Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Kinder, Gentler GOP?

Political parties are much like any other organization or--dare I say--merchandise. Rebranding is important, since how you sell yourself will get you the most customers, viewers, or, in this case, voters. Parties redefine themselves all the time, and there isn't anything particularly wrong or inconsistent with that. Times change, and parties have to change with it. (Remember: there was a time in which the Republicans were known for civil rights and a smaller military, and the Democrats known for free trade and international intervention.)

The Democrats had some great success during the Bill Clinton era; for decades, they were known as a libertine tax-and-spend party, nominating lackluster candidates like Walter Mondale, George McGovern, and Mike Dukakis who were almost caricatures of the exact sort of image they were trying to avoid. Clinton was able to sell the Democratic party by emphasizing the positives and downplaying--and outright changing--the negatives. This "New Democrat" idea is the prevailing image of the party today, even with a bit of backsliding from the current administration. 

Is the Republican party in the midst of its own rebranding as a more compassionate party?

It's been a rough road. The GOP's has had the hard-hearted sour image issue for a political generation or two, which more or less culminated in Newt Gingrich's cranky-pants get-off-my-lawn prickliness that turned many against him. George W. Bush tried to brand himself as a "Compassionate Conservative," which seemed to have some modest success--until 9/11 made compassion obsolete for a while. And it didn't seem like things would be any different anytime soon; if there was one emotion that drove the Tea Party to success, it was anger, not compassion. 

Are things changing? I'm not sure. Details are few and sketchy. The in-power representative of the Republicans is new Speaker of the House John Boehner. He wasn't really well-known before the new congress, so the only thing people know about him is that he cries. A lot. Like, three or four times, publicly, in the last two months or so. It was only thirty years ago that the appearance of a tear destroyed any chance Ed Muskie had of being president. Now it's perfectly acceptable. It helps, of course, that the reasons he's cried are somewhat relatable--the culmination of a lifelong dream, say, or the joyous activities of children. Obviously, there's a chance that this is all simple manipulation--Boehner is a politician, after all--but it seems unlikely.

Now, had he been crying about the estate tax, we'd be having a completely different discussion

Likewise, the standard-bearer of the far right, Sarah Palin, has made some surprisingly positive remarks about gays. Granted, one tweet doesn't equate her being the Grand Marshal of the next PRIDE parade, and I don't expect her to change her position on gay marriage or other related issues (though harnessing Willow might be a good start), but it's certainly an unexpected step toward...well, something different than whatever it is that is that entity known as Sarah Palin.

Does all of this mean that the Republicans have learned from their mistakes? Will they now play the part of the sympathetic and emotional but respected grandmother instead of the stern, taskmaster father figure?  We shall see.

The Pledge: Personally, I'd rather see a bunch of cranks lay the hammer down and start destroying the people, groups, and organizations that have gotten us into the fiscal disaster we see ourselves in, but the electorate has made it clear they would rather have hugs and rainbows in exchange for their vote. Go Team Democracy!

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