Previously here I impertinently suggested a revision to Sam Francis’s brilliant and justly famous description of the Republicans as “the stupid party.” Republicans always abandon their positions and surrender to the enemy. This behavior is presumably stupid because it damages and weakens the party by betraying its base. This happens to some degree but not as much as might be expected.
Matters become clearer when we realize that the Republican party is not a political party. A political party may indulge in evasion and compromise, but by definition it represents some real and substantial interests in society and some shared ideas about what constitutes the public good. The Republican party does not meet this definition. It is not a party but a sales organization—and what could be more American than that? Its function is to promote men, usually well-to-do, who have no ideas and represent nothing but themselves, but are ambitious for the rewards of power.
As is to be expected in an organization devoted to selling products, all the instincts of such men are commercial rather than political. They avoid confrontation and dogma, which would be taken by too many Americans as not nice and because they really have nothing to argue for. Debate and deliberation, which are the soul of democratic government, do not exist in national politics, largely thanks to the Republicans, for the Democrats, “the evil party,” do have a real constituency and ideology. Corporate managers do not argue with their accusers over facts and values—they launch an ad campaign to convey a likable image, insubstantial as that image may be in terms of ideas and principles.
This is particularly so today when corporate power is dominated, not by entrepreneurs and producers, but by men who inherited their position or who manipulated and cheated their way up the ladder of a bureaucracy. Think of the “leaders” the Republican party has foisted on the country in the last few decades: Nelson Rockefeller, Dan Quayle, Gerald Ford, Kemp, the two Bushes, the two Romneys, Rice, Rumsfeld, Powell, ad infinitum. All people with no real accomplishments, of mediocre intellect, and with no ideas except what seem to be popular at the time. Intelligence is not everything—character is perhaps more important. But a dumb person of good character may be too easily misled as to what is good and bad and the Republican party specializes in the dumb but nice. But what could be more American than that?
Clyde N. Wilson is the Emeritus Distinguished Professor of History at the University of South Carolina and a Contributing Editor to Chronicles. Dr. Wilson is best known as the editor of the 28-volume documentary edition of The Papers of John C. Calhoun. He is the author or editor of a dozen other books—including Carolina Cavalier: The Life and Mind of James Johnston Pettigrew and Defending Dixie: Essays in Southern History and Culture—and has published over 700 articles, essays, and reviews. He is also the co-owner of Shotwell Publishing.