Conservatives built their power as an insurgency. No, not that kind of insurgency, I mean the kind best executed by middle aged men: an insurgency of media, of rhetoric, of communication. Conservative media gave them an outlet against political forces that annoyed them and let them act as if they were taking America back. And after 9/11, when the rank and file became an order of magnitude more patriotic and conscious of security, they found eager recruits; heads nodding to their platitudes about destroying our enemies and standing firm in the face of evil and all that. But it was merely a temporary outgrowth of a slowly festering echo chamber, and that outgrowth inflated egos and accelerated the demise of the late 20th century GOP. And now that the public supports liberalism once again, it is proving to be a completely worn out and ineffective opposition.
The last hero of the GOP, George W. Bush, was the final compromise between the corporatist and fundamentalist elements of the GOP: a well-connected free-market-enough folksy Texan with enough "bipartisan" bonafides; too Baptist for liberals, but not too Baptist for Wall Street. We know how that turned out. In the 2008 primary the GOP couldn't find such a compromise; its biggest supporters were torn between Giuliani, Romney and Huckabee, and ended up with McCain. By coincidence, McCain had enough pull from independents to poll decently against Obama and Clinton, who weren't being too civil when McCain sewed things up. His supporters were unenthusiastic however, and it was enthusiasm which was credited for securing Republican victories in 2000 and 2004.
But the first truly vivid evidence of the dysfunction of conservative advocacy was the selection of Sarah Palin. Duh you say. If I'd been blogging at the time you could have read this in a more timely fashion (thought it would have been no more original), but nothing since has changed my mind about this: the Palin selection was based on a massive underestimation of Hillary Clinton's supporters. Clinton's desperate final attempts to win the nomination riled up a few of her supporters into supporting McCain out of spite even into the convention, but this group was wildly exaggerated by the media (due to its man-bites-dog nature).
So the conservative leadership entered the VP selection process needing to drum up enthusiasm while appealing to additional voters (since it was still behind in the polls). In my opinion it decided that it should nominate a woman because a lot of disgruntled feminist Clinton supporters would peel off and support her - just because the nominee was female - regardless of her politics.
It's pretty clear that only a straw feminist would do this; any with half a brain would vote for a candidate who actually supports feminism regardless of his genitalia. But conservatives don't talk to liberals unless they must, so they ceased to devise strategies to defeat their actual opponents; rather, they go after the imaginary idiotic opponent in their heads.
We're seeing it again with opposition to Obama's spending programs. It's just a constant repetition of "spending bad! spending bad! spending bad!" The only counter-proposal is tax cuts. And it's not working; support for the Obama and his programs vastly overshadows support for the GOP. This strategy again grows out of the echo chamber; electoral defeat has convinced them that Americans don't like them. They ask themselves why - themselves, not their actual opponents, because they don't talk to their actual opponents. And their answer is the one thing conservatives didn't like about the GOP over the last 8 years: the fact that it didn't actually control its spending, at all, whatsoever. So now they've learned their lesson, and oppose spending! It looks cynical and self-serving even if it's an earnest attempt by the party to correct what it perceives as its mistake.
And now we see Bobby Jindal giving an ineffective opposition speech after Obama's quasi-SOTU. Apart from the fact that the GOP clearly hasn't learned its lesson from the Palin debacle and thus trotted out a dark skinned skinny dude thinking that matters, it was poorly delivered, failed to respond to Obama, and actually mentioned Hurricane Katrina:
Today in Washington, some are promising that government will rescue us from the economic storms raging all around us.
Those of us who lived through Hurricane Katrina -- we have our doubts.
Let me tell you a story.
During Katrina, I visited Sheriff Harry Lee, a Democrat and a good friend of mine. When I walked into his makeshift office, I'd never seen him so angry. He was yelling into the phone: "Well, I'm the Sheriff and if you don't like it you can come and arrest me!" I asked him: "Sheriff, what's got you so mad?" He told me that he had put out a call for volunteers to come with their boats to rescue people who were trapped on their rooftops by the floodwaters. The boats were all lined up ready to go, when some bureaucrat showed up and told them they couldn't go out on the water unless they had proof of insurance and registration. I told him, "Sheriff, that's ridiculous." And before I knew it, he was yelling into the phone: "Congressman Jindal is here, and he says you can come and arrest him too!" Harry just told the boaters to ignore the bureaucrats and go start rescuing people.
There is a lesson in this experience: The strength of America is not found in our government. It is found in the compassionate hearts and the enterprising spirit of our citizens. We are grateful for the support we have received from across the nation for the ongoing recovery efforts. This spirit got Louisiana through the hurricanes and this spirit will get our nation through the storms we face today.
Katrina was the death knell of the Bush administration - obviously the federal government can't magically rescue everyone at once from a disaster of that magnitude, but the incompetence and lack of preparedness was just stunning at the time, even to people who are cynical of government. For Jindal to try and pivot and use it as evidence that government in general is ineffective is just stunningly tone-deaf - more evidence of an organization that isn't listening to its opponents. It's such a misstep, it probably discredits the argument for other purposes - that is, if it had any teeth when coming from Republicans anyway.
There are all sorts of reasons why a government agency is inefficient. Primary among them is the fact the government is not necessarily efficient - that is, it will continue to exist regardless of its efficiency, as opposed to a private enterprise in a competitive market. But all that said, the GOP didn't even try to make FEMA efficient; it headed it with a laughably unqualified crony and sent its resources to Iraq. The public saw this, and liberals found themselves with a decent counterargument to the "government is inefficient" argument: that if you elect people who say government is inefficient, they will make it inefficient through apathy.
Jindal's reference demonstrates that the GOP isn't even vaguely aware of this argument, and has no idea how the public remembers Katrina. Mark my words: the GOP will not rise again until it discards and discredits its echo chamber, and until right wingers start opposing it and grow so disgusted that they support the conservative version of Ralph Nader. The GOP's inability or unwillingness to do this has caused a liberal victory so complete, that policies are being instituted that even Andrew Sullivan doesn't like.
It liberals' resurgent new-media organizations shut themselves off to the rest of the world the way conservatives' did, the same fate awaits them.