Pretty much since mid 2006 I’ve found schadenfreude in the face of the GOP’s problems to be a very satisfying source of entertainment. It seems the party is no less willing to oblige as it seems to slowly but surely self-destruct, much to my somewhat conflicted delight. While I do have disagreements with conservatism as a political philosophy, I do not find all republicans inherently detestable. That said, the current incarnation of the party, born out of 8 years of unfettered neoconservative leadership, must die. If the party is to survive, it must evolve past rigid orthodoxy, both in terms of it’s makeup and its policies.

Let us begin with the issue of the makeup of the party itself: Jindal and Steele are both good politicians in their own right, but seem somewhat cheapened given the way in which the GOP insists on using them as window-dressing, an excuse to be able to claim to be diverse without actually having to do anything about it, like say, changing their policy objectives to be more in line with the political goals of minorities who aren’t cuban exiles. It sounds less like “we share your goals and aspirations” than “LOOK WE HAVE BROWN PEOPLE, TOO!” This is especially the case in light of Steele’s aforementioned (and exceedingly condescending) plans for a hip-hop PR outreach. Until the republicans truly break with their precious orthodoxy and actually address issues in a way that resonates with minorities, women, and young voters, their outreach attempts will amount to nothing more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Which leads us to my next point: the Republicans need to remember that they actually have a platform. Trumpeting “we’re not the democrats” was great in 1994 when the party was bloated and stagnant, and was even useful as recently as 2004, when they were whiny and obstructionist. Continuing to do so now, however, is suicidal given that being a democrat is no longer a bad thing. As Michael Scherer points out in an article on Obama’s forthcoming non-State of the Union (which I will also hopefully post on tonight), simply being not the majority party does not a successful opposition make:

By almost any measure, the stimulus bill was not a bipartisan success. Only three Republicans backed the bill in the Senate, and none did in the House. While there is debate over why this occurred, there is no doubt that Obama has scored big with his very public gestures aimed at bringing Republicans into the conversation. A new poll by the New York Times and CBS News found that 74% of Americans think Obama is “trying to work with Republicans in Congress.” By contrast, only 31% of Americans think Republicans in Congress are “trying to work with Barack Obama.” If these numbers keep up, they could spell an electoral disaster for Republicans in 2010.

As it stands, nods to bipartisanship, which Americans have long supported, is a clear winner for Obama, so expect to see more of it in the speech. With Democratic control in the House and Senate, Obama has the ability to set the terms of the bipartisan discussion. He wins by talking about the need for bipartisanship — yet he has enough votes in Congress to largely determine when too much bipartisanship would hurt his agenda. “On the one hand, the majority has to be inclusive,” he explained on Monday, during an afternoon discussion with lawmakers. “On the other hand, the minority has to be constructive.”

Obama’s own words from the inaugural address also ring true here: “We will reach out a hand, if you will but unclench your fist.” In the public eye, Obama’s outreach is being met with the GOP’s whining over tax cuts, and it isn’t doing them any favors. Nor is playing political games with what is perceived to be a very controversial, but also very important, peice of legislation. Boehner is probably taking the 10 democrats who peeled off from their bretheren in the first stimulus vote as a vindication of his strategy to divide and conquer the democratic caucus. And this may even be a good strategy: the democrats as a party have their own serious flaws, cheif among them one Nancy Pelosi, who is actively delighting in taking revenge for Bush raining down famine and pestilence upon her for the entirety of his presidency. And of course I’ve oft stated the problems the blue dogs have had with the party’s current fiscal objectives. Of course the GOP has to be equally wary of their own divisions: not only did three republican senators (Snowe, Collins, Specter) break with the party and vote for the stimulus, but Jim Bunning (R-KY) is threatening to sue the National Republican Senate Committee if they attempt to run a primary challenger against him, and Mitt Romney is basically buying his own faction of the party. Steele has of course already promised vengeance against the aforementioned “Three Amigos”, but then even if they don’t get reelected all this does is further silence the party’s moderates, who in the current climate are its salvation, esp since Snowe and Collins are the most prominent women left in the party following Liddy Dole’s most unfortunate departure.

In closing, the party has to figure out what its new image and message is going to be, and do it fast, and the current trends are not encouraging. Slapping a new coat of paint on what is basically a further retreat into Reaganist orthodoxy is going to lead to the destruction of the GOP entirely, and I worry that there’s almost no one left in the party able to see it.

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