Sigh… for one brief moment, one happy, brief moment, it seemed the Republican Party was returning to its roots as the Daddy Party. But unfortunately the Crazy Uncle won again.
It is shorthand for lots of things, but we used to call the Democrats the Mommy Party and the Republicans the Daddy Party. The Democrats had the compassion and heart, the emotion. And the Republicans brought things back to the hard-nosed facts, the need to actually pay the bills and take out the trash while we were pursuing our dreams. It was a good dynamic for our political system for many decades.
Part of being the Daddy Party was having a realistic view of government. Republicans used to view government as an important tool to create an environment that fostered commerce. We needed government to do things like insure an adequate money supply and cost-effective interstate transport, to make sure that someone in New Jersey would feel comfortable eating meat slaughtered and packaged in Nebraska and yes even to make sure that banks fully disclosed their risks. Republicans recognized that the many tens of thousands of things the government did were critical to creating and growing a national economy.
Back when the party had a more realistic view of government, this view provided a narrative for campaigns: Republicans were the people that could make the government work better. The Democratic candidate might pull your heart strings, but the Republican candidate was better qualified to make sure the trash got picked up on time and on budget. Yes, as strange as it sounds now, Republicans used to campaign on something called “competence”.
But for the Crazy Uncle, competence carries an ideological risk: If the government could many things well, then maybe people would think it could do everything well, and if government could do everything well people might start clamoring for Socialism. Socialism, I tell you, Socialism!
Socialism has never been a risk in our country, and never will be. But slowly the Crazy Uncle view of government came to dominate the Republican Party. It was easier to put into a slogan – “Government is the Problem, not the Solution” and far, far more exciting than a campaign based on getting the trash collected on time and on budget. Somehow, within the Republican Party, “competence” became a sign of ideological impurity. The Crazy Uncle wants to see government fail at everything it tries (other than national defense), just to prove that socialism is not an option.
You can say all sorts of things about Romney, and it’s easy to make fun of his efforts to convince people he was once a poor, struggling worker. But the one thing he has proven, over and over again, is competence. He might have inherited some of his opportunities, but he ran a company that made money. It might have been liberal Massachusetts, but he ran a state, on budget, and got things done. And when the 2002 Winter Olympics were heading towards a financial disaster, he stepped in and guided them to a great event that actually paid for itself.
But sadly, competence has now become Romney’s campaign liability, proof that he is wishy washy. The Crazy Uncle seems on the verge of again overwhelming the boring, competent Dad. It’s a sad day for the Republican Party and our country.