The Joe-the-Plumberization of the GOP

With CPAC upon us, I had wanted to write a state-of-the-movement piece, and describing what I felt had gone wrong. But I couldn't quite put my finger on it. It hit me like a ton of bricks when I saw this: 

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3618/3310852886_24393e414f.jpg?v=0

It could have been like any other of the hundreds of pieces I had seen in the last few months touting Joe's latest exploits. Joe the Plumber -- a one or two day campaign gimmick -- has become a poster boy for conservatism. To say that the McCain campaign milked Joe Wurzelbacher's story and then some would be the understatement of the century. Now, conservatives are making him a foreign war correspondent and he is sure to be feted at CPAC -- so I'm sure to get a certain amount of grief for what I'm writing now.

If you want to get a sense of how unserious and ungrounded most Americans think the Republican Party is, look no further than how conservatives elevate Joe the Plumber as a spokesman. The movement has become so gimmick-driven that Wurzelbacher will be a conservative hero long after people have forgotten what his legitimate policy beef with Obama was. 

A movement self-confident in its place in American society would not have made Joe the Plumber a bigger story than he actually was. Since its very beginnings as a movement, conservatism has bought into liberalism's dominant place in the American political process. They controlled all the major institutions: the media, academia, Hollywood, the Democratic Party, large segments of the Republican Party, and consequently, the government. Liberalism's image of conservatives in the '50s and '60s as paranoid Birchers gave birth to a conservative movement self-conscious of its minority status. As in any tribe that is small in number and can't fully trust its most natural allies (i.e. the business community or the Republican Party), the meta-debate of who is inside and outside the tribe is magnified exponentially. 

The legacy of that early movement -- alive and well at CPAC and in the conservative institutions that still exist today -- is one driven inordinately by this question of identity. We have paeans to Reagan (as if we needed to be reminded again of just how much things suck in comparison today), memorabilia honoring 18th century philosophers that we wouldn't actually wear in the outside world, and code-word laden speeches that focus on a few hot button issues that leave us ill-equipped to actually govern conservatively on 80% of issues when we actually do get elected.  

This culture of identity politics means we get especially defensive about the Liberal Majority's main lines of attack, because we think of our position as inherently fragile. The one that spawned the Cult of Joe the Plumber was the meme that Republicans want tax cuts only for the rich and that we don't stand for working Americans. When find a highly visible figure who contradicts this notion, we swing into action. And we go on to press the argument to the point to absurdity, replete with plungers and custom "Joe" yard signs to prove our working class chops. These are the not the marks of a movement that assumes it operates (or should operate) from a position of political and cultural supremacy.

 

This is so different than the psychology of the left. The left assumes that it is culturally superior and the natural party of government and fights aggressively to frame any conservative incursion on that turf as somehow alien and unnatural. (The "Oh God..." whisper being the perfect illustration.) They dominate Hollywood not by actively branding liberalism in their movies, but by cooly associating liberal policy ideas with sentiments everyone feels, like love (gay marriage) or fairness (the little guy vs. some evil corporate stiff). Though I think Andrew Breitbart is spot on in raising a red flag on the threat we face in Hollywood, I fear that the conservative movement of today would only produce a response as agitprop and sarcastic as the Joe the Plumber phenomenon. In other words, some amusing slapstick comedies but not sweeping cultural epics that will be remembered 50 years from now. When you assume liberals are dominant culturally, you tend toward sarcasm or one-off gimmicks to knock the majority of its game -- but never an all encompassing argument for conservative cultural and political relevance -- something we have lacked for a long time, since Buckley was in his prime. 

Conservatives should not need Joe the Plumber to prove their middle class bona fides. We are naturally the party of the middle, and we don't need gimmicks to prove it. Demographically, Democrats rely on being the party of the upper sixth and the lower third, while Republicans tend to do better with everyone in between. When we start losing the middle class and the suburbs, we lose big like we did in 2008. 

Put another way, Republicans thrive as the party of normal Americans -- the people in the middle culturally and economically. This is true of our leadership as well -- we have a history of nominating figures who came first from outside politics. Our base is the common-sense voter in the middle who bought a house she could afford and didn't lavishly overspend in good times and who is now subsidizing the person who didn't. 

