Southern California is where you go when it’s over – the place is full of those midlife crises guys, who after the divorce and all the rationalizations about what went wrong – finally deciding it really couldn’t have been anything they did or didn’t do, because women are at best mysterious – move here and rent a place at the beach and buy a used red Italian convertible, and then finally start dating those young and vacuous California Girls. That last part is generally a bad idea, but the sun shines most of the time and there are the palm trees. Life is generally laid back. There’s no snow and grit, and each evening the sun sets over the Pacific quite nicely. All the tortured explanations and evasive excuses for that previous life fall away. Many come here to start over – or so they tell themselves – but they eventually just stop in place. Whatever this is, this will do. It’s not the previous life. That’s enough.
That’s probably also why Aldous Huxley ended up out here – the guy who wrote the deeply ironic Brave New World and was the intellectual’s intellectual ended up in his pleasant little house off Beachwood Canyon, not far from the Hollywood Sign, advocating for and taking whatever psychedelics caught his fancy. He too simply stopped, and his house is gone now too – lost to one of those massive wildfires we have out here periodically. The same goes for Gore Vidal – another brilliant novelist and deep thinker (maybe) – as he sold his huge villa on the Amalfi Coast and spent his last years in an imitation one over on Outpost Drive, the deep green canyon that runs up from Hollywood Boulevard into the hills. Both just stopped in place, in this pleasant place, where the sun is always shining. There would be no more explaining things – no more elaborate apologies and excuses. Someone else could explain what’s wrong with the world.
Huxley had done that already anyway, in his 1928 novel Point Counter Point – where so much is wrong with the world it’s hard to keep it all straight, and people talk about it endlessly too. That leads to one of the lines from the novel that’s often quoted by those who pretend they’ve read the thing – “Several excuses are always less convincing than one.” The irony is that the one excuse is usually totally wrong, or maybe always wrong. It’s just easier to believe, or more convenient to believe. Divorced midlife crises guys fall into that trap, the one simple explanation for what happened that led to them chatting with a vacant but pretty young blond on the Malibu Pier at sunset. They think there’s a simple explanation for this, because several excuses are always less convincing than one, and boring too. And it doesn’t matter. Whatever this is, this will do.
Huxley and Vidal would not be impressed with the current Republicans, now looking for that one excuse for why they lost the recent election so thoroughly, that one explanation of it all. Only fools think it’s that simple, that it’s one thing – in fact, these Republicans should move to Southern California and sit in the sun and sip bourbon, or whatever it is Republicans sip. Just stop. It’s over.
That’s easy to say, but not so easy to do. There’s always the lure of that one simple excuse, that one explanation for what went wrong. In a conference call to his donors, dutifully reported by the media, Mitt Romney explained why he lost, and why all their money went to waste. That dastardly Obama handed out gifts to people, freebies, like the chance to buy health insurance or pay a fine, and refusing to let student loan rates jump up, and offering free birth control to millions of sex-crazed college girls, and so on and so forth. It was his Forty-Seven Percent Speech all over again, and of course his own party, if it ever was his, repudiated him. They ran for the hills actually. A few hours earlier Paul Ryan had explained the loss a different way – it was all those “urban voters” (wink-wink, nudge-nudge). He was saying that no one really expected all those black folks would actually vote, or those Hispanics, given how hard the party had made voting for them, given all the new ID restrictions and eliminating as much early voting as the courts would tolerate. Ryan didn’t say that directly – that would sound racist. He just muttered about urban voters. Everyone knew what he meant.
It was the gifts. It was the urban voters. That’s what the two guys on the ticket said, and, in turn, their own party found an equally valid one simple explanation:
On the Sunday talk shows, senior Republicans, former Romney surrogates and prominent conservatives piled on their defeated presidential nominee for telling donors that he lost because President Obama bought off minorities and young voters with “gifts.”
“It is nuts,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on ABC’s This Week. “I mean, first of all, it’s insulting. … The job of a political leader in part is to understand the people. If we can’t offer a better future that is believable to more people, we’re not going to win.”
The one simple explanation for what went wrong was that their candidate was a jerk, which they are free to say now. They might have mentioned that sooner, to save the nation a lot of trouble, but then they weren’t going to run Newt, or Herman Cain or Michelle Bachmann, or Rick Santorum – but that’s politics. You run the guy who has the best chance of winning even if you think he’s a jerk. Look! He’s not Obama!
No, he wasn’t, and he wasn’t much of anything else either. That strategy amounted to trying to prove a negative, to propose a vague hypothetical. Newt finally got it. Offer something, anything, not simply the removal of something already there. Find out what people actually want. What a concept!
And the 2016 presidential election is next, so you also got this about Romney:
“I absolutely reject what he said,” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on Fox News Sunday, “We as a Republican Party have to campaign for every single vote. If we want people to like us we have to like them first. And you don’t start to like people by saying their votes were bought.”
Bobby Jindal will be running on 2016, endlessly insisting that he really likes everybody, so everybody should like him, because he likes them. That will have to be shortened for the bumper stickers.
