‘Extreme makeover’

By Ellen Ratner

The Republican Party characterized the Democratic National Convention as an “extreme makeover” of the Democratic Party. It is a catchy sound bite and elicits a smirk in the corner of every mouth that spews it, but it amounts to a lot of people hurling stones out of their own glass houses.

The fact of the matter is that the Republican Party has gone under a few makeovers itself. The Democratic Party is simply becoming more inclusive of moderates and even conservatives. It is opening the big tent for all Americans, not just the ones aligned with special interests. Meanwhile, the Republican Party continues to narrow its mind and close the tent to those who do not fall in line with its conservative social agenda.

The party of small government, relatively libertarian ideals, and fiscal conservativism has given way to a government that feels free to kick down every door in the world, including the doors at home, and the biggest federal deficit in our history. Now who had the extreme makeover here?

The Republican Party is barely recognizable to men like Bob Dole who described last week – in an interview with Tim Russert and former Presidential candidate George McGovern – how much his party has changed by saying, “Nixon couldn’t win the nomination today. He was way too moderate.”

I suspect that the Republican Party transformed itself in order to court evangelical Christians in hopes that they will cast their vote on social issues over their own economic interests. I call this “lose your soul politics.” The Republican mullahs (James Dobson, Ralph Reed and the like) have yet to say, “You will go to hell if you vote for John Kerry,” but the rhetoric falls just short of that. The Republican Party has managed to use church registries in order to “reach out” to potential Republican voters.

The extreme makeover of the Republican Party comes at a price to every American. It has hampered effective cooperation within our government when we need cooperation most. Tim Russert interviewed former presidential candidates Bob Dole and George McGovern. Both men nostalgically reflected on a time when Democrats and Republicans could be friends and, as Bob Dole reflected, went to each other’s offices to visit and talk. What happened to the camaraderie?

I can sum it up in one word, “extremism.” It’s difficult to cooperate with others who do not share your views if you have an extreme, non-compromising agenda inspired by God. In the minds of many Republican leaders, the Democrats are effectively infidels and can only corrupt the purity of Republican thought – or so they must act in order to pander to the evangelical base. I call it political jihadism. And George W. Bush, formerly, the compassionate conservative is now “jihadi in chief” of this religious war that is infecting our government and nation.

Yes, politics are politics and dirty tricks are standard. As Robert Dole explained after Tim Russert asked him how it was that Republicans managed to portray McGovern – a decorated World War II hero – as a whacko liberal in the 1972 presidential race against Richard Nixon, Bob Dole laughed: “It wasn’t easy.”

Dirty tricks are here to stay, but this extreme makeover is a gamble for the Republican Party. Remember 1992? Pat Buchanan went off the proverbial ranch and alienated moderate Republicans with his convention speech that would now be considered a “moderate speech.” Moderate would be Republican voters didn’t vote or at least they didn’t vote for G.H.W. Bush and created the opening for William Jefferson Clinton.

Mark my words; the Republican Jihadi strategy is going to backfire in 2004. I don’t think many moderate registered Republicans will vote for John Kerry, but I do think they will do what almost 4 million evangelical Christians did in 2000. They will simply stay home. And this will cause George W. Bush to go back to the golf course with his one term president father.

The Republican Party can normally be compared to a Marine Unit. They are a highly disciplined group that tends to fall in line. Whereas the Democratic Party is like a herd of snapping turtles, that, as former President Clinton said, “tends to fall in love.” Times have changed.

If I learned anything in Boston last week, I learned that the Democratic Party, for the first time in my life is completely unified behind the presidency of John F. Kerry. Kerry went a long way in his acceptance speech to open the Big Tent of the American ideals liberty, diversity and opportunity. The politically created American jihadism that pits one American against another, intolerant of others and deferential to the interests of money over work is in its last days.

Call the Kerry presidential campaign an extreme makeover if you want to, because soon, American will be calling John Kerry, “Mr. President.”