Independent’s Eye by Joe Gandelman

Apart from being the first time that partisanship swirling around the raising of the debt limit ceiling threatens to shove the United States into an economic abyss, the Great Debt Ceiling Debate of 2011 marks the rebranding of the Republican Party – even as party bigwigs try to desperately stave off the rebranding.

Daryl Cagle / (click to view more debt ceiling cartoons)

Republicanism once operated within certain perimeters – Republicanism symbolized by Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. Compromise, aggregating interests, consensus and coalition building were considered virtues. Historian Gil Troy classified Ronald Reagan as a moderate President due to his willingness to compromise. George H. W. Bush promised “a kinder gentler nation” to make Republicanism more accessible to foes and to those who distrusted it. His son George W. Bush took it a step further, offering “compassionate conservatism.”

Say “adios” to all of that.

The new emerging brand is notable for its belief that compromise is a filthy word or means “caving” and that caring about poorer or more vulnerable Americans is hack PC or weakness. Talk about debt ceiling default not being a big deal generally comes from well-off politicos who don’t have to worry about their families’ survival or talk show hosts who rent or own private jets, or well fed members of Congress who enjoy government-paid health care and feast on Senate Bean Soup or have meals paid by well-heeled political supporters.

To members of the GOP’s talk show political culture and Tea Party members, refusing to raise the debt limit ceiling is a study in lofty principle. To others such as The Daily Beast’s John Avlon it’s a religion-like, fanatical, fact denial. Avlon writes: “Call them Debt Ceiling Deniers. Believers in faith-based fiscal policy. Math-challenged cause-and-effect-skeptics.” And to many independent voters, I predict, it will appear scary.

Polls show the Tea Party position has not won over most Americans. A new CBS News poll found that Americans feel both sides reek in the debt ceiling debate but Republicans in Congress scored the worst – with 71 percent disapproving of the Republicans’ handling of the debt ceiling talks. Even 51 percent of Republicans gave their own party a thumbs down.

A Pew Research Washington Post poll finds 50 percent of independents lack faith in Democrats Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi while 59 percent lack faith in GOPers Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner. An IBOPE Zogby Poll found 52 percent favored the debt ceiling raised and 70 percent believed not raising it would have serious consequences.

The Republican Party’s inexorable rebranding is due to the Tea Party being perceived as holding a big chunk of party power - and checkmate power. This comes on the heels of the well-publicized purge of Republican moderates and conservatives who compromised who were derisively given the name “RINOS,” Republicans In Name Only, as 21st century conservatives narrowed the definition of “Republican.”

Many Americans would consider a thoughtful alternative to the effectiveness-challenged Barack Obama, but polls suggest many Americans don’t like the new GOP brand as they search for it. Many Americans seem to be concluding that an ineffective Obama brand is preferable to what could be a toxic brand of tea.

Meanwhile, if you hear a strange sound at night, it may be the sound of Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Barry Goldwater and – yes – Ronald Reagan rolling over in their graves.

Ahh, but what did they know? They MUST have been RINOs…


Copyright 2011 Joe Gandelman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN's John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at [email protected] and can be booked to speak at your event at