Photo above: The Hertford Bridge in Oxford, England. Used by Permission. © Tom Ley 01302 782837

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Republicanism: A Classic Idea that Never Goes Out of Style By Dr. Mary Manjikian

We’ve all seen the expression. Once a week, on TLC’s “What Not to Wear,” fashion guru Stacey London stands before the closet of some hapless man or woman who watches in horror as she throws away all of their clothing. “These are horrible,” she shrieks as she holds up an item – perhaps some gaucho pants, embroidered bell bottom jeans, or a much-loved pair of huarache sandals. In my favorite episodes, the fashion victim clutches an item to her chest, all the while protesting vainly that “I love this. It has great memories attached to it and it’s sure to come back in style some day.” “Not in this lifetime,” snarls Stacy. Then she turns to the camera and promises that if we follow her tips, we too can look “smokin’ hot” and “like a rock star.” For perhaps a minute you’re even tempted to go into your own closet and begin throwing things away too.

What does this have to do with politics, you ask? I’d argue that today’s Democrats frequently portray our most cherished American values as, well, yesterday’s clothing – outmoded, ugly, dowdy, unfashionable and good only for throwing on the trash pile, like a politicized episode of “What Not to Wear.” When you think of Republicans, the Democrats would like you to think of elderly white men wearing porkpie hats, white oxford shirts and three piece suits – except for the women who are barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. There’s nothing “smokin’ hot” about this image.

But if the latest public opinion polls are any indicator, that image is just plain wrong. For many years now, the Democratic Party leadership has promulgated the message that the values and platform which they support – big government, massive spending and entitlement programs, gay marriage and a weakened foreign policy – represents the future, while the America that Republicans envision is actually a return to some form of retrogressive, reactionary past that’s hopelessly out of style. To some degree, Republican strategists have been equally culpable of making that mistake – speaking of a return to family values, the resurrection of America’s values or even a reestablishment of the Republican legacy. The implication, again, is that somehow the future has passed on, and bringing back the American family, along with values like thrift, savings and hard work, patriotism and a strong military is extremely unlikely. It would be like hauling those unfashionable cargo pants from your closet, trying them on and arguing that someday, surely, they will come back in style.

I’d like to suggest, however, that Republican values are actually not items from the past which now need to be reintroduced into American society – because they never really went out of style as the recent Republican victory in Massachusetts, as well as the most current public opinion data indicates. Actually, the Democrats have many more outmoded, unfashionable items of clothing in their own political wardrobes – including members of the Weather Underground, radical environmentalists who care more about the earth than they do about employment in a tough economy, uncompromising labor unions and radical groups like NOW and Planned Parenthood – than do the Republicans.

For a short time this century, America’s voters have been drawn to trendy catchphrases, like “yes, we can” and “change we can believe in” along with unrealistic programs which American can neither afford nor does it really want to implement. But, as Stacey and Clint of “What Not to Wear” remind us, trendy clothes and cuts of fabric don’t tend to wear well – they pill, they fray and they stretch and shrink. And they just look silly on most of us regular people who aren’t fashion models. Instead, these fashion gurus suggest instead investing in classic cuts, fabrics and ideas which can weather the vicissitudes of fashion and the test of time. There’s a lesson there for all of us. Don’t purge your closet of those classic Republican ideas like patriotism, hard work, individualism and the traditional family quite yet. Wear them with pride – because they never go out of style.

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