The Vanishing Loyal Opposition

With Obama in the White House, Republicans seem to have collapsed. The right wing senses treason and is considering breaking ranks with the party.

Is there still a loyal opposition in Washington? Yes, somewhere in the twilight, where it’s busy tearing itself apart. But what else can it do? The last weapon it had against Obama was the filibuster, and Republican Senator Arlen Specter took that away from them by defecting to the Democratic Party last Tuesday. Obama now has 59 of the 100 Senate seats in his corner, and the sixtieth soon will arrive from Minnesota. There, Republicans and Democrats have been wrestling for victory in a recount. Democrats are a few hundred votes ahead, and it’s just a matter of time before the courts rule in their favor.

Thanks to Specter’s crossover, all the lights are now green for Obama. With 60 votes, he can now stop the filibusters Republicans wanted to use in order to block passage of legislation. The filibuster is that amusing American right in the Senate that prevents others from voting, while the opposition party read novels or even the telephone directory aloud until they run out of breath. Or until 60 Senators vote to turn off their microphones. In the eyes of the right wingers, the party is left looking like an unfaithful husband caught with his pants down.

And that’s precisely what they’re throwing up to failed candidate John McCain: You jumped in bed with the liberals! You abandoned our principles! You expanded government social programs instead of killing them! You let Iran make fools of us instead of toppling the Mullahs! You disarmed our CIA torturers, so you could cozy up to the liberals! You supported policies that enabled the lower classes to get low-interest real estate loans, so you’re also responsible for the financial crisis!

The right was saying these things, even when George W. Bush was still president. “Right wing” in America doesn’t mean Nazi. Right wingers see themselves as the defenders of religion, social values and the nation; responsible for toppling Hitler, and later, the Berlin Wall and Saddam Hussein; liberators of Afghan women from the Taliban, not to mention a sea captain from the clutches of Somali pirates. They battle against illegal aliens, liberal judges, or “Islamofascists”, as if they’re all the same thing. They say America must be defended from the “evildoers.” The evildoers are Osama bin Laden or President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. But Americans voted for Obama anyway. The right wing thinks that happened, because George W. Bush blurred the conservative profile of the Republican Party, while the moderates think the party has drifted too far right.

The debate is brightly lit, but the right has all the microphones. The most popular talking heads on television and radio are solidly right-wing. They believe they are the loyal opposition. Most influential among them is Rush Limbaugh, who made it from humble beginnings to billionaire, who openly hopes for Obama to fail and gives his radio talk show away free to local affiliates. In so doing, he reaches far more people than does the Republican Party, whose coffers are empty since their election defeat.

On the subject of Specter’s defection, Limbaugh said, “It’s not a big loss. Take McCain and his daughter with you.” To Limbaugh, John McCain and his daughter, Meghan, embody everything that’s wrong with the Republican Party. Meghan McCain is anti-abortion and supported Saddam’s overthrow, but she favors protecting the environment and allowing gays to marry. During the 2008 presidential campaign, she remarked that Obama wasn’t a bad guy. To conservatives, that made her an ideologue and instantly famous. After the election, her father asked everyone to support their new president. Senator Specter and the two senators from Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, lifted Obama’s financial stimulus package over the filibuster hurdle. That was too much for Limbaugh: the cardinal sin. Republicans helping Obama to double the national debt? To hell with them!

The Republican Party now faces the acid test. John McCain and his daughter, along with the two senators from Maine, are now the face of the moderate wing of the party. McCain ran strongly in the northern parts of the country, but was marginalized by Obama. Limbaugh and the right have their base in America’s south, and secession fantasies now blossom there. If Obama wants to make the United States into a people’s republic, shouldn’t the rest of us secede as we did in 1860? The Governor of Texas has already toyed openly with the thought. In response, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listed Texas on her website for one day as one of the “foreign countries” she has visited. A survey across the southern states this week showed that one-third of southern Republicans would be open, theoretically, to the idea of secession.

A few days ago, John McCain met with several noteworthy Republicans, George W. Bush’s popular brother Jeb Bush among them, to form the “National Council for a New America.” That could signal the basis for a new Republican Party platform – or it could also be the nucleus of a totally new political party. It wouldn’t be the first time: There has been an ongoing struggle between traditionalists and progressives within the party since the American Revolution. It was first known as the Federalist Party, then later as the Whig Party. On July, 1854, the Whigs split off as an anti-slavery faction, calling themselves Republicans. The most recent mutation came in 1912. Now, 100 years later, the party may well be ready for a new split.

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1 Comment

  1. The filibuster is more than an “amusing American right in the Senate that prevents others from voting”. It’s a vital tool that allows bitter/passionate Senate minority leaders to delay or block legislation of the majority party. Most commonly used as a threat against bills deemed “beyond the pale” by the minority it serves an important role in America’s two party system, especially when the minority could represent anywhere from 40-50% (125-150 million people) of the electorate.
    That being said the filibuster is a weapon of last resort and if you have to use it, it probably means you’ve already lost. Over the years it has been used with only limited success, most infamously in America by southern politicians seeking to block civil rights legislation.
    Fun Fact: The filibuster dates back to ancient Rome’s late republic period when Cato the Younger used it in an attempt to foil Julius Caesar.
    From the wiki:When faced with the request from Caesar to postpone consular elections until after his Triumph, Cato used the device of filibuster, speaking continuously until nightfall, to prevent the Senate from voting on the issue of whether or not Caesar would be allowed to stand for consul in absentia. Thus Caesar was forced to choose between a Triumph or a run for the consulship. Caesar chose to forgo the Triumph and entered Rome in time to register as a candidate in the 59 BC election (which he won).

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