Newt Gingrich said in March that the Republican establishment was “mired in stupidity,” and on Sunday Bob Dole said the party should be “closed for repairs.”
The Republican National Committee issued a report a few months ago quoting focus groups as saying the party was “narrow minded,” “out of touch” and full of “stuffy old men.” (In fairness, the GOP is full of stuffy young men, too.)
On Capitol Hill, the gulfs within the Republican Party grow greater every day. Some Senate Republicans have finally come around to the view that they were elected to pass legislation, do the people’s business, and actually accomplish something before retiring and becoming wealthy lobbyists.
But House Republicans feel differently. They believe they were elected to block new legislation, repeal old legislation like Obamacare, and make sure nothing gets done before retiring and becoming wealthy lobbyists.
The Democrats have been unable to do much in the face of this, though it continues with the transformation of its image.
With the killing of Osama bin Laden, persisting with the war in Afghanistan (while promising to end it), maintaining Guantanamo as a detention center for suspected terrorists (while promising to close it) and using drones to reign death from the skies upon our enemies, the Democratic Party has transformed itself into the party of strong defense, while making the Republican Party look weak and wimpy.
The Republicans at first thought that they could use drones as an issue, but it hasn’t turned out that way.
In a lengthy speech last week, President Barack Obama said we are at war and that as a wartime president, he has taken certain measures to protect America, including the use of drones. “So this is a just war — a war waged proportionally, in last resort and in self-defense,” he said.
Former presidents probably would have been baffled by Obama’s need to defend the 400 drone strikes he has ordered that have killed about 3,000 terrorists and militants during a time of war.
When Harry Truman made the decision to drop two nuclear bombs on Japan, “proportionality” was not an issue. Truman (and the rest of the America) was still outraged by Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, in which 2,402 Americans were killed.
Following the dropping of the second atomic bomb, the general secretary of the Federal Council of Churches wrote Truman a letter imploring him to drop no more such bombs until Japan had been given a chance to surrender.
Truman’s response was curt: “Nobody is more disturbed over the use of Atomic bombs than I am but I was greatly disturbed over the unwarranted attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor and their murder of our prisoners of war. The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them.
“When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless true.”
The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings killed about 200,000 people. The firebombings of other Japanese cities had already killed about 316,000, or many times the number of Americans killed at Pearl Harbor. Proportionality? Proportionality was not for “beasts.”
Obama feels more constrained. “We must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror,’ but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America,” he said.
I have read that sentence many times, and I still don’t understand what it means. Call it what you want, the United States will continue to strike at terrorists with weapons that work, including drones.
The Republicans have no response to this. In the final presidential debate on Oct. 22 of last year, Mitt Romney congratulated Obama on the killing of Osama bin Laden but said, “We can’t kill our way out of this mess.”
That statement was viewed as weak. Sensible, but weak. And no president or potential president wants to look weak.
Besides, there is an economic side to the drone question. Drones are produced in the United States at considerable expense, which means considerable tax dollars and considerable political contributions are spent in congressional districts. One such district was that of former Rep. Brian Bilbray, a Republican of Carlsbad, Calif., home to a company that makes Predator drones.
Bilbray wanted to see a drone in every pot and two in every garage. “If you could register the Predator for president,” he once said, “both parties would be trying to endorse it.”
So forget what others are saying about the GOP being stupid and out of touch and unable to win in 2016. The Republicans are just looking for the right drone to nominate.
Roger Simon is editor of Politico.