Voters are Rejecting Republican Ideology, Not Just Bush and McCain

by Randy Shaw on November 4, 2008

With pundits finally predicting an Obama victory, some are already spinning the election as a referendum on President Bush and on John McCain’s weak campaign. This frame—which claims Bush was an “anchor” around John McCain’s neck from the outset—spins this election as a rejection of specific politicians, not the Republican Party. But John McCain publicly bragged about his loyalty to the Bush’s policy agenda, and nearly all Republican politicians marched in lockstep behind Bush. Now that voters are overwhelmingly rejecting the Republican Party’s core principles, traditional media pundits and their conservative allies—who for months said that Obama was “too liberal”– are claiming the contest was not about ideology. Watch and listen tonight as the same talking heads who got most everything wrong this long campaign season struggle to claim that voters do not really want Obama and fellow Democrats to dramatically change the nation’s course.

The vote count has not even begun but the punditocracy and conservatives are already working hard to define this election as based on factors other than a rejection of core Republican ideology. Some blame Bush, others focus on McCain, and many attribute the Republican Party’s problems to September’s massive economic collapse—but you will not find Cokie Roberts, Pat Buchanan, Campbell Brown or others of the traditional media acknowledge that voters have rebuffed the Republican Party’s longstanding policy agenda in its entirety.

Stop Blaming Bush

George W. Bush did something that no recent President has done: he pursued policies that were both wrongheaded and extremely unpopular, allowing his stubbornness to overcome a politician’s typical desire for public approval.

But no matter how low Bush’s approval numbers fell, the Republican Party stood by his policies. From his veto of extending health care to more children to his destructive policies in Iraq, Republicans fought for the Bush agenda because it was their personal agenda and their Party’s agenda.

A late August poll of Republican convention delegates found 70% giving high approval to Bush’s job performance. Bush was popular because he was implementing their vision for America, a policy agenda also supported by the Republican primary and caucus voters who nominated John McCain.

While conservatives like George Will now claim that George W. Bush deviated from the conservative camp, the truth is that Bush followed it to a degree that Presidents Reagan and Bush I refused to do (for example, both raised taxes). Since the current President Bush did everything asked of him by the Republican Party, he can hardly be blamed for the Party’s defeat.

The Real John McCain

The protectors of the Republican brand are also blaming John McCain’s weak campaign for the Party’s anticipated defeat. But McCain changed his political identity last year to curry favor with the Republican base, and his campaign was run just as Karl Rove wanted it to be.

Remember when Rove was credited with the “brilliant” Sarah Palin pick? Palin is the purest form of Republican ideology, and to this day is consistently described as overwhelmingly popular with the Party’s base.

To paraphrase ex-NFL football coach’s Dennis Green’s famous line, John McCain is who we thought he was. He was never a charismatic character, was reknown for his bursts of temper, is not someone anyone wants to share a beer with, has long been an erratic decision maker, and conceded that he does not understand economic issues.

How could anyone have thought he would be a strong candidate?

But before conservatives make McCain take the fall for their own failures, consider his leading competitors for the nomination: Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Huckabee. Only Romney could have potentially run a stronger race against Barack Obama, but it was movement conservatives who opposed him during the primaries and ultimately preferred McCain.

So once again, the Republican base decided the Party’s presidential nominee and knew what it was getting. But its ideology, not its candidate, is the problem.

Republican Economics Caused the Meltdown

In addition to trying to blame Bush and McCain for its failures, rather than its core principles, Republican-leaning pundits feel that their nominee was blindsided by the September financial crisis and could not recover.

But this ignores what the Obama campaign has long argued to such success: Republican economic policy, long backed by John McCain, caused our financial crisis.

Deregulation, tax cuts for the rich, sharp reductions in infrastructure investment—these have been at the heart of the Republican Party’s agenda since the Reagan years. These are the policies voters are rejecting today, and whose failure best explains why the nation is choosing a new course.

The nation’s rejection of the Republican Party’s core principles seems so obvious that some might wonder why I bothered to write about it. But the traditional media and conservative pundits are already trying to frame this election in a way that denies reality, and progressives must be aggressive in setting the record straight.

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the author of the newly released, Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century (University of California Press)

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