GOP lacks cohesion, Dems content

Chinese terrorists are streaming across the border. Barack Obama is a violent socialist. Mexico has been launching military attacks against America. God has endorsed Mike Huckabee. Spend a week with Republicans in South Carolina and you will hear the most incredible things.

A small minority in any group might say crazy things are not surprising; it is when the majority don’t dismiss them as crazy that you start to worry. At first it sounds as though most of them are living in a state of suspended reality. But with time you realise that they have simply been marinating in the bellicose polemics of talk radio and rightwing news anchors for far too long. Their reality is specific and bespoke.

Having warped their understanding of how the world works to suit their ideology, they now have the terrible burden of having to live in it. On the whole, these are personally affable and politically angry people. The targets of their rage are clear: Hillary Clinton, the liberal media, illegal immigrants, Muslims, taxes, the government and nationalised healthcare all take their turns in the crosshairs.

But the source of their rage is a mystery. In George Bush, Conservatives have had almost everything they wanted. Tax cuts, war and conservative supreme court justices have all been forthcoming. For much of the time he has been in the White House the Republicans have controlled both houses of Congress too. To the faithful, that the economy is nose-diving, the war has been judged a failure and the president’s approval ratings scrape historic lows are tiresome details. Since they only have themselves to blame, they simply change the subject and hope no one will notice.

When Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney declares Washington is broken before a cheering crowd in Bluffton, you have to wonder who they think broke it. Romney went on to say, with a straight face, that he drew his inspiration from Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush, Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush. When a leading presidential contender says he is enthused by the president’s mother but won’t mention the president himself, it becomes clear to what extent those who wish to be head of state must first occupy a state of denial.

The Democrats’ propensity to gloat is understandable. It’s also a mistake.

True, while Republicans bemoan their paltry choice, turnout for Democratic primaries and caucuses has set new records and revealed rarely seen levels of enthusiasm. Judging by those taking part, the Democratic base is expanding and rejuvenating itself.

But it is no less true that the Democratic primaries have raised little in the way of political debate. Where a vigorous discussion about how to end the war, rebuild the economy or extend healthcare should be, they have instead indulged themselves in a beauty contest that is simultaneously entertaining, engaging and empty.

The mayhem in the Republican party primaries is being driven by differences in policy; the order among Democrats has been created by an obsession with personality.

Whoever wins the Republican nomination will have been tested; whoever becomes the Democratic candidate will have been crowned. The Republicans may be in desperate need

of consensus; but the Democrats are in dire need of content. — The Guardian