I’d like to do a series of posts explaining why the belief that the Republican Party, in its current incarnation, is capable of governing responsibly is a dangerous myth. Obviously, there’s a large market for irresponsible federal government at the moment, as there was back in 2000 and 2004. A certain bloc of voters actually want ill-informed lightweights like themselves in charge. This and subsequent posts won’t be for those people, a voting bloc amounting to about 30% of the nation’s electorate, as I don’t believe there’s any way to communicate with them effectively.
However, 10-15% of the voting public is open to switching the party for which it votes. Generally speaking, these people like the Democratic Party and its policies better than they like the Republican Party and its policies. These are the kinds of people who a) didn’t vote in 2000 and/or 2004 but say they did and that they voted against Bush, or b) voted for Bush at least once but say they never did. This is a real phenomenon. If people had actually voted for the guy they said they voted for when asked in 2006, John Kerry would have won the election of 2004 in a landslide.
So why do people vote for representatives of a party they disagree with on most issues, regret and swear they never made that vote when it finally becomes clear (like with Bush after Hurricane Katrina) that the person they voted for is incompetent and bad for the country, only to end up interested in voting for that party again?
It’s hard to say. These kinds of voters are not alone in being confused about politics, but they seem more susceptible than others to the myth that it’s necessarily a good thing for the parties to share power, or that it’s necessarily a good thing to vote in a president from the party that hasn’t held the presidency in eight years.
I wonder if clearly explaining how the Republican Party is no longer tethered to reality or capable of responsible governance is a way to reach these voters. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has long been pointing out how “constitutional conservatives” – a self-indulgent label adopted by many Tea Party types – do not in fact seem to know much about the constitution, at all. In a recent piece, Marshall calls this paradox the Unicornstitution, a mythical founding document that exists in the minds of conservatives to justify any crazy idea they want to believe.
The Unicornstitution explains why conservatives do not seem to understand the establishment clause of the first amendment. How else can we explain the fact that conservatives scream about Obama and Democrats waging a war on Christianity while simultaneously conservatives seem unsure or outright hostile to the idea that the practice of Islam is also protected? Or conservatives’ bizarre belief that the first amendment’s speech protections mean that we all have the right to say whatever we want whenever we want and not get criticized for it?
(By the way, as often is the case, The Onion got there early on this issue. In a classic 2009 piece titled “Area Man Passionate Defender of What He Imagines Constitution To Be” we see Unicornstitutional thinking in all its glory.)
Now, maybe a voter agrees with Unicornstitutional thinking, and really does want to elect a government that privileges fundamentalist modes of Christianity over all other religions, to the point of banning certain religions. Maybe this voter really does want to elect people that embrace nullification, a theory that holds that the states (and now, individual or minority blocs of representatives) can simply ignore or invalidate federal laws they don’t like (a theory of government that was used to support the protection of slavery and was definitively shot down by the Civil War).
As stated earlier, I estimate that voters who think this way make up a good 30% of the national electorate, and there’s almost no way to engage them. But the remaining voters, especially those who tend to swing from party to party, really need to understand the facts on the ground here. One of those facts is that the election of a conservative government is an election of people living in a dangerous fantasy land.