Politically, this decade has been an eventful one, and today, with Specter's big switch, its final months just got a lot more interesting. What began as the decade of "compassionate conservatism" has become the decade of GOP civil war, pitting hardcore social conservatives against more moderate factions of the party in a battle to the death...or something less dramatic.
Let's look at how this 10-year-long debacle began, shall we?
In the 90's, Bill Clinton oversaw the final years of the Boomer-dominated Democratic Party. His reluctance to take strong stances on social issues may have been justified (after all, his early push for the rights of gays in the military did not go too well), but it is a quality that Obama, as well as younger Democratic voters, does not share. With the Lewinsky scandal firmly in the past, Clinton's presidential legacy flourished during Bush's tenure in the White House; "Come Back Bill, All is Forgiven" was a popular bumper sticker slogan during Bush's first term.
But Clinton's presidency was not always so highly regarded; his reign in D.C. was marked by fierce Congressional opposition as well as virulent hostility from the FreeRepublic crowd. Ultimately, the Clinton years did little to cement Democratic influence in Washington, while Newt Gingrich managed to hold more sway than almost every other Speaker of the House before him. So, the decade that began with a pushback against the conservative culture wars of the 1980s ended with weariness and apathy dominating Democratic voters. However, Clinton's presidency strengthened the Democratic party in the long run, solidifying the support of younger voters, as well as de-emphasizing the politically correct, overly cautious elements of the party.
In a similar way, Bush & Cheney may have overseen the final years of the American Right as we know it. Many writers are speculating about a "permanent Democratic majority" the same way Rove spoke about Republican dominance in 2004; but this is as logically unsound an idea as it was when Karl said it in 2004. No party is immune to backlash, and the newly dynamic Democratic party only emerged after eight long, frustrating years of political defeats. That's why I'm convinced that it is impossible to judge the future of the GOP by its complete self-destruction during the 2008 campaign. While Republicans currently lack an effective platform, I'm certain that Obama will provide them with enough fodder to energize their base, and world events always lend themselves to party talking points come election time.
So, the future of the GOP may be uncertain, but I think this whole "death of conservatism" phenomenon is being taken a little too literally. What has happened is the complete erasure of the big tent Republican Party of the 1960s, replaced with a body of voters who value idealogical agreement over practical governance and political pragmatism. Essentially, they have become the Democratic party of the 1980s.
One thing Specter's change of heart indicates is that the battle lines between the parties have been permanently redrawn. For the first time since Ronald Reagan, Republicans have found themselves fighting for the trust of the American public, and losing.
By my reckoning, as well as Megan McCain's, the recent dominance of the Democratic Party is largely due to the Republican refusal to modernize their platform along with changing social norms. The gay marriage issue will provoke legit conservative outrage for another decade, but the younger generations' attitudes to homosexuality are completely out-of-step with the Republican position; as reformed neocon Andrew Sullivan* points out, framing the gay community as godless enemies will only serve to alienate future voters.
The GOP love them some sour grapes, so the reaction to Specter's abandonment has been pretty predictable: Michelle Malkin called him the "head of the Turncoat caucus," and Rush asked him to take Megan McCain with him when he goes. However, Olympia Snowe (another member of Malkin's "Turncoat caucus," I'm sure) hit the nail on the head when she attributed Specter's switch to the "exclusionary policies and views towards moderate Republicans" within the GOP. Snowe may not follow Specter's lead by switching, but she is voicing a very practical argument that a Democrat could not make so effectively.
Of course, many will call both Specter and Snowe RINOs (Republicans in Name Only), and maybe they're correct; but if they don't fit the definition of a Republican, it's because Bush's presidency forever changed the party's identity and purpose.
*I'm just playin'! Mr. Sullivan has more than made up for the mistakes of his past. He's a-ok in my book.
It may not be the American media this time, but, as always, you can count on the press to completely miss the point of a massive cultural phenomenon.
I'm referring to the coverage of Susan Boyle's recent performance on Britain's Got Talent. If you are unfamiliar with the show, it's essentially a variety/reality show competition, a la the [insert country here] Idol formula. The last big story to emerge from the show was the surprise success of Paul Potts, an unassuming cellphone salesman who happened to sing opera masterfully. His audition performance (and Ms. Boyle's, for that matter) is probably one of the greatest moments reality television has to offer, and he has since become an international superstar. The #1 album in 15 countries kind of superstar.
Ms. Boyle is a similar figure: she is forty-seven, unmarried, and spent all her life in the same village in Scotland; in other words, she doesn't possess any typical "showbiz" qualities. In fact, when she walks on stage, the audience (as well as the judges) are prepared to laugh her right back off of it. But then, within the first few bars of "I Dreamed a Dream" (one of my favorite B-Way ballads, by the way), a strange thing happened: the audience started clapping wildly and cheering her on with a standing ovation.
Throughout her performance, the show would cut to Simon Cowell's uncharacteristically bemused face, just to make its point even clearer: Cynical snarkiness has been the only thing keeping this beautiful voice silent, and the notion that this cynicism is synonymous with wisdom or taste is a false one.
Before she sang, Ms. Boyle told Simon that the only reason she hadn't sung professionally was that she "never had the chance." From what I can tell, if most people had their way, Susan would have never been given the opportunity. When she confessed that her dream was to be a singer like Elaine Page, the audience's reaction (both in theater, and, assumedly, at home) was one of derision, based solely on her appearance and manner.
Ms. Boyle is an ordinary person, no uglier or frumpier than most women her age, but since her television debut, writers have dubbed her, among other things, a "hairy angel...dowdy, with thick eyebrows."
This rubs me entirely the wrong way. How is it that the media can only celebrate a woman's inner beauty by pointing out her physical imperfections? I understand that these writers need to set the stage for the "surprising" nature of her performance, but come on people, cruel words are still cruel words.
Luckily for her, Ms. Boyle's life has prepared her for cruelty (I don't want to go too far into her backstory, but she suffers from a learning disability and has been teased about her appearance since she was a child); she can probably take all these articles on the chin without batting her eye. But that doesn't mean she should be given nothing but back-handed compliments from writers claiming to be so personally moved by her voice.
Let me put it more succinctly: If you are write an article about how Ms. Boyle proves the worthlessness of image-based expectations, try not to call her fat and ugly in your first sentence. That sort of defeats the purpose.
PS: This lady gets it. Good on her.