When you think about it, a majority built around this solid middle-American base should beat the disjointed liberal rich/poor coalition. This sense of frugality, orderliness, and personal responsibility is something everything aspires to in difficult times. This is why Obama's pitch is fundamentally off-key if framed correctly. People's first instincts in a recession are not to overspend, but to tighten their belts. Obama's address last night assumed that no one is responsible for anything, except maybe corporate CEOs. The banks as institutions are not ultimately responsible. People who took out risky mortgages are not responsible. The Administration is not responsible for sharing in the pain by postponing longer-term projects like health care. And even if they are, everything in a recession is subsumed to the need to throw money at the problem in an attempt to stabilize the system. The risk for Obama in embracing the bailout mentality is that it catches up to you: this is not how ordinary people act in their daily lives without major consequences down the road.

In these serious times, conservatives need to get serious and ditch the gimmicks and the self-referential credentializing and talk to the entire country. If the average apolitical American walked into CPAC or any movement conservative gathering would they feel like they learned something new or that we presented a vision compelling to them in their daily lives? Or would it all be talk of a President from 25 years ago and Adam Smith lapel pins? This is why I love Newt's emphasis on finding 80/20 issues and defining them in completely non-ideological terms. We need to advance our ideas without ever once saying the word "conservative" or "Republican" in a speech. We need to define these ideas not as conservative, but as American. We need to be confident, like the left is, that we are the natural governing party because our ideas are in alignment with basic American principles, and quit treating middle class, working class, or rural Americans like an interest group to be mollified by symbolic, substance-free BS. 

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Comments

Should wet back to K-streetization of the GOP?

Sorry Patrick, but the reason Joe the Plumber caught on was that he could articulate basic economic principles better than McCain, with his army of GOP consultants, could. 

Joe the Plumber is not what has "gone wrong with the movement", it's the win first, principles second mentality led primarily by the K-Street, lobbyist class (e.g..some of the folks running CPAC, who also lobby for earmarks for their clients). Why would I want Republicans to win?  As am not a GOP consultant, I don't get earmarks or contracts when Republicans are in office, my focus is only on changing public policies. 

By citing Newt, you are instead suggesting we adopt olicies that will help get Republicans elected (it is ironic, because Newt criticizes consultants and candidates who use polls to determine what they believe, then suggests Republicans should adopt a platform based  poll numbers). Newt's 80/20 concept is what I call "Easy" Real Change - he stands for basically nothing and certainly doesn't articulate a vision of a better America. 

Making English the official language of government?  Keeping "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance?  These should be among our top priorities? These aren't solutions that will improve our country in any meaningful way.

School choice, free market health care reforms, limited government - these should be part of the conserstone of the vision for America.  These may not be 80-20 issues.  There may be some disagreement on them.  But there is a divide between what we on right (conservative, liberartian, Republicans, what have you) believe this country needs and what the left believes.  We are losing this battle not because our ideas are wrong, but because we are refusing to take the field on these issues. 

That is why the GOP needs candidates and leaders who can articulate these principles, this vision for America (like Reagan once did), not hacks who rely on polls to pick principles for them.

Wurzelbacher ?

Who the heck does this Wurzelbacher guy think he is criticizing Obama. no one even knows who this no name is. Jeeze. I'm going back to playing MMORPG Games

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Yes you are absolutely

Yes you are absolutely correct, Nobody knows him and he is saying rubbish. properties for sale in Dubai

Are you seriously telling me

Are you seriously telling me that you can account for every democrat and republican politician out there and know what they are thinking and what their intentions are/were?

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I didn't cite any inner

I didn't cite any inner psyches. I cited what people said. Johnson said that he was writing off the South for a generation. Diulio said that there were no policy concerns in tbe Bush administration.

But, hey, make my day. Delineate conservative policy positions that are coherent and effective.  cheap night vision goggles

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80/20

I've been thinking a lot about the Newt 80/20 formulation, but it needs to go beyond that.   We need to start with those issues and do some education on top.  (The Cato videos on Keynsiansim and the Laffer curve were good... cut 'em down to 30 seconds and put 'em on TV.)  More of the public needs to "get" conservatism.  A string of issues couched in non-ideological terms leaves us perpetually looking for another set of issues.  Sooner or later we run out of things for government to do, mostly by virtue of the fact that we don't think government should do everything.

