In 1948 retired General Dwight D. Eisenhower was asked about the possibility of running for public office. His response revealed the efficiency you'd expect of someone who planned Operation Overlord, "I just don't believe military men should get involved in politics."
OK, then. That was that. Or so the nation thought.
Except, as we know, Eisenhower was elected President of the United States just four years later. Today, we'd hear an answer like the one he gave and chalk it up to the game: Deny ambition for office as a first step toward pursuing it. Except, if you really study the man in this particular case, you come to realize that he was probably telling the truth. Four years before taking the biggest job in the world he was of the belief that it would have been inappropriate to go after it.
What changed his mind? The Republican Party.
The GOP's brass came into the General's home and dealt with him on his own terms, straight up. Eisenhower was asked to save the nation a second time. If the Democrats won a sixth straight term to the Oval Office, the two party system in America would likely buckle (they contended). What would be left of the democratic process was anyone's guess. Maybe a new party would form, maybe we'd see a fluid stream of coalitions efforting a challenge to the Democratic Party hegemons. Who knew? Uncertainty reigned. An Eisenhower candidacy would deliver stability to a tenuous system that had grown addicted to a political party duopoly.
The pitch worked. Depending on which story you choose to believe, it took Eisenhower anywhere from an hour to a day to agree. The rest is history.
At that moment, the Republican Party was probably at a high point in terms of its national appeal (Reagan in 1984 competes quite nicely, though). Eisenhower energized the base, but, more importantly, brought the Republican brand to corners of the country that hadn't considered it for a long time. We spend a lot of academic and pundit-ish energy lauding over Nixon's Southern Strategy as a transformative moment for the GOP. We put far less focus than we should on Eisenhower's comprehensive appeal. Nixon may have changed the rules for his party's foundation, but Eisenhower effectively wrote the original draft of those new rules for post-War America. In simplest terms, without Ike, Nixon wouldn't have had a strategy to execute.
The idea of nationalizing a party's brand without a unifying crisis like the Great Depression or the biggest war in the history of humanity wasn't really even in the playbook back in 1952. Few campaign operatives considered it as a priority-one strategy. America's two party system had, up until Eisenhower, largely been a reflection of regional politics. Lincoln didn't even bother to campaign in the South in 1860. The Republican Party was a genuine regional party whose epicenter was squarely in the North. A half century and one monumentally bad electoral cycle later, it's effectively a regional party of the South.
And it's in trouble. (And if you're a fan of democracy, even if you're a Democrat, this should bother you).
The current geographic trajectory of Eisenhower's resurrection handiwork will have a new epicenter in the Gulf of Mexico or, if they're lucky, Tijuana . . . by next week. These aren't bad destinations (provided you have a boat for that first one), but they'll be problematic on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November during even numbered years.
The issue this time is far more complicated than it was in 1952. We're talking about a challenge that's organic and quite likely beyond the day-saving capacity of a war hero. In simple terms, the GOP is not diverse at precisely the time in America's history when diversity is to party viability like jet fuel is to a 747.
What's to be done? That's easy. The GOP needs to . . . get diverse.
How? Don't ask me. But take the advice, Republicans. You need to get diverse. And you need to do it yesterday.
. . . it will be over . . . and that scares me more than a "Palin 2012" yard sign.
The Democratic Party got schooled like a bunch of skateboarders trying to run a mile in gym class back in the 1980's. America had shifted right underneath them and they had no clue until it was too late. History may very well judge that it took a quarter century to fully recover from that Reagan tsunami . . . but oh how the Democrats HAVE INDEED recovered. Would anyone wanting to be taken seriously dare question the death spiral of the GOP after reviewing the numbers from 2006 and 2008? The convenient answer (if you're a Republican and want to sleep at night) is to just blame it all on now former President George W. Bush. The 'take a good long hard look in the mirror and reach for a Lunesta' answer is much worse, though. America has shifted again, but in a more profound manner than what we saw in 1980.
This is where a lot of Democrats I know get smug. Some of it's understandable. I'm of the group who believes President Obama was referring to several things at once when he said, "It's been a long time coming," last November 4th. So everyone needs to grant a little chest-beating 'boo-yah' endzone dancing, but it should stop there. If the smugness lasts much past Valentine's Day then it's time to get worried. Now, this would be where you'd expect me to write something like, 'If the Democrats get all full of themselves then they'll get beaten up by the electorate in 2010.'
I wish that's the point I was trying to make. What I fear is worse: The Democratic Party might be heading into another era of being bullet proof, just like 1932-1952, whether it's smug or not.
This wouldn't be a good thing.
When I started reading words like "permanent Republican majority" back in the Rove Era, I got scared. The words 'permanent' and 'majority' have no business being together if you also hope to use the words 'healthy' and 'republic.' We should cheer for a two party system.
And that's where the GOP needs to answer the wake up call. Here we are, January of 2009, and one of our two major parties is based almost exclusively in the South with ever-dwindling fuel levels in the rest of the nation. Save for two Bush Administration Secretaries of State, they have no national figure minorities to speak of. They're a party whose face is principally a bunch of white men with a few token white women; moreover, they appear to be completely unwilling to listen to the alarm bell that's ringing. Why Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal isn't constantly having rose petals thrown in front of his anticipated path by Mike Duncan is beyond me.
So here's a reading assignment. But before you start, buck up, especially if you're a Republican. It's heady stuff that will actually require you to abandon the notion that anything complex is de facto liberal blather. That approach to life has worked well for mediums like talk radio for a good decade now, but (as I predict in number sixteen) the game is changing. You have to throw this simplistic script in the trash and start over . . . in more ways than you can probably imagine. Getting through Hua Hsu's piece without punching your computer screen will be a nice start. And if you're a Democrat, the first temptation will be to take a long nap because . . . why bother?
You're set, right?
Unfortunately, the answer just might be . . . maybe.
Being a registered independent is freedom to write what you want and feel pretty damn good about it when you do. So let me be clear, I'm cheering for the Republicans on this one. All hands on deck, white boys. All the lifeboats are gone. You need to patch the hull or go down with the ship. Might I recommend tooting your horn toward the S.S. People of Color? But be advised, you're going to need to make some changes.