I was picked on as a kid. Fellow classmates pointed out only superficial stuff in an awkward, pre-orthodontia pre-teen with1990s circle glasses who studied by herself a lot. Only superficial stuff. No one in the fifth grade could explain to me why they thought my name was weird. I really didn’t appreciate groundless insults when I was 11 years old. A lot has changed since then, but that hasn’t.
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) happened this week.
Republican 2016 hopefuls accused the sitting president of being weak, of leading from behind. Former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum made a joke about Kenya. Governor Scott Walker equated Wisconsin union protests with painstakingly complex international conflicts in which families are concerned about breathing and eating tomorrow, not the sustainability of a parent’s public pension. Reince Preibus tried to spin out-of-touch-ness as a problem only Democrats are susceptible to and singled out Hilary Clinton for her lemon wedge preference when she orders water before a speech.
Not surprisingly, I’m just as worked up about the party-on-party attacks, perpetrated by “true conservatives” frustrated with Republicans who have worked with Democrats and, in some cases, have taken or repurposed some ideas from their policy playbook. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal accused congressional Republicans of “waving the white flag of surrender” with respect to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The House of Representatives has actually voted to repeal or defund the ACA or parts of the ACA more than 50 times. It’s unclear what Governor Jindal would do differently, because he didn’t get into it. Laura Ingraham intentionally confused former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s positions on nearly everything with President Obama’s. Senator Ted Cruz called moderates in his party “squishy.” To explicitly accuse moderates of “standing for nothing” is insulting, inaccurate, and approximately a dozen other things that keep me up at night.
Moderate Republicans are not moderate because they’re too afraid of opinion polls and PAC money to stand for anything; they’re not squishy because they agree with Democrats sometimes. CPAC speakers often invoke “the American people,” as if they’re fighting for a homogenous voting block who reelected some Democrats in 2014 because Republicans weren’t conservative enough. They talk about moderates as if they’re constantly apologizing for Democrats, because their aversion to the petty doesn’t taste like red meat. They talk about moderates like the group is standing on cliff of hard-rock conservatism, tempted to jump into a progressive body of water just out of earshot.
I’m generally uncomfortable with President Obama’s political ideology. I’d also prefer that Hilary Clinton announce she isn’t interested in campaigning for the White House again. That’s not because I think the president does not like America. It’s not because I think Hilary Clinton spends too much money on pre-address appetizers. When did our party’s criticism get so, well, superficial?
I think it’s unfair when Democrats pay lip service to small employers after holding a press conference about fair shares and a federal tax code plagued by an income tax rate that’s too low. I think the ACA is a bad law, riddled with contradictory provisions that made insurance premiums way too expensive and barred states from trying something better. I think it’s completely unreasonable to expect state taxpayers to fund an unsustainable public pension program without help or hope.
But you’ll never see me point fingers at Democrats’ glasses or their teeth or their names.
I think my political philosophy is the right one, or at least the best one. Imagining yourself walking around in someone else’s shoes doesn’t mean you’ve changed your mind. We live in a country whose diversity precludes its government from sustainable supermajorities. We certainly don’t live in a country whose future is capable of producing consistently or ever a conservative president and 535 Republican Members of Congress at the same time. We have to get used to Democrats.
Actually, I think, we have to get to know them, if there’s any hope of working with them. CPAC reminds us how entrenched the right wing of the Republican Party can be in its protest. It’s a movement that confirms its own founding biases, a movement that fails to recognize how small it is. If we’re thinking clearly about how the Republican Party can be at its best and its biggest, our endgame shouldn’t be the liquidation of a Democratic Party that isn’t going anywhere.
If our strategy is only to destroy them, how will we ever persuade?