Looking forward to CPAC.

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rather than have it freeze

exactly. who don't people just write a thesis paper instead to vent their frustrations

My 2 cents

I'm a HUGE Joe the Plumber fan (to the degree that when I needed a Plumber two weeks ago, I  called around until I found a guy named Joe) who was nontheless horrified by the degree to which John "Loser" McCain overplayed this winning hand.  JTP was, and remains, one of the best things to happen to the GOP (and the conservative movement) in the last 5 years.  That said, he represents what was wrong with John McCain's General Election campaign far more than he represents anything fundamentally wrong with the GOP or the conservative movement.

Rush regularly talks about how one of his great frustrations is that elected Republicans don't articulate a conservative message to the broader public.  That's where JTP comes in.  JTP, himself, was and remains a great symbol; the problem was that our last Presidential candidate (as opposed to his running mate) couldn't articulate why conservative economics is better for the middle class than President Obama's redistributive trickle up poverty.  Thus, our 2008 nominee used JTP as a central argument when JTP should have been a mild compliment to a well shaped narrative.

Moving forward, we need to embrace and advertise every single JTP who falls in our lap.  That said, we also need to nominate candidates who can embrace JTP symbolism while explaining why conservative economic polices will make everyone's bank account bigger at the end of the day.

Put differently -- Let's not throw the Joe the Plumber baby out with the John McCain bathwater.

I hope this helps.

That is all.

Cahnman out.

I Too am A Joe The Plumber Fan

Unless of course that you realize that Joe is not really a licensed plumber and doesn't bother to pay taxes, then who wouldn't be a fan. Why bother with the little details in life. Some people work very hard to get a license and to pay their taxes like the rest of us.  Others, well they're just too busy for those little details.  My hero.

But if you like the stuff that Joe that goes with Joe's job, then you'll probably like Joe too.

 

He's one of us

Not a licensed plumber? That means he avoids a social contract in restraint of trade.

Doesn't pay taxes? That means he avoids that legalized ripoff.

<< When you think about it, a

<< When you think about it, a majority built around this solid middle-American base should beat the disjointed liberal rich/poor coalition.>>

You are kidding me. We have seen throughout the years the destruction of the middle class. We have seen the worst from republicans. All for the rich, take the jobs and send them overseas. Take the money and send it to Iraq. And neglect the infrastructure and everything else.

This is like that book, "Men are from Mars, and women are from Venus."

We are still not connecting.

Blah x3

n/t

The man, the myth

Aside from JTP himself, the two main promoters of JTP have been McCain and Pajamas Media, and that should pretty much tell you all you need to know. The latter took someone who got famous for asking a question and then converted him into a "reporter" and the host of an online show that no one watched. The issue isn't just glomming onto a convenient symbol, it's also that your leaders have no real interest in doing anything and just want to put on a show.

 In case JTP is reading this, here's another opportunity to reclaim the magic and ask a question, and here's a question he can ask.

Just Bizarre ...

that Rush is the Commisar of the GOP and Joe The Plumber is the Propaganda-in-Chief. It's as if Keith Olbermann and Sean The Actor ran the democrats. I am pretty sure dems don't check on the opinions of the liberal media elites before making a decision or grovel for forgiveness afterwards.

Rush and Joe repel more voters than they attract and the sooner the GOP distance themselves from the Gutter Twins the better.

what's truly bizarre

Rush has done more to promote the cause of conservatism than a thousand RNC chairs could ever do.  The GOP should worship the ground Rush walks on because they know that they would be in a WHOLE lot worse shape had Rush never come along.  Rush brings ethereal, eclectic conservatism to the masses with humor and passion.  What's truly bizarre is any conservative advocating that Republicans should distance themselves from their most successful messenger.

Rush Into An Abyss

Rush has done more to promote the cause of conservatism than a thousand RNC chairs could ever do.

True that. He's made the republicans more conservative at the expense of moderates and liberals in the party.

The GOP should worship the ground Rush walks on because they know that they would be in a WHOLE lot worse shape had Rush never come along.

