In a year in which many of us celebrate both Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th birthday of the “Origin of Species,” it is apropos to use what some have called “Darwin’s wasp”—the Ichneumonidae—to make a point about the state of the Republican Party.
The parasitic wasp, which lays its eggs inside a caterpillar so that its larvae can feed on it, carefully guides its sting into each ganglion of the prey’s central nervous system, not to kill it, but to paralyze it, so that its offspring will have fresh meat to eat. The victim is literally devoured alive from the inside out.
Darwin found this situation incompatible with his religious beliefs. He wrote,
I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars.
The Republican Party, like the unfortunate caterpillar, is being devoured from the inside out.
Caustic conservative chatterers, from Rush Limbaugh to Sean Hannity to Glenn Beck, along with some extremist politicians like Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Joe Wilson, have attached themselves to the party and are, issue by issue, rant by rant, consuming its electoral life. They have effectively banished from the party moderates and patriots like Colin Powell, reasonable, moderately conservative writers like David Brooks or Sam Tanenhaus, and virtually anyone who dares to croon slightly off key in what has become a choir of fear, singing a menacing mantra: We hate Barack Hussein Obama.
Thus, the party of Lincoln is fast becoming a parochial, nationally irrelevant party.
In 1980 Ronald Reagan—in an electoral landslide—received 55% of the white vote. In 2008 John McCain—who lost by nearly 10 million votes—also received 55% of the white vote. What was the difference? The percentage of the overall electorate for white voters dropped from 88% in 1980 to 74% in 2008. So, while Republicans maintained their hold on white voters, the political clout of those voters had declined.
Understandably, Barack Obama had overwhelming support among African-Americans (95%) in 2008, but Republicans have otherwise struggled to attract more than 10% of black voters since Reagan’s 14% showing in 1980. Since then the percentage of black voters among the overall electorate has increased from 10% to 13%.
But the real tale is told by the Hispanic vote.
In 1980 Hispanics comprised only 2% of the electorate, and Jimmy Carter received 54% of their votes compared with 36% for Reagan. In 2008, Hispanics had grown to 9% of the electorate (a 450% increase), and John McCain—having forsaken his moderate position on immigration reform in favor of the hard-line conservative stance—received only 31%. Obama won 67% of the Hispanic vote.
Add to this that Asian-Americans are now 2% of the electorate (the same as Hispanics in 1980) and that Obama managed to garner 62% of their votes, and the picture becomes very clear.
No matter what Republicans may think about these trends, they cannot be ignored with impunity. It may be that conservatives these days are incapable of embracing a philosophy adjusted to fit the reality of changing demographics. Certainly, a staunch adherence to purist conservative doctrine plays well in places like Jasper and Newton counties in Southwest Missouri, or in the Old South, but it is a doomed strategy for long-term national Republican success, even if the party manages to make modest inroads in 2010.
Rather than acknowledge this reality and adjust their positions on the various issues accordingly, most Republican “leaders” are content to prostrate themselves before Rush Limbaugh’s Attila the Hun chair, and in one sycophantic spasm after another confirm that they are content with a regional appeal.
Joe Scarborough, the popular conservative host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” has written a book urging conservative Republicans to heed the advice of the founder of conservatism, Edmund Burke, who “had contempt for rigid ideologues of all stripes.” So far, such advice goes unheeded.
Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal—the scourge of contemporary conservatism—came to pass largely because of the alignment of otherwise disparate groups that ignored important, but comparatively marginal, differences in favor of gaining political power sufficient to win elections. From 1932 through 1964, this coalition of “big city” political machines, labor unions, minorities, progressives, and Southern whites, won seven of nine presidential elections, losing only to WW II hero, Dwight Eisenhower.
If Republicans hope to continue as a national party, they have to shout down the strident voices of conservative ideologues and submit to demographic reality. It is difficult to understand why there isn’t one leader in the party who will take on the obviously unhinged Glenn Beck, just to name one glaring example. But so far, none has assumed the mantle of leadership necessary to save the party from irrelevance.
In the early days of the 20th century conservative movement, William F. Buckley, a conservative and a Republican, gave the left foot of fellowship to the John Birch Society, who, he surmised, would ultimately prove lethal to the conservative cause. He did the same thing to the Objectivists, most especially Ayn Rand. Mr. Buckley much later had to call out conservatives like Pat Buchanan and Joseph Sobran, when they expressed opinions that appeared to embrace an anti-Semitic philosophy. In that regard, Buckley acted like a true father of the movement, an adult who had to call out phony or wayward conservatives in the name of preserving the conservative family and by extension the Republican Party.
There is no one in the conservative movement with the stature William Buckley enjoyed (before he embraced late in life and inexplicably, Rush Limbaugh), and there certainly appears to be no adults in the Republican Party, but perhaps there is someone out there with sufficient courage who is willing to take on the conservative bullies. We can only hope.
Darwin lost at least part of his faith because he could not imagine that God could create the Ichneumonidae and its seemingly cruel method of survival. For him, such cruelty seemed incompatible with decency.
Today, the parasitic wasps in the Republican Party—those who are using the party only to advance their extremist ideological causes with little regard for the party’s survival—may not cause many to lose faith in God, but the tolerance of such people by party leaders causes many of us to doubt their decency.
And sadly, while there are many caterpillars in which Darwin’s wasp can lay its eggs, there is only one Grand Old Party.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009, 06:10 PM
Excellent post. The desert clime agrees with you.
anson Burlingame writes:
Thursday, September 17, 2009, 04:14 PM
You wrote, “There is no one in the conservative movement with the stature William Buckley enjoyed …” I agree. Perhaps George Will comes close to Buckley’s intellect as to some degree does Thomas Sowell (knowing you don’t like the lader one bit).
I am also not at all aware of any left commentator today who meets the standards set by Buckley, or Will and Thomas for that matter. If there is one I would be the first to ask for his publication on a regular basis in the Globe.
As we all correctly ponder the issue of media bias, I look for thoughtful alternatives on the left but have difficulty doing so.
Thursday, September 17, 2009, 04:29 PM
First, Thomas Sowell, who used to be semi-respectable as a columnist, has lost all credibility since Obama has come on the scene. He has repeatedly made oblique and sometimes not so oblique references to Obama and murdering dictators. Unacceptable.
You asked for a “couple” of suggestions on liberal columnists. Here is my “short” list:
Paul Krugman (Pulitzer economist and generalist) would offset George Will nicely.
Eugene Robinson (Pulitzer and wonderful writer)
Michael Kinsley (he used to appear regularly on Bill Buckley’s program).
E.J. Dionne, Jr
David Corn (from the Nation, a REAL liberal)
Eleanor Clift (who used to appear in the Globe, and whom I used to loathe)
Arianna Huffington (who with her popular online site would appeal to net surfers)
All of these names I sent to Carol back in July in hopes that one or two might regular appear in our paper.