The national Republican Party seems loathe to learn the lessons of the past election.
Because of it, they are caught up in rhetoric that only makes it look either tone-deaf to the last election's message or simply ridiculous. After all, it doesn't seem to have dawned that the same old play book won't create the same old fault lines of race, income and geography that it has perpetuated and deepened for partisan advantage.
National leaders seem to be falling back into their old Rovian comfort zone, where the emphasis is on red herrings, rhetorical excesses and phony controversies aimed solely at getting 51% even it means discouraging people to stay away from the polls. It's not about creating a national vision or consensus. It's always about scorched earth policies that induce fear as a political philosophy.
There's something so cynical about this approach – regardless of which party does it – but the Republican Party went from majority party to minority party as a result of its own cynicism, but its national leadership can't shake free of the wishful thinking that it's all just cyclical.
It's No Joke
As a result, they can with straight faces chide the Obama Administration for the economic stimulus funding, calling it wasteful, expensive and too much spending. It's as if they expect a bout of national amnesia to have set, forgetting that the Republican Administration and the Republican Congress produced the largest deficits in history, presided over the largest expansion of the federal government and blurred the lines between government and capitalism so much that the former was seen as the instrument for the latter.
That said, if the Republican leaders inside the Beltway are tone deaf, Tennessee Republicans are just plain deaf. Here, the Tennessee Republican Party seems oblivious to the changes that the public wants in tone and in acting that compromise (the grease that oiled the democratic machinery in a simpler time) is unacceptable. As a result, they come off more often as dilettantes than elected leaders.
In moments of humorous insight, Democratic strategists joke that Democratic organization is a conflict in terms. They joke that Democrats can always find a way to screw up a two-car funeral, so the best Republican strategy is to stay patient until Democrats implode.
Meanwhile, Republican strategists joke that their party can always find a way to overplay its power and treat their election as a coronation that justifies their imperial thinking and strident policies, so Democrats' best strategy is to make Republicans as powerful as possible.
Wanted: Some Answers
Seemingly oblivious to the risk that they become mere parodies of themselves, Republican members of Congress gravely express their newfound concern about too much federal spending. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Republican mayors and governors are looking for ways that their federal taxes can flow back to their states in the form of money for new infrastructure, jobs and innovation.
As expected, the national media rarely ask the follow-up questions. What's their solution to the economic meltdown? If they are now so concerned about the disastrous effect of this nearly trillion dollar program, where was the concern when they blew a hole in the federal budget to send huge tax windfalls to the wealthiest five per cent of Americans and create the largest deficits in history?
Because of the national media's predilection to believe that the "inside baseball" of Washington politics matters more to us than the Main Street politics of U.S. cities, we rarely see the Republican leadership in the hinterland that is hailing the importance of the economic stimulus funding - the big city mayors (yes, there are some who are Republicans) who have seen urban issues virtually ignored for a decades.
It's no secret that legislators can make all these grand statements because they don't have to manage the fall-out that comes from their flights of political pandering, such as the ill-conceived ideas as the Tennessee Republican Party's idea to turn parks and bars and public places into potential shooting galleries. Meanwhile, those of us who aren't packing heat apparently don't deserve the right to even know who in the neighborhood or in our sphere of work and play is so in love with their weapons that they carry them with them.
An Air Ball
Frankly, we make it a general practice not to go to places where we need to carry firearms, but amazingly, in the combined couple of centuries of the people here, no one yet has wished for a handgun during an evening out on the town. Maybe, Republican state legislators like Rep. Curry Todd could support a "Dodge City" law. Every one can pack their favorite six-shooter, but they have to check them at the door. They can always pick them up again when they leave to go back out to the big, bad city.
To those who judge Mr. Todd by his regularly inane legislative positions, we hasten to point out that although he was a great basketball player, sometimes sports acumen just isn't the same as leader acumen. Even the small matter of the U.S. Constitution – something a number of Republicans have gotten used to ignoring in recent years – didn't dissuade state legislators from a silly amendment steamrolling through the Tennessee Legislature that would outlaw the posting online of people who have gun permits.
This flurry of activities to pander to the gun lobby was triggered (excuse the pun) by the apparently treacherous decision by The Commercial Appeal to give the public access to public records by posting a searchable database of gun permit holders on its website. There's public information about all of us floating around on public websites and some private websites, but in an age when our privacy is regularly assaulted, the party faithful here decide that its gun owners who deserve all the attention, not any of us who may have had our phones tapped in recent years.
As for Mr. Todd, his response to whether this kind of ill-considered action conflicted with the First Amendment right to freedom of the press suggested too many dunks where his head hit the rim: "It's no concern of mine." As Commercial Appeal editor Chris Peck seemed to be trying to point out in one of his Sunday columns, while we have 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, somehow, we're supposed to believe that the Second Amendment trumps all the others.
The Old West (Tennessee)
In this issue, the difference between the pandering of Republican legislators and the responsibilities of Republican officials who are actually managers of public services was stark. To this end, Germantown Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy called the Tennessee gun slinger law "ill-advised" and suggested wisely that guns in parks just don't seem like good public policy. "We've worked hard to create an environment that feels safe."
The ways of the Tennessee Legislature are always baffling to us mere mortals, but this obsession with guns sounds like a case of castration anxiety run amok.
Not content to become just one of the minions in the headline-hunting department, East Memphis and Germantown State Representative Brian Kelsey advanced one of his regular outrageous ideas, this time asking his colleagues to urge the governor to turn down federal stimulus money. As one legislator on his side of the aisle said: "Is there nothing that he won't say to get in front of a TV camera? Sometimes, I think he thinks that he's still at Student Council meetings."
That sounds a little too unkind considering the need for fresh young faces in our political system. That's why we keep hoping that Rep. Kelsey will eventually find his way and his balance. He's too smart and too attractive a candidate to squander his opportunity to contribute to the progress of his state, becoming a punch line to many people in Nashville and running the risk of being so marginalized and so strident that he's one of those people who wander the halls of the legislature with little ability to create a voting bloc or to influence serious legislation.
All of these Republican antics might be humorous if they were not occurring in the midst of the worst economic crisis in 60 years. At a time when the unemployment rate is soaring, when foreclosures are climbing and jobs are being eliminated across all sectors, our legislators are actually spending their energy on gun bills and political theater.
All in all, it makes us nostalgic for Mitch McConnell and John Boehner.