I say he peaked in 2000 and 9/11 extended his influence awhile longer. It's bad now for conservatives, but it can get a lot worse when democrats slap Rush as the face of the republicans.

Rush brings ethereal, eclectic conservatism to the masses with humor and passion.

Do you mean floating etherealy from all the hot air he spews? His humor is cheap and mean-spirited. Is he still mocking Micheal J. Fox's Parkinson condition? This Gallup poll shows him to be polarizing and since 70% of Americans are not conservatives, I don't see how he helps republicans. I suppose you can argue Americans are becoming more conservatives, but I doubt either of us will be alive when 50% + 1 of Americans will be conservatives.

What's truly bizarre is any conservative advocating that Republicans should distance themselves from their most successful messenger.

Would it be bizarre for a democrat to wish a principled opposition exists to keep the majority in check instead of a demagogue ruling the republican party?

 

My mistake.

Oh, right, you're not a conservative.  Of course that's why you think Republicans should throw Rush under the bus.  You just don't get it.  Have you even listened to the guy for more than, say, one show? 

You're damn right he's polarizing because he tells it like it is.  He's polarizing in the same sense that Keith Olbermann is polarizing.  Maybe you should advocate for Olbermann to be taken off the air.

Oh and it's not our job to keep the majority in check.  It is our job to become the majority.  As you liberals constantly reminded us over the past 8 years, if the majority party screws up and goes out of control, it's nobody's fault but the majority's.  And, incidentally, even if we were simply content to try to restrain the worst excesses of the majority, we have precious little power in DC these days to do so.  The nation is going to get unbridled, unrestrained, humongous-government liberalism.  The conservatives whom your colleagues recklessly branded as Nazis, fascists and traitors are now out of power.  Congratulations!  You got exactly what you asked for!

Hey Patrick! Hey Jon! Here's your problem

This IS your base. Right here. Someone who thinks a fatuous hypocrtitical liar is the guy who "gets it," who leads your party and tells it like it is.

Patrick, Jon,

I appreciate and understand that you're interested in grounding the party in reality, and trying to find market based solutions rather than government solutions for social and economic problems. I get that you're trying to lead your party out of a wilderness of fantasy and falsehood.

The trouble is that all that's left of the base is the people, like chemjeff (unfortunate handle, that) who have drunk the KoolAid.

And, of course, that you have no effective policy solutions. 

advice from liberals: worth what you paid for it

Yes, Patrick et al, by all means, take your advice from liberals who have a vested interest in giving us very bad advice.  And what is so damn unfortunate about my handle? 

Unfortunate

 The handle suggests, perhaps, that you are under the influence of something.

And,  indeed, I hope that you people completely take over the party. You're well on your way.

go away

You moron, my handle reflects the fact that I'm actually a chemist, not some druggie.  Just go away.  If this were Kos I'd offer some four-letter words right about now.

You asked

And it is suggestive is in just that way.  ChemistJeff, or jeffthechemist wouldn't be unintentionally humorous in this way.

And, yes, I can see you're getting kinda steamy. This thread has been a hilarious demonstration of just how deep a hole the party has dug itself into.

It's personal.

Oh no, my reaction to you has nothing to do with the GOP.  It has to do with your arrogant condescension and your personally insulting tone.  I have used this handle for a long time and you are the first person ever to insinuate that it may be because I'm some sort of crackhead.  And then you have the gall to suggest "proper" handles that I "should have" chosen?  How dare you.  I wouldn't want to be in a political organization with cretins like you.  You are the embodiment of liberal elitism.  F.O.A.D.

considering how many masters of the universe

are potheads or crackheads, you should take that as a compliment ;-)

Lol compliment, really? Or

Lol compliment, really? Or Not

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Part of what impresses me is

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How double dare you!

Nah nah boo boo. How double dare you that you criticize ChemJeff. Don't you know who he is? He's a chemist!  You don't warrant holding his shorts for him to slide into in the morning! You are so pathetic that your probably a liberal! Wait that's redundant. Go back to kindergarden where you belong! Your mama was a welfare crack dealer not a chemist!  Nah nah I got fingers in my nose! 

 

what do you study?

