One of the things we’ll learn this presidential election is whether the Republican Party can survive itself. As we’ve seen in the ten days since Governor Mitt Romney picked Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, and most acutely in the last 72 hours since the fiasco involving Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin broke, the party is reaching what may be the most critical moment of its quarter-century-long identity crisis. In the way that Franklin Roosevelt did for Democrats during the 1930s, by sheer force of personality and eloquence Ronald Reagan in the 1980s resolved tensions that had riven the party for years. He could incarnate the party so fully as to invite and absolve fellow travelers who might be suspiciously less than true believers. After Reagan, no one else could do this; even as what now constitutes the conservative wing of the party invokes Reagan’s name with a sobriety that borders on the biblical, that wing has moved considerably to the right of him.
I spent most of July in the upper Midwest and was reminded that not everyone in America passes the summer fixated on politics. They go to the beach, catch fish, grill burgers, eat ice cream, try to stay cool, see The Dark Knight Rises without recognizing it as the fascist tract that shrewder observers from Rolling Stone do. In the Bear Lake Tavern where I would have dinner not far from Lake Michigan, the TV over the bar is set to the Olympics before being turned to CNN or Fox or occasionally NBC (but not MSNBC).
This past Friday was one of those strange and sad days in the life of a country when a number of things don’t so much converge as share the commonality of the moment and thereby exist within the shadows of each other. The massacre that greeted the release of the year’s most-awaited movie just a few midnights ago in a tiny Colorado town took place at cross-coordinates social, cultural, and political by virtue of timing and the parameters of the occasion, if nothing else; though the more terrible the toll in such circumstances, the more natural it is to draw conclusions, learn lessons or arrive at resolutions, the only thing straightforward about any of it is the horror.
Surely by now you’ve figured out that you shouldn’t be listening to any of us, haven’t you? One of the more nitwitted arguments of Marxist-Leninists—back when there were such people—was that history is a science and human behavior is as predictable as chemical interaction, rendering sociological results inevitable,; and if few of us in what passes for the commentariat these days would put matters in such a way, we still tend to view politics as a series of patterns determined by previous patterns, which are defined by ideology and demographics.
Mitt Romney is running as the Trojan Horse candidate of 2012, the big empty gift to America who will be wheeled into the gates of Election Night only for the bottom to pop out the next morning and whatever lurks inside to reveal itself. Watching his small disaster of an interview on Face the Nation this past weekend, we can only conclude he believes he will win the presidency by answering and offering nothing in the most calculatedly vacuous campaign since Richard Nixon’s in 1968. The difference is that in 1968 the American public knew Nixon all too well and, compared with the specifics of Nixon that people had understood for years, a vague Nixon was considered a step in the right direction.