Who are we supposed to “reach across the aisle” to anyway?

I had originally planned writing something over the weekend about how with the election winding down to it’s final days, we needed to do two things:

  • Volunteer and work hard to elect Obama (no time to slow down now!)
  • Start dialing down the partisan rhetoric to reach across the aisle post-election

Instead of writing that, I finished reading Conservatives Without Conscience by John Dean. And with that book finished, I realized that one of my points was utterly useless.

And it wasn’t the one about volunteering.

I have been concerned that with such an intense election going on this year, Democrats were going to have a tough time getting Republicans on board to work with us after the election. I have been concerned that we were going to have difficulty with friendships that have suffered with political differences, and that we needed to take the noble step to start reaching out and bring these people over.

But I don’t think that makes sense now.

What I took from Conservatives Without Conscience was the stark division between Republicans who are what Dean called Conservative, versus those that he calls Authoritarian. This is one of those differences that has been written about so many times before, but I think we are finally seeing the traditional Republican party discipline failing, and these two groups are coming apart.

If you look at the collapsing support for McCain/Palin, amongst Republicans, you see this. With Colin Powell, Ken Adelman, Charles Fried, and countless other conservatives coming out supporting (even tepidly) Obama’s campaign, this means something. The conservatives who are willing to actually come out and analyze the politics and the situation of this election are all coming to the conclusion that McCain does not represent their best interests. And while Obama is not a perfect fit for them, he’s their best choice. That leaves only the true authoritarian followers remaining in the Republican fold. This is even pointed out in such liberal sites as the American Conservative:

Part of what has been wrong with the GOP is that its rank-and-file members take their political advice and insights from radio entertainers who seem to understand little about political reality and even less about policy, and who substitute bluster for understanding.  When they are confronted with an administration that does much the same, they have seemed only too willing to buy into the bluster.  They remain steadfastly loyal to a failed President and his indefensible decisions, and they break with him only when he supports measures that are absolutely intolerable and even then they do this only when the President is profoundly unpopular and no longer very influential.  This audience may have the right views about many things, but in practice that translates into reliable loyalty to a party that virtually never serves their interests, which enables the politicians who support all of the intolerable policies that they themselves reject.

The Republican party has put a great deal of effort into cultivating this type of support. But to keep the party ideologically pure, they have been purging all dissenting voices. For a time, this has worked to keep the remaining voices in line. But now we see the fracture in the party driving straight through the middle, shattering it at was once its base.

That crack has been driven wide open by Sarah Palin. Her secrecy, abuse of power in Alaska, lack of interviews, and pride in ignorance of virtually any issue have made her pick the destruction of the Republican party. The Conservatives cannot take her pick seriously, she is abhorrent to their view of a party built by Goldwater and Reagan, who we as Liberals may not have matching worldviews, at least were interested in goals other than pure power for power’s sake. But the Authoritarians view Palin as the culmination of exactly what they seek in their party. Pure Loyalty, Pure Ideology. But wholly incompetent.

John Dean quotes Josh Marshall (quoting Al Gore) on this very point, that not only is it not surprising to see this type of culmination from the Authoritarian wing or Republicans, but it is the logical result:

The point Gore makes in his speech that I think is most key is the connection between authoritarianism, official secrecy and incompetence. The president’s critics are always accusing him of law-breaking or unconstitutional acts and then also berating the incompetence of his governance. And it’s often treated as, well…he’s power-hungry and incompetent to boot! Imagine that! The point though is that they are directly connected. Authoritarianism and secrecy breed incompetence; the two feed on each other. It’s a vicious cycle. Governments with authoritarian tendencies point to what is in fact their own incompetence as the rationale for giving them yet more power

And here is where we see Palin and her relationship to McCain manifest. Palin, the incompetent demagogue, has taken the campaign away from McCain, and is trying to seal her own political future. She is throwing McCain under the Straight Talk Express, and this action is proving to the Conservatives that McCain’s judgement is suspect. All the better for us.

We don’t need to go to the effort of convincing those in the Republican party to come out and meet us halfway for future debate, those people who would be willing to do that are being thrown out of the party en masse. And I think we have been doing a good job of welcoming them along. While I doubt these people will join the Democrats for the long run, it does feel good to know that there are still some out there who may disagree with our viewpoint, but still agree on what is the right direction for America. Hopefully these types of people will take control of the Republican party back from the Authoritarian wing, who have nothing of value to add. Perhaps they will be part of an emergent Libertarian party, I really don’t know.

So long as we are reaching out to those we have disagreed with in the past, but who are finding common ground today, I think we are doing the right thing. Because we won’t find any common ground with the Authoritarians, if the Conservatives can’t find it, we certainly can’t.

We know who we need to be working with in the future, even if we won’t always see eye-to-eye on how to do it.

Now back to Volunteering…