I went to an ACS convention a long time back -- most of the organizers were physicists. [top ten signs your chemistry dept sucks: when the physics dept. has to organize the ACS meeting]

chemistry

I am a physical chemist.  I do computational chemistry.  Chemistry is, in fact, my passion.  It is what excites me about my job, which makes it even more insulting when assholes like JayAckroyd compare it to substance abuse.

what in particular? you've piqued my interest...

I wish I could qualify for a comp chemistry position. only ones I ever see, you need big time degrees for (not my silly undergrad)

computational chemistry

Well, I have the big-time degree.  I'm working on a whole bunch of projects right now actually, but my real passion is theoretical understanding of hydrogen bonding.  It's just so...cool.

And did you, by any chance, attend any publicly-funded education

And did you, by any chance, attend any publicly-funded educational institutions while pursuing that "big-time" degree? And are you in fact currently employed at some taxpayer-funded institution?

Big time degrees? Yup, you

Big time degrees? Yup, you definitely need some.

-------------------------

Mike - the external hard drive and 1tb external drive dude.

I don't have any such vested interest!

single party rule is bad for ALL. Republicans ought to remember that fact, and not try to make Permanent Majorities through voter disenfranchisement (including kidnapping), and gerrymandering.

don't make me haul out the kidnapping report. that was hilarious.

single party rule

If you really believed "single party rule is bad for ALL", then maybe you and your liberal cohorts should spend less time on the abject demonization of the other side.  Spirited discussion is fine; calling the president a Nazi is not.  Because, guess what, if you are actually successful in convincing people that the "other side" are full of a bunch of evil twisted Nazis, then you'll get single party rule!

boo on the folks calling him a nazi

if you're going to make a fuckign argument that he's a fucking fascist, well make the god damn argument, don't just demagogue.

Course, if he was a fascist, he'd have been more pro-union.

Some people are just morons, and I think we both share a particular ineffable hatred for them.

Rush regularly talks about

Rush regularly talks about how one of his great frustrations is that elected Republicans don't articulate a conservative message to the broader public. That's where JTP comes in. JTP, himself, was and remains a great symbol; the problem was that our last Presidential candidate (as opposed to his running mate) couldn't articulate why conservative economics is better for the middle class than President Obama's redistributive trickle up poverty. Thus, our 2008 nominee used JTP as a central argument when JTP should have been a mild compliment to a well shaped narrative. infant car seat | infant formula | infant shoes

Olbermann

Olbermann is not regarded by anybody as the voice of liberalism, while pretty much everyone thinks Rush is the voice of conservatism. That's the difference.

Are Republicans the party of "normal" Americans when Rush is widely regarded as the de facto head of the GOP? Are most "normal" middle-class Americans fans of Rush?

"Normal" Americans thought Jindal's response was a joke, yet Rush defends him and calls anyone who disagrees with him an idiot. This is the Rush that most people see.

I highly recommend this insightful article regarding talk radio's effect on the conservative movement: www.amconmag.com/article/2009/feb/23/00006/

Nancy and Harry Are Right

You're damn right he's polarizing because he tells it like it is.  He's polarizing in the same sense that Keith Olbermann is polarizing.  Maybe you should advocate for Olbermann to be taken off the air.

I like Olbermann's politics, but I don't watch his show since I'm not a fan of his fake outrage or sarcasm. I would never advocate censorship, but people don't have to listen to crap and leaders should not grovel to gas bags.

Oh and it's not our job to keep the majority in check.  It is our job to become the majority.  As you liberals constantly reminded us over the past 8 years, if the majority party screws up and goes out of control, it's nobody's fault but the majority's.  And, incidentally, even if we were simply content to try to restrain the worst excesses of the majority, we have precious little power in DC these days to do so.

I see. Power for power's sake. Sorry, America, you rank behind power on our conservative agenda. Harry and Nancy were right to not involve conservatives when writing the stimulus since conservatives were only interested in delay, obstruction and demagoguery. Conservatives are saying, "Too bad, America, if you have to suffer needlessly, so be it. You'll have to vote us back in."

