David Reynolds: Who killed the elephant?
It was not some jackass. No donkey got hold of an elephant gun and shot the aging beast. Rather, it was a self-inflicted wound. It was a suicidal squeeze play – the elephant tried to become a donkey. But voters from the Left Coast to the Atlantic, plus a few in fly over country, were not fooled. They wanted the real thing. The voters wanted real hope for a change. And they got it. They got hope.
For better or for worse, until the next election do us part, America will be led by donkeys. That’s OK. Elephants are happier outside of Washington. City life is not for them. Asking the party of antigovernment to govern makes no sense. We crave for the warmth and comfort that only the donkey, the party of government, can provide.
What went wrong? Nothing! Democracy still works. And the pendulum still swings. Voters knew what the elephant was up to. Sitting there in that big white house for eight years gave the head elephant illusions of grandeur. So he approved a simple plan and tried to hid it in his trunk. It was the Party over Principle Plan. Or Karl’s Plan, named after a baby elephant who knew it all in Texas until he had a draining experience in the Washington swamps.
His plan followed conventional wisdom. If you are on the right, just take small steps to the left. Once in the center you can control both sides. Just follow the big game hunters to where the big game is. It is the law of the political jungle. Every elephant should be able to remember that. What could be simpler!
But there was trouble in river city. And a war elsewhere. No one in the big white house knew how to disguise an elephant. All they knew was how to raise money for television time. What they did not know was that elephants tend to wander. They don’t know left from right. As a result the herd overshot the center and ended up at its own burial grounds!
Thus is the story on how the Reagan Revolution was put on hold in 2008. The Great Communicator got shot in his tracks by the Great Noncommunicator. You mean that the elephant died because the current president failed to explain the conservative policy of a past president? That it put party above principle? And that the White House was so paranoid about the press that it had practiced self-destructive public relations? Yes, yes and yes.
Therefore the elephants will be taking a hike. For how long? That will be up to the donkeys, not the elephants. If they are smart jackasses, they will move to a new radical center. Mark the words of Virginia’s newest U. S. senator. But donkeys, like elephants, find it hard to change direction. They tend to follow the same old trails.
Before 1972 then the donkeys followed a very successful trail. They were the party of the people – and by the people. They were a happy band of warriors talking about the middle class. For they were the middle class! No need for poor victims and rich trail lawyers. That would come later.
However, the donkey did learn two lessons in the past 36 years: Lesson No 1: Campaign as a moderate and govern as a liberal. It worked twice for Bill. Lesson No 2: Don’t worry about your liberal record, just campaign above politics.
How did the elephant die? With each step to the left. First there was a lust to capture the Hispanic vote for generations. So when the flood of illegal immigrants crossed over, they looked the other way. And the party’s base also looked the other way. To see if there were any attractive donkeys around.
Then there was the entire first term of not vetoing a single money bill. We can outspend them Dems, they said. And those outside the White House tried to look inside to see whether those are really elephants in there.
When health care again popped up as an issue, the elephant tried to duck. Forget principles, just design a bill to capture the senior vote. Thus the doughnut hole was created. Give the elephant a “D” for Medicare Part D.
How about Social Security? A voluntary program was proposed, but no one knew it was voluntary. It was never explained. Then there was a debate over legislation without any legislation. Unheard of on the Hill.
As for the war? The lesson of Vietnam was never learned. People can not support anything they don’t understand. But why try to explain. The press doesn’t like us.
And so it went.
There is a price for failure. If it isn’t paid, there will be more failures. The Grand Old Party has now paid the price. It is no longer grand. Only old. And in the power corridors of Washington, it is no longer a party. Next year the price for failure will be heading down I-95 from DC to Richmond. The House of Delegates will be next.