Icy, let me try to be "objective" although objectivity is a rare phenomenon when talking politics.
You've got an intellectual right, the Buckleys and the Wills of the world. I don't like them, and I don't generally agree with them, but they try to win the argument. They try to think through consequences. They are the heirs to the pre-Reagan GOP, in terms of trusting thought.
The Reagan Revolution was more than the tax revolt or anti-commie feel-good time some people think of it as. It was the time when we embraced very straightforward, undiluted ideology as fact. Sure there was always the anti-communist/red-meat/invade-something-dammit idea in the GOP, from Vietnam onwards. But progressively starting in the 1980s, the GOP began a habit that might have been its undoing.
I call this habit "Nut-uh, you." Probably one of the earliest uses of this pretty simple tactic was in response to the well-known stats and general public perception of Republicans: They represented the fat cats and the moneyed interests in the public mind, until the time of Reagan. The Democrats represented a "best and brightest" approach, and encompassed plenty of personally well-off patrons. But their goal as a party was the interest of the working man over the plutocrats. Those were the "roles," until Reagan.
This is where "Nut-uh, you" came into play. During the 80s, we started hearing about the liberal elites, constantly. It was a case of the billionaires ragging on the millionaires for pretending to care about the dollar-aires. There was and is a great deal of interest in publicizing the "limousine liberal" phenomenon... but that was not enough to make "Nut-uh, you" stick... because the Republican party not only had rich operatives, it functioned and functions still for the benefit of those who make and own more (and we'll say "in relative terms," here, to avoid naming specific cases, and also hopefully head off a side-discussion on trickle down economics.)
So to beef up "Nut-uh, you," the GOP began the task of glorifying simplistic analyses, and becoming the "party of the people" by only talking to issues "Joe the _____" could understand. That's normal, especially if you are trying to boil down something complex so everybody can "get it." But "Nut uh, you" changes this exercise: You assail the other guy not only for disagreements, but for being an intellectual
You say he's talking down to the electorate, or that he's professorial, or wooden, or whatever the adjective of the day is, if he gets too complex. I've seen otherwise bright people go into conniptions about a Dem being "mealy mouthed" if he is considering various viewpoints in a conversation, including that person's own viewpoint. Politics became pugilism: I state a simplistic view. You must state a simplistic view that fulfills my mental image of what you must think. You are equivocating if your view is more complex.
A great spur to this way of thinking, I think, was the fusing of theology with politics. A simple prescription appearing in a sacred text (or which one interprets into a sacred text) takes the debate to "God said it, I believe it, that settles it."
One fascinating thing this time around was that many of the scripts from the last 28 years just suddenly, unexpectedly failed. "Joe the Plumber" was the ultimate in this. The party faithful bought into it, but I think most people said "why the hell would I want a plumber as a political guru?" I think people see the situation as serious, and they see it as a good idea to have a smart guy working on our problems.
Now, you may say Obama fans are zombies caught up in emotionalism, as I've seen here, and for this argument I won't get into it.
The difference is, even if the great mass of supporters have an exactly equivalent level of zombieness or stupidity in some objective sense, it is the Right that most embraces a dumbed-down politics, the politics of a wood-chopping regular guy you could have a beer with, or a president's son you could have a beer with, or a fighter pilot you could have a beer with.
Me? I'd rather have a beer with ol' Barry, but only if I actually knew him, not as some campaign stunt where he's "having a beer with an idiot for the cameras". But mostly because I end up talking boring policy stuff over beers, which makes me endlessly popular at parties
(Ever wonder why I'm here so much?)
But most people don't want to have a beer with Barack, they want him to get to work, hire some good minds, and get at the next step for America. They're giving him a chance, but I think it's mainly because they believe he has a good shot at breaking through on some of our problems. They're ready to actually act
on what they believe in, because they sense he believes in it too (talking about public service here.) And they know he's "put his money where his mouth is," having worked for his community before, and now working on the national level.
Okay that part wasn't really very objective.
But I think there's hope for the GOP, if they choose to say "Politics is hard.
Politics isn't just a fight. Politics is a discussion too."
I'm going to wax overly proud of my own ethnic group for a moment... here's something that maybe the Jewish experience can contribute.
When the Second Temple was destroyed, basically worship as Jews initially knew it had to be transformed. The transformation emphasized that every Jew was responsible to learn Torah, and everybody was responsible for his own spiritual development. Sure, interpretation of how long between meat dishes and dairy dishes went through the local rebbe. But everybody was supposed to know at least enough to discuss the texts. Everybody was supposed to try to learn, just because learning is good.
When Sholem Aleichem held up Tevye the Milkman, you'll notice, he wasn't "just a simple milkman that wants lower taxes." He was a milkman and a man profoundly in dialog with his world. Sure that was a time when you saw the entire world through religion. But he was constantly questioning.
What's emphasized in this whole Joe the Plumber thing isn't the idea that he's questioning and looking for answers... what's held up is "Haw haw see a simple plumber made a big fat Harvard guy mess up and say 'spread the wealth around.' Out of the mouths of babes, huh?"
Where we need to go in this regard, dare I say it, is where quite a few "Joe the Plumbers" actually are.
I knew a guy who was a carpenter when I stayed in WVa for a summer, working on a book. I hung out some with him and this other guy who worked at a deli, and I don't know where this one other guy worked, but that was pretty much who I knew.
The carpenter guy was a total stoner. Good guy, good sense of humor. Total autodidact. He had cinder-block-and-board shelves full of Dostoevsky, Joyce, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Faulkner, you name it. Never went to college. Just loved this stuff. Broke my heart because I think -- THINK -- he was always shoring up a hole in that regard, and didn't get that having re-read these several times, he could TEACH the classes he didn't have cash to go to.
My wife's father was a mailman. That's it, a mailman. But he loved to read, he loved discussions like we have here, and she says he could go into history for hours.
Why is there no idea that these guys exist when we talk about "Joe the Plumber" and the like? The guy who was a carpenter never wore it on his sleeve, I just knew he was into this stuff because we played poker at his apartment once... I started talking to him about his books and his eyes nearly jumped out of his head he was so psyched.
How did we get to the point that intelligence needed to be hidden?
How did the GOP come to embrace the insulting cardboard cutout of "Dumb is good, simple is good"? I know you can say mean things about the Dems, and I know this seems a mean thing to say about the GOP, but this is the subject we're on. And where does the GOP go next?
Do they admit smart is good?