Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama on Meet the Press solidified the trend that has been slowly building throughout the later stages of this presidential campaign: the collapse of the right. The formerly-unstoppable political juggernaut that was the Republican Party is being crushed under the weight of its own ideologically-driven strategies, and it seems increasingly obvious that the run to the far-right is going to cost them the election.
Many high-profile Republicans have been speaking out against McCain's campaign in recent weeks, including Christopher Buckley, who made a dramatic exit from The National Review with a politically treasonous endorsement of Obama and a denunciation of the party his late father built his reputation upon. The criticism lodged against the party and the McCain campaign has been echoed across the political spectrum, but Powell's endorsement is, for many observers, the final nail in the Republican coffin. A revered figure to both Republicans and Democrats, former Secretary of State for the Bush II administration, and a retired General with extensive foreign policy credentials, his support for the Democratic candidate could assuage the fears of moderate Republicans unsure about Obama's international expertise. For a high-profile military man to deny his support to Mr. Country First is a blow the Republican candidate may not recover from.
The most telling facet of Powell's endorsement, however, is his criticism of the GOP as having lost its way by retreating to the far right. McCain's campaign has come to symbolize the natural conclusion of the party's deference to the social conservative base, beginning with Ronald Reagan and reaching a fever-pitch with the George W. Bush administration. With Reagan's successful appeals to the religious right and his portrayal of America as the shining city on a hill, the GOP realized it could attract a large and extremely loyal base. From then on, the party's platform and the focus of its candidates and elected officials has been increasingly based on social conservatism -- and thus, on abstract concepts such as "character" and "family values" -- instead of on substantive issues and policies. For George W. Bush, the mere fact that he was a born-again Christian was enough in itself to win the support of many otherwise-undecided voters, his announcement of Jesus Christ as his favorite political philosopher in the 2000 presidential primary debate a blatant shout-out to the "values voters" the party had come to rely on.
In 2008, John McCain's campaign has come to represent where this political pandering ultimately leads, and it's not a pretty sight. The Republican candidate has centered his faltering campaign on character assassinations of Barack Obama, and in stump speeches, rallies and television advertisements has not-so-subtly insinuated to his constituents that Obama is not one of them, doesn't share their values, is an unknown quantity who is not to be trusted. Referrals to the Democrat candidate as "Barack Hussein Obama" obviously speak directly to the religious right and their 9/11-fueled fear of Islam. The selection of Sarah Palin as McCain's running mate, besides being a cheap and misguided attempt to win over disillusioned Hillary supporters, was the ultimate play to the social conservative base, and was unabashedly announced as a rallying cry to the party faithful. Result: a second-in-command who firmly embodies the so-called "family values" and affinity for guns and canned beer of middle-American Joe Stereotype, but whose grasp of domestic and foreign policy is about as well-formed as that of a moose.
And thus, the angry mobs may be grabbing their pitchforks, the most ideological of the social conservatives may be enthused, but thinking people all along the political spectrum have had enough. The Republicans have finally seen the complete abandonment of ideals the party once stood for in favor of hockey moms and Bible-thumpers. The moderates and liberals have seen the last straw in an increasingly fundamentalist governing creed. Just as the excesses of Wall Street have made painfully clear the dangers of unregulated capitalism, the extremes of the conservative right have exposed the dangers of unadulterated ideology. John McCain played to the base -- and the base responded only too well. The moderates he once appealed to have been scared away by dirty politics and a vice presidential candidate who can't even hold her own against Katie Couric.
I'm sure this is nothing so dramatic as the end of the right, but the party as we know it today has collapsed under its own weight. This could have been the year for John McCain -- but it sure isn't the year for the Republican party. Luckily for the rest of us, the "maverick" decided to play it safe... and the country decided to think for itself.