Nevertheless, it was one-simple-explanation Sunday, and the explanation for everything that went wrong was Mitt Romney:
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), an on-again, off-again advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, said Romney’s comments were especially damaging among Hispanics. He said Romney fueled the fire of their disenchantment with the GOP that grew when the ex-governor pushed a policy of “self-deportation” for illegal immigrants and their children.
“We’re in a big hole and we’re not getting out of it by comments like that. When you’re in a hole, stop digging. He keeps digging,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “We’re in a death spiral with Hispanic voters because of our rhetoric on immigration, and our candidate Romney and the primaries dug the hole deeper.”
And it only got worse:
Carlos Gutierrez, a top Hispanic surrogate and adviser to the Romney campaign, said he was “shocked” by the comments. “I don’t know if he understood that he was saying something that was insulting,” he said on CNN’s State of the Union.
The final assessment of all this in this Talking Points Memo report is simple:
Romney was never beloved by the GOP establishment. But the Sunday show pile-on indicates that any good will he had among the party faithful is rapidly vanishing, and that he’s well on his way to pariah status with the party that so recently anointed him to lead them and the country.
You think? That’s pretty obvious, but this is devastating:
“It’s been well said that you have a political problem when the voters don’t like you, but you’ve got a real problem when the voters think you don’t like them,” said conservative columnist George Will on ABC’s This Week. “Quit despising the American people.”
That’s rather sound advice, and that lays the blame for this big election loss at the feet of Mitt Romney, for his Forty-Seven Percent comment early on – almost half the country are scummy moochers and they’re hopeless – and for the “gifts” comments after the election – people just want freebies so the good guys, who tell them to suck it up and make it on their own or die, lose election after election. Romney should have never said such things. Voters don’t like being despised. Sneering at people, expecting to vote for you out of shame for themselves and what they now see are their own miserable lives, doesn’t work. They vote for the other guy – perhaps out of spite alone.
George Will was right, and wrong. What Romney said isn’t far off from Republican orthodoxy these days – reward the rich and tell everyone else to get their ass in gear, because the government was never meant to help them make something of themselves, and reduce and eliminate as much of the already thin social safety net as possible, to assure everyone assumes personal responsibility for themselves alone, and end all regulation that protects the food supply and the environment and the integrity of markets, as all that stuff cripples business and ruins the economy, and so on and so forth. Use government to enforce social and sexual behaviors – make gay folks hide once again, and make sure women are modest and no one is having sex in a way they shouldn’t, and tell doctors to follow what Jesus would do, not their dumb ethics about what’s good for their patients. George Will thinks there’s a nice way to say such things, so no one will feel offended. Good luck with that.
The problem is that there’s no simple other answer to the problem George Will faces, making core character insults sound all warm and fuzzy. In fact, there’s a lot of stumbling around here, as the New York Times’ Ross Douthat explains here:
We’ve had about a week’s worth of recriminations and arguments about where the Republican Party goes from here, and the one theme uniting all of them is this: Whatever a given writer believed before the election correlates marvelously with their favored explanation for why Mitt Romney went down to defeat.
If you were happy with the ideological situation on the right, you’ve probably either emphasized the practical deficiencies of the Romney campaign (his weaknesses as a candidate, his flawed turnout operation, his pollster’s rose-colored glasses), or else looked for a supposed silver bullet like immigration reform to solve the Republican Party’s demographic issues without touching the rest of the party platform.
If you’re socially conservative and populist but skeptical of Wall Street and big business, then you’ve probably argued the party’s biggest mistake was to nominate a plutocrat and run a campaign tilted too far toward economic individualism and the interests of the rich.
If you’re fiscally conservative but libertarian on social issues, then you’ve probably made the case that Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock and anti-immigrant yahoos took the focus off the economy, and that cultural conservatives need to pipe down and let the party modernize on gay rights, immigration and abortion.
If you’re David Frum, who has been arguing that the party needs to be more middle class friendly and more socially liberal, then you’ve been claiming vindication on both counts.
There’s always the lure of that one simple explanation for what went wrong – and now there are far too many of them. Ross Douthat, in exasperation, suggests the Republicans might think about changing their actual platform, just a bit:
The first, perhaps over-obviously, is the issue of gay marriage, where my side of the argument has lost enough ground with voters to render the Republican Party’s official position on the issue – and particularly the call for a never-gonna-happen constitutional amendment – an empty gesture to a now-collapsed consensus, which is likely to soon alienate more voters than it mobilizes.
It may be time to face the reality of the world as it is now:
It’s probably no longer a question of “if” but “when” the party beats a strategic retreat on the issue (I expect there will be a pro-life, pro-gay marriage Republican nominee within a generation if not sooner), and it makes a certain raw political sense to pre-emptively declare a big tent on the question, and make the party’s litmus tests support for federalism rather than a Supreme Court settlement and… support for the broadest possible protections for religious liberty.
I’m not sure how such a shift would affect the rate at which evangelicals and conservative Catholics turn out for Republicans – that would be the big strategic risk, obviously. But my sense is that the party would just be formally acknowledging what many religious conservatives already accept – that a political platform can’t hold back a cultural tide, and that if the American understanding of what marriage is and ought to be someday turns back in a direction that cultural conservatives find congenial, the details of the Republican platform will be largely incidental to that shift.
