Thursday, February 6, 2014

Rendezvous With Irrelevance

In virtually every long-term social or political debate, there's eventually a point at which most sensible and intelligent people agree: The public has made a definitive decision.

On the subject of smoking, for example, after nearly fifty years of anti-smoking measures, only about 19 percent of Americans smoke any more. So while Wednesday's announcement by the pharmacy chain CVS that they'll no longer be selling tobacco products after October 1 was significant news, it wasn't exactly Earth-shattering. Americans already passed that decision point on tobacco use twenty years ago. Sure, smoking is still legal, though in far fewer places than it once was. For the most part, those who still remain addicted have been severely minimized as a political power group, effectively making smokers politically irrelevant.

In a similar, yet frightening way, recent studies have confirmed the American middle class has almost been nearly erased, politically, by right-wing political policies over the last forty-plus years. Politicians may still claim to pander to the middle class, but as stories in both Business Insider and the New York Times this past week confirmed, the businesses that depend on the middle class are struggling - because much of the economic and political power of the middle class has already been erased.

There is another major group of Americans that is about to become irrelevant though, and it's one we - and others - have been pointing to for some time.

Of course, we're talking about Americans on the political right, in general, and Republicans in particular.

From President Obama's in-person verbal smackdown of Bill O'Reilly and Fox on Sunday, to most Republicans in Congress knuckling under on the debt ceiling, to the disastrous actions of major media outlets that pandered to the right on the CBO report - nearly everything Republicans and conservatives have touched publicly this week has fallen apart.

If you're a political group with real and growing relevance, your heroes don't get dissed in person by the President on national TV, your party doesn't make weak threats on major policies only to meekly and quietly knuckle under to reality, and you don't act so bizzarely that those in the media trying to pander to you end making asses of themselves as so many did this week on the CBO report.

Michael Gerson of the Washington Post - who, we have to admit, partially inspired our work today - made a similar, if not more focused point about the way Republicans are failing to handle the issue of immigration reform right now.

On Wednesday, Dana Milbank nailed the single biggest reason Republicans keep losing relevance - their insistance on ignoring facts on key issues from Obamacare, to immigration, to the IRS scandal. Sure, the right-wing misinformation feedback loop may make Republicans and those who vote with the GOP temporarily feel better about their own racism, classism, misogyny, and bigotry.

But ask any smoker how they feel about having to stand outside, fifty feet from a building in the middle of winter, in twenty degrees below zero wind chills just to make the physiological monkey on their back feel better. You'll likely hear bitter complaints and whining from those smokers that this isn't the way America used to be. They may even sound eerily like modern Republicans, who also often haven't adapted to the way most Americans think about topics like race, class, and gender today.

We'll agree with the whiners for once - this isn't the same America today, and it won't be the same tomorrow either. As scientist Bill Nye explained clearly in his debate with creationist Ken Ham this week, the world is evolving by minor degrees every day. If we don't progress and adapt, we'll become irrelevant, and then eventually extinct - a scientist's way of saying we'll be erased.

That's the dilemma the GOP is facing now: Change, evolve, and get rid of the Neanderthals in their party holding on too tightly to the past. Or keep pointing and laughing at others, ignoring important but uncomfortable facts, even while their party's relevance and days of long-term influence disappear even further into history.

It doesn't sound like much of a decision to us - but then again, we've been told we have fairly evolved sensibilities.