 

welcome to reality

Hey guess what, welcome to the world of electoral politics. Do you think Harry Reid said "the war is lost" because it was an objective assessment of the war?  Do you think Democrats in 2005 lied and demagoguged about Bush's social security reform plan because it was the unbiased recommendations of their experts?  Do you think Democrats voted for the war when it was popular and then (coincidentally around election time) proceeded to trash and undermine the war effort because it was the moral thing to do?  No, they did it all to win votes.  At the end it is ALL about power, both for Democrats and for Republicans.  I want Republicans in power because, even at their worst, Republicans aren't going to be offering runaway socialism and at their best will actually do something to roll back huge government.  I DON'T want Republicans content simply to offer polite objections to Democrats' agenda items and then feel like they accomplished something.  That was the bad old Bob Michel days.

And yes America, sadly, IS going to suffer for the next several years because America unwisely voted for a bunch of socialists to run the government.  Republicans can't do damn much to slow down the big government freight train that is coming down the pike, and frankly, yes we do have a vested interest in seeing socialism fail.  This is all going to happen DESPITE our efforts and wishes.

Projection

I know you're not going to accept this, but this idea that it's all about power is projection. While it is true that there are Democrats, Chuck Schumer for example,who are more concerned about power than they are about policy, most democrats are much more concerned about getting power for the purpose of accomplishing policy goals.  It's pretty clearly the case that this is not true of most conservatives.  As we are watching republicans do all they can make Obama's plans fail, at expense of the country's welfare,we are reminded of the fact that for republicans it is party before country.  

Hahahahaha

And what do you have to back that statement up with?

Geez. TheNextRight truly is overrun with liberals.

Well first

They say so. Kristol's column today, as with his letter saying that universal health care had to be stopped at any cost wasn't because he thought those were policies that would be bad for Americans. He feared they'd be GOOD for most Americans, and would therefore keep Democrats in power,

Contrast that with Lyndon Johnson, who signed Civil Rights legislation, in the full knowledge that it would damage the ability of Democrats to retain power.

Second, look at the complete absence of any kind of effective polilcy-making under the Bush administration. With the possible exception of No Child Left Behind, you can't point to a single new policy that was implemented, while it is easy to point to instances where the administration directed that the law be disobeyed rather than explicitly adopt a new policy.

People who were there at the time said so:

"There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus," says DiIulio. "What you’ve got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."

In a seven-page letter sent a few weeks after our first conversation, DiIulio, who still considers himself a passionate supporter of the president, offers a detailed account and critique of the time he spent in the Bush White House.

"I heard many, many staff discussions but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions," he writes. "There were no actual policy white papers on domestic issues. There were, truth be told, only a couple of people in the West Wing who worried at all about policy substance and analysis, and they were even more overworked than the stereotypical nonstop, twenty-hour-a-day White House staff. Every modern presidency moves on the fly, but on social policy and related issues, the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking: discussions by fairly senior people who meant Medicaid but were talking Medicare; near-instant shifts from discussing any actual policy pros and cons to discussing political communications, media strategy, et cetera. Even quite junior staff would sometimes hear quite senior staff pooh-pooh any need to dig deeper for pertinent information on a given issue."

Paul O'Neill left Treasury because he was given no policy input--because there was no policy to have input to.  He objected to deficits as bad policy, and Cheney's response was Reagan proved defictis don't matter.

Now this is, I grant you, a recent development. Bush the  first did try to engage in actually policy-making, in particular in foreign policy.  And Reagan had both a broad policy vision, and the willingness to work pragmatically with the Congress to get elements of his vision implemented. (I'm talking about the real Reagan, not the mythical one who singled-handedly won the cold war by standing up to the Soviets.   You know, the guy who cut and ran in Lebanon and worked with US enemies to get theater nukes out of Europe.)

But this is the face of the modern Republican party. Not a single credible policy idea. Bumper sticker slogans that turned out to be simple lies.  As long as the base is in denial about this, the Ruffinis and the Douthats are doomed to fail.

 

Look both ways

Firstly, a broad brush cannot be painted across either party though there may be dominate trends.

Second, you need not explain to me how republicans have demonstrated a thirst for power above all else, but you cannot argue that Democrats are somehow saints.

Just listen to Rahm Emanual talking about not letting a "good crises go to waste". Such as the one we're in now that the Democrats used as perfect cover to push through a ton of pet projects as opposed to simply stimulus in a supposed stimulus bill.