Douthat personally disagrees with marriage equality, and marijuana legalization too, but it might be politically sensible for these guys to moderate on both issues. In short, get over it. Douthat doesn’t address the core issues of the slow shredding the social safety net, and rewarding the rich alone, and ending all regulation that people think safeguards them from dangers of all kinds – but it’s a start:
Voters simply aren’t as ideological consistent as pundits, and so it’s a grave mistake to think that political parties thrive by evolving toward a more perfect ideological consistency. For a party facing problems like the ones the GOP faces now, it’s not enough to just get “more libertarian” or “more populist” or “more socially conservative,” without recognizing how public opinion differs from issue to issue and policy to policy. Instead, the most successful politicians go where the votes are, and let the ideological chips fall where they may.
This man is an optimist. That’s never going to happen. Politicians run on ideological purity these days, at least Republicans do. They may lose elections, but let the chips fall where they may.
There is an alternative. Charlotte Allen, in an Op-Ed at the Los Angeles Times, thinks that she’s found the solution to the Republican problem. No more despairing over the election results and wondering who can lead the party out of this mess, as there’s already someone there for them:
The Republican Party has been doing a lot of hand-wringing and finger-pointing since the presidential election. Half the conservative columnists and bloggers say the GOP lost because it overemphasized social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. The other half says the party didn’t emphasize them enough. And everyone denounces Project ORCA, the campaign’s attempt to turn out voters via technology.
But I’ve got a suggestion for cutting short the GOP angst: Sarah Palin for president in 2016.
You think I’m joking? Think again.
This is laid back hip-ironic cool Los Angeles. No one ever knows if you’re joking, but maybe Allen isn’t:
Palin can more than keep up with the Democrats in appealing to voters’ emotions. Hardly anyone could be more blue-collar than Palin, out on the fishing boat with her hunky blue-collar husband, Todd. Palin is “View”-ready, she’s “Ellen”-ready, she’s Kelly-and-Michael-ready.
A Palin “war against women”? Hah! Not only is she a woman, she’s got a single-mom daughter, Bristol, to help with the swelling single-mom demographic. On social issues, Palin, unlike Romney, has been absolutely consistent. And let’s remember that most Americans, whatever their view of choice, disapprove of most abortions.
Gay marriage? Palin opposes it. But she is also a strong advocate of states’ rights, and I’m betting she’d be fine with letting states and their voters grapple with the issue on their own. Remember that all of America didn’t swing toward approval of gay marriage on Nov. 6. Three reliably blue states and their voters did. If she were smart, Palin would recruit a member of her impressive gay fanboy base – yes, she has one – to help run her campaign. I nominate Kevin DuJan of the widely read gay conservative blog HillBuzz, a Palin stalwart since 2008.
Palin’s son Track is an Iraq war veteran, so she can be proudly patriotic without being labeled another George W. Bush, looking to do aggressive nation-building. She seems aware there is only one nation in need of building right now: America.
And there’s this:
Furthermore, looks count in politics, and Palin at age 48, has it all over her possible competition, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, who will be 69 by election day 2016 and who let someone talk her into adopting the flowing blond locks of a college student, making her look like Brunnhilde in a small-town Wagner production. Men love Sarah Palin, and she loves men.
Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway provides the obvious:
Palin will win the “war on women” argument because Bristol was dumb enough to get pregnant at seventeen? If nothing else, that sounds to me like an argument against all those “abstinence” programs that social conservatives like Palin are so in favor of as opposed to teaching kids how they can really avoid getting pregnant. “Gay fanboys” will overcome the fact that the growing LGBT vote, not to mention voters younger than 65, are coming to see the GOP’s position on same-sex marriage, at the state and federal level, to be outdated and bigoted? What kind of delusional bubble is Allen living in here? She wins the foreign policy debate because her son served in Iraq? That would be the most absurd argument of all if Allen had not ended this portion of her Op-Ed by essentially saying that Palin is qualified to be President because she’s attractive. “Men love Sarah Palin, and she loves men.” Those may be the eight most absurd words ever strung together in the Los Angeles Times in the paper’s entire history.
Mataconis may be a conservative but this may be a bridge too far, or in the original Alaskan, a bridge to nowhere:
The Republican Party has quite an impressive bench of candidates for 2016 that ranges from Marco Rubio, to Chris Christie, to Scott Walker, Susana Martinez, Rand Paul, Kelly Ayotte, and, as a long shot that I’m putting in because I’d like to see him run, Tom Coburn. The idea that voters would select someone who has essentially done nothing for the past four years, and will continue to do nothing for the next four years, is fundamentally absurd.
That’s what Aldous Huxley was getting at. It’s all absurd. The irony is that the one excuse that leads to the one explanation that in turn leads to the one solution for the terrible problem at hand, while convincing, is usually totally wrong, or maybe always wrong. Things are always far more complicated. And it’s nice out here in California, in the sunshine day after day after day, with the palm trees and all. Sometimes it’s best to just stop, when it’s over.