Our lamented friend Sam Francis scored big when he labeled the Democrats as “the evil party” and the Republicans as “the stupid party.” These telling characterizations have appealed to many later observers, as have other of Sam’s apt phrases, like “anarchotyranny.” Sam was always in earnest but his comments were often laced with humour. He knew what H.L. Mencken or Will Rogers or perhaps both said: Observing American politics is a hoot if you just keep a sane perspective and remember that their main use is entertainment.
There can be little dispute about “the evil party.” It might be said, however, that there is a slight Democratic credit here. Democrats sometimes actually believe the depraved stuff they spout and even try to make a rational-sounding argument. They pursue a real agenda and represent real interests. Not so the Republicans.
Are the Republican leaders really as stupid as they seem? Certainly the ideal Republican candidate for office is the same as any hostess wants for the spare man at her dinner party: presentable, not too old, no real work to do, with inherited money and a mediocre I.Q. Now and then, when fortunes are low, the Republicans will play the U.S. Grant card and go for a military hero, but lately that does not work as well as it used to.
The Republicans’ apparent stupidity rests on the fact that they invariably and with utter predictability betray their rank and file of Middle Americans and thereby presumably damage themselves. But is this really so stupid when the leaders can calculate with near certainty that the poor slobs will come back again no matter what is done to them? And when they know that if they show any real allegiance to their voters or try to do anything substantive for them, they will be declared by the media to be no longer respectable and thus be constantly on the defensive and guilty of un-American negativity?
A lot becomes clear when we realize that the Republican party is not a political party. Few of its leaders have any idea what a political principle is or what political debate is supposed to be. The few who do have an idea avoid such things like the plague. The Republican party is a marketing strategy. It is a coalition of mostly mediocre people running a campaign for power and perks. Everything these people say is a calculated advertisement without any sincerity or substance. Mentioning your competitor’s bad points is unattractively negative, no matter what terrible things he is accusing you of. Since you have no ideas or principles but only a lust for office, the easiest thing is to go along with the other fellow’s agenda and let him win most of the time. And whatever you may have told the slobs to get their votes is yesterday’s tired ad campaign that needs to be refreshed.
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.