by pure hands, they would gain the victory they richly deserve. Presumably by capturing all those conservative Democrats out there.
The inability to move the electorate solidly into the conservative camp is especially frustrating because the Republicans have the one thing on their side that is supposed to ensure an easy victory. In short, the economy sucks. With this Excalibur of issues in their hands, they expected to slice through the incumbent administration like government surplus cheese product. Romney was selected for this fight specifically because, even though the rightest wing if the party didn't trust the ex-gov's purity, the merely righter GOP voters believed Willard's prowess with high finance made him best suited to wield this weapon.
But extreme and ultra-extreme Republicans alike got it backwards on both counts, and that's what so exciting. It's not the messenger. It's the message.
With apologies to H. L. Mencken, the Republicans are about to go bust by underestimating the intelligence of the American public.
Over the last three weeks, Americans got a chance to see both the Republican message and the Democratic message back to back. And what they saw left two very different impressions. One party came across as exciting, committed, and informed. Speaker after speaker ascended to the podium and was able to articulate both deeply held convictions and convincing detail on policy.
The other party came off as modern Republicans. Nasty, shallow, and thoroughly unconvincing, the GOP convention boiled down to little beyond platitudes and sneers. While Eastwood's one-sided and halting ramble was the horrifying (and pitiful) climax of the event, the convention's heart came in the disdainful grunts of RNC chair Reinhold Reince Priebus. If someone was trying to create a satire of the prototypical 2012 GOP leader, they didn't need to alter one spittle-dripping snarl of this sophomoric whine. Priebus' leaned on the podium and thrilled those the room with his disdain. So did Chris Christy. So did Paul Ryan.
America got the message just fine -- Republicans don't like us very much. And by us, I mean everybody outside their shrinking tent.
That's because the Tea Party purge isn't coming. It's past. Conservatives want to blame Romney and the "Republican establishment" for their difficulties, but there is no establishment. Rather they are the establishment. Only realio trulio conservatives, those who are so unswervingly vigorous in their beliefs that fact checkers are held as an abomination just slightly ahead of gay marriage, remain in the fold. The Tea Party is no longer a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party. The Tea Party is the Republican Party. The speech's down in Tampa might well have been authored by a guy in a sparkly Uncle Sam suit with a Lipton's bag dangling from his stovepipe hat.
This isn't the party of Lincoln. It's not even the party of Reagan or Goldwater. The new Republican Party has been cleansed of anyone unwilling to kiss the ring of Limbaugh and swear allegiance to the writ of Grover. That makes it a smaller, less flexible, less capable party. A party that's not about anything except a sort of smug self destruction. If conservatives can't see that, don't worry, everyone else can. Americans tuned in to watch, and what they saw was that the resulting product isn't just ugly. It's... sad.
Not only did the Republicans fail to obtain a noticeable bounce out of their gathering, they achieved an unprecedented level of negative momentum that's expressed in far more than just Romney's slide in the polls. You might assume that viewers taking time to watch the Republican convention would be those inclined to vote for the GOP in the first place, and yet polls show that actually watching the convention made voters much less likely to go with the GOP. The ones most likely to stick with Romney following the convention, were those who didn't see anything of Tampa.
In addition to losing ground on the head to head race, the Republicans came away from the convention with a worse position on every issue polled. Following the two conventions, President Obama was viewed as not just better able to handle foreign policy (even pre-smirk) and not just better equipped to end the war in Afghanistan, but also as the top choice to improve the economy and even business. Long held Republican advantages in both business and military issues were snuffed out practically overnight.
Why? Because the American public was paying attention.
You know what? The economy does suck, but poll after poll shows that Americans remember why it sucks. Four years of pure obstructionism designed to ensure that things do not improve have not worked. That is, they've succeeded quite well in preventing anyone from towing the car out of the ditch, but they haven't made people forget who was driving when we ran off the road.
Only two years ago, the billionaire backers of the Tea Party managed to mask their money grab as a populist uprising. Two years ago, they got a majority of Americans to vent their frustration on Democrats, President Obama, common sense, history, science, and anything else that didn't get out of the way. But two years can be a long time.
The best news over the last weeks is that the politics of pure obstruction and vitriol are played out. The American people are awake. They see that the Republicans have nothing to offer but the same plan that created the problems in the first place. Many of them are starting to realize that the biggest problems we face aren't unknowable forces of nature, but very familiar sources of obstanance in the House and Senate. More than any time in the recent past, Americans seem to be willing to look at what people are saying, rather than just listening to the tone.
American voters listened in to Tampa, considered the content, and delivered their reply. That reply was, "bullshit." They were being lied to, and they knew it. To quote from a real, pre-purge Republican, you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.
For the Tea Party Republicans, time is up. They've taken their play book from the original Know-nothings and are headed toward the same path -- toward becoming a footnote in history books.