LOS ANGELES -- It was John Stuart Mill in the middle of the 19th century who dismissed Great Britain's Conservative Party as "the stupid party." Commenting on that immediately after last year's presidential election, The Economist, published in London, said this:
"The title of the 'stupid party' now belongs to the Tories' trans-Atlantic cousins, the Republicans.
"There are any number of reasons for the Republican Party's defeat on Nov. 4. But high on the list is the fact that the party lost the battle for brains. Barack Obama won college graduates by two points, a group that George Bush won by six points four years ago. He won voters with postgraduate degrees by 18 points. And he won voters with a household income of more than $200,000 -- many of whom will get thumped by his tax increases -- by six points. John McCain did best among uneducated voters in Appalachia and the South."
The proof of that pudding was dramatized last week in Washington when every single Republican in the House of Representatives voted against the new president's economic stimulus plan. It is not that the nay-saying Republicans have a plan of their own; they agree on nothing except cutting taxes. Their leader, Rush Limbaugh, the entertainer, has told them that their job is to make sure that Obama fails.
In an American context, Republicans have been called America's stupid party for much of their history, but that title clearly passed to the Democrats in the 1970s and 1980s, and perhaps for most of '90s and on into the 21st century. Now, led by wacko pundits like Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and a bunch of less-prosperous firebugs, the Republicans have lost all sense of what is happening in the country.
Their boy, George W. Bush, left the country in fear and loathing. Obama was seized on as something of a savior, and he has shown he knows how to play the role. There is no way Obama, or perhaps anyone, knows how to get out of the current mess. But he does know what most people want at this uncertain moment. As he made clear in his Inaugural Address:
"The stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end."
We are going to see a lot of trial and error from the White House, as generations before us did in the 1930s. But the point is, we have to try -- and odds are we'll figure something out.
If ideologically driven Republicans are seen as nothing more than obstructionists, they will end up in the worst place in their history. They are flirting with irrelevance these days, while Obama is dancing as fast he can, trying to extend a hand if they are willing to unclench their fists.
It wouldn't hurt either if Democrats in Congress unclenched their fists, too. There is more to political life than saying over and over again that we won the election and we can do anything we want. That, it could be argued, is how the Republicans destroyed themselves over the past few years.
"The Republicans lost the battle of ideas even more comprehensively than they lost the battle for educated votes, marching into the election armed with nothing more than slogans. Energy? Just drill, baby, drill. Global warming? Crack a joke about Ozone Al. ... During the primary debates, three out of 10 Republican candidates admitted that they did not believe in evolution," wrote the Economist.
"Richard Weaver, one of the founders of modern conservatism, once wrote a book entitled 'Ideas Have Consequences'; unfortunately, too many Republicans are still refusing to acknowledge that idiocy has consequences, too."