Last Thursday, the US House held a symbolic vote as to whether President George W. Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy should be allowed to expire, as they are now scheduled to do, in 2010. The measure passed on a very close vote, with every Republican voting to continue the tax cuts indefinitely.
This degree of solidarity among those on the Political Right seems to me to be becoming more and more common and, at the same time, historically unprecedented. How is it that 200 individuals from different backgrounds and from disparate regions of the country can agree unanimously on anything, including the color of Condoleezza Rice's eyes?
Paul Krugman, in his book, The Conscience of a Liberal, offers an explanation. Over the past forty or so years since Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California, social conservatives and foreign policy hawks have coalesced into a tight-knit movement of ideologues whose loyalty to scripted talking points from a few like-minded think tanks have produced what we know today as movement conservatism. Because movement conservatives are "hard-wired" to be loyal to cultural traditions as well as having a deep sense of loyalty to loyalty itself, they vote as a block for their leader's agenda and, further, for their leader himself. This is why John McCain became the nominee of their party despite being practically written-off last summer and being the bane of the Religious Right--it was "his turn".
How, then, can Democrats hope to ever be unified enough to overcome such loyalty? Everyone knows that trying to organize Democrats is like herding feral cats. For example, a recent USA Today poll indicated that, while 60% of Americans favor setting a timetable for withdrawal of US armed forces from Iraq, they have four different opinions as to the conditions under which the withdrawal should take place. On the other hand, the 40% in the poll who wanted to "stay the course" in Iraq were relatively united on that course of action.
Life for movement conservatives is relatively uncomplicated. Right is right and wrong is wrong. They would probably agree with Henry Ford that "history is bunk". It's much easier to make decisions in ignorance of both the errors of the past and the reality on the ground. Always cheer for the home team.
The only way for the Democrats to win against such a unified and unwavering opponent is to overpower them. Barack Obama, as much as I like the man, is wrong if he believes he can extend the hand of friendship to the likes of movement conservatives and expect to have it taken in a spirit of bipartisanship. Negotiation is a noble endeavor but it is a two-way street. How does one negotiate with someone who believes that to compromise is, to quote Grover Norquist, "date rape"? You don't. You can only shout them down by having the votes to muscle past them on every issue.
Here's a really big dot for you: If you're not registered to vote, by all means , do so. If you're registered but haven't voted recently, find the time to vote this year and every year. If you're tired of borrowing from your children to pay for foolish wars today, if you're tired of ignoring science while the planet burns, if you're tired of planned governmental incompetence in the face of natural disasters, and if you're tired of Congressional gridlock in the midst of societal collapse, then, when you do vote, vote for those candidates who will change things.