Later this week the country will celebrate a milestone: the date that Marty McFly used to travel to the future in Back to the Future II, the second movie of the trilogy that represents the greatest expression of Reagan-era optimism that Hollywood has yet produced. If only the remaining GOP candidates would sit down and watch all three movies. Then again, they’d reject their sunny demeanor and hopeful message as liberal claptrap and probably only find succor in the fact that almost everyone in the future has a gun.
If anything, this past week’s Democratic debate uncovered the starkest difference between the two parties, and it’s almost the opposite of the 1980s. In this election, it looks like the Democrats will be the ones looking confidently forward, while the Republicans will continue to paint a distinctly negative picture of the country.
According to the right, we are being invaded by hordes of illegal immigrants who are sucking up our resources, taking our jobs and marrying our women. The EPA is bent on destroying free enterprise by covering us in regulations, and the president wants to take our guns. And those are the more moderate accusations. Meanwhile, the Democrats put forward a future that included a higher minimum wage, expanded child care and paid time off, health care and a narrowing of the gap between the wealthy and everyone else.
For those of us who remember the politics of the 1980s, it is a stark contrast. Reagan was the smiling optimist and the Democrats were the scowling pessimists warning the country about the threat of nuclear war. Of course, many of the Reagan-era policies did lead to significantly negative outcomes, such as the orgy of prison building that now houses more prisoners than any other country, and the wealth gap created by Reagan and Bush tax cuts. But other policies did clean up some of the entitlement messes and the economy took off and helped a large number of people.
Today, the Republican Party is not just the party of “no”, it’s the party of “never.” They will never raise taxes. They will never acknowledge climate change. They will never recognize a women’s right to an abortion. They will never acquiesce to gay marriages. They will never allow anyone who came to this country illegally with any chance at either becoming a legal resident or a citizen. They will never talk to Putin or the Iranians. Never, never, never.
How incredibly dangerous.
Yet, they continue to say NEVER in their debates and on the campaign trail, especially the three candidate who will never (I borrowed the word) be elected president, namely Trump, Fiorina and Carson. But even the candidates who do have a chance–Bush, Rubio, Paul and Christie (I’m telling you, do not count Christie out just yet)–are part of the never caucus.
The Democrats, by contrast, were a far more voluble on what is possible in this country. They spoke about how we can address the wage gap, address the changing climate and protect people’s rights. Hillary still has problems with Benghazi and the e-mail issue, but recent Republican comments clearly show that their investigations are political, and that gave her the opening she needed at the debate to claim the high ground, at least for the moment.
Once the primaries are done and the nominees chosen, it will be more difficult for the Republican to move credibly to the political center and still maintain the far right’s blessing, than it will be for Clinton to appease Bernie Sanders’ supporters and gain their votes in November. In a general election, most voters want an upbeat message about how the candidates will lead the country forward and solve its problems, not a general indictment of how terrible things are. The problem for the GOP is that the longer their message is carried by the unelectable three, the more difficult it will be for pragmatic voice to be heard.
If they can find one.0