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GOP adopts the Democrats’ former message

Proverbs 29:18: Where there is no vision, the people perish.

The once-popular Democratic president’s ratings were dragging and in the midterm elections, the Republicans came roaring back.

It was 1966. “Republican resurgence” was the repetitive headline after those GOP victories that came two years after the massive party setbacks of 1964. 1966 gave the nation a generation of Republican leaders, including Charles Percy, Mark Hatfield, Ronald Reagan, Edward Brooke, George Romney.

But there was a difference between 1966 and 2014. Nothing about the Republican Party of 1966 scared people. Today, there is plenty that does — its thriving on polarization, its meanspiritedness, its pitting groups against each other.

One election doesn’t wipe that out, least of all an election that Democrats punted as much as Republicans won. The public’s embrace of either party in this century is less than hearty.

As William Saletan has reported (see http://tinyurl.com/p5bhdjx), Republicans across the country this year ran campaigns that featured liberal and even socialist stances on issues like poverty, the drug war, wage stagnation, tax fairness, and corporate power. (There was less of this in Nevada. The state’s business community is unwilling to tolerate even hollow economic populism.)

It’s hard to imagine the party now following through on anything approaching this program without alienating all its contributors. But then, this campaign wasn’t really about issues, anyway. It was about money, a flood of corporate money (unleashed by court rulings) that politics has not seen in decades, and most of it went to Republicans. Democratic sources like labor unions were not even in the same league.

As for the Democrats, the party could at least have better withstood the onslaught of gargantuan sums if they had offered the public a vision of hope and of the party’s traditional combat with unaccountable power. Since Tony Coelho in the 1980s showed Democrats how to get their own huge amounts of corporate money, Democratic values have eroded away. Jesse Unruh famously said that legislators who couldn’t take lobbyist money and then vote against them didn’t belong in the capital.

Corporate Democrats in the past thirty years have acted against that code of behavior. They’ve repudiated the economic populism that has defined their party since 1896, thus aiming the party’s appeal at Republicans instead of Democrats. Any notion that the party could take corporate money and not have it affect their policies has long since passed away. Their vision for the nation is sterile. It’s not enough to TALK about hope.

This year, it was the Republican Party that campaigned on economic populism, a powerful indication of how far the Democrats have fallen. They have surrendered to the Republicans the party’s reason for being – antagonism toward unhealthy economic power.

Given six years to make taxation fairer, to eliminate the post-1975 silent filibuster system and take the Senate back to majority rule, to stand up to demagoguery on the immigration issue, to make the nation less hostage to corporations that are “too big to fail” by doing something about our weak antitrust laws, the Democrats gave the nation GOP Light.

During the 2012 campaign, President Obama avoided using his 2008 hope and change themes. That merely ratified the way Democrats in power have governed. They richly earned what happened last week.

Democratic leaders, including Nevada’s Harry Reid, chased off candidates who espoused traditional party beliefs in favor of more “electable” moderates who failed to motivate the party base and turned out to be resoundingly unelectable.

That is how far out of touch with the electorate corporate money has put them. As Harry Truman said, give the public a choice of two Republicans and they’ll always go for the real thing.

Dennis Myers is an award winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.

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