Preliminary reviews would lead us to believe that President Obama will get kudos when the first 100 days are up. Not all has gone as planned for his administration, but Obama has clearly set the pace and the political agenda. On the other side of the political fence, while the Democrats are currently benefiting from the Obama effect, the Republicans seem confused, listless, and divided.
This week’s tax day tea parties—supported by the Republican National Committee and promoted by Fox News—may give the impression that the GOP has finally found an issue on which it can attack Obama. The debate surrounding the budget, the bailouts, and tax hikes aimed at the top two per cent of income earners may indeed provide fiscal conservatives with some fodder. But the president has countered their outrage with a convincing explanation of his economic policies. Add to this the fact Obama’s approval numbers remain over 60 per cent and you get the impression the tea parties will be quickly forgotten.
Conservative commentators have come to arguing among themselves in recent days. Some, like Bernie Goldberg, say conservatives must not blindly oppose Obama on every issue and policy. Rush Limbaugh, on the other hand, believes that Obama’s breathing is a threat to the American union. Morning Joe Scarborough split the difference and provided a more balanced viewpoint, one in which he argued that the opposition should focus less on personalities and more on presenting a modern conservative alternative. The impact of all this is that conservatives are presenting a confused assessment of Obama and are opening themselves up to the charge that the GOP has no direction.
In the meantime, leading spokespersons and potential contenders cannot seem to gather any traction. Sarah Palin speaks to conservatives in Indiana, but it’s always her family matters that end up getting more press. Mitt Romney may look like the leading contender for 2012, but we are constantly reminded of his disastrous 2008 campaign. Newt Gingrich had emerged as a credible conservative voice and he does have ideas. But his grinch-like comments about Obama’s dog reminded the electorate about the mean streak so often on display with the hard right.
The Bush legacy makes it difficult for the Republicans to find a conservative voice that is credible. Years of record-smashing deficits, torture-justifying memos, and reckless financial deregulation hamper the emergence of a believable message. That’s saying nothing of the Obama administration’s effectiveness at portraying their opponents as naysayers and baiting them into presenting a budget that was laughable at best .
The American political system cannot function without a strong opposition. The GOP has a history of providing a viable alternative, but it must get its act together and fast. It cannot oppose for the sake of opposing; it must not be a prisoner of ideology and it must show a pragmatism that expands the political tent. Right now, the Republicans are in disarray and American democracy is the loser for this.