Requiem for the GOP

Steve Jobs famously said about Microsoft that

“The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste. They have absolutely no taste. And I don’t mean that in a small way, I mean that in a big way, in the sense that they don’t think of original ideas, and they don’t bring much culture into their products.”

What we’ve just seen in the 2012 campaign, the elections and the GOP reactions to their loss tells me that if you replace “taste” with “clue”, the statement applies to today’s Republican Party.

Since before the election, World+Dog have been writing about how the demographics of the country are trending against the GOP, that the party’s core support group is dwindling. That’s a problem for the GOP, but it’s not the big problem. The big problem is, the GOP leadership has no idea what to do about it.

There’s this thing called the expertise trap, where you try to apply techniques that worked in one situation to a wholly different one. You go with what you’re good at, because going with anything else means doing something you’re bad at. Think of computer printers. Back in the day, we had dot-matrix impact printers and inkjet printers. Then laser printers (or their functional equivalents, like LED printers) came along, built by non-printer companies. For the most part, the dot matrix companies responded by inventing even better — dot matrix — printers. Ultimately, they failed to compete with the laser companies. Meanwhile, ink-jet technology slid sideways into other areas, or held onto niches like cheap color printing.

Leaping out of your area of expertise and striking off in a new direction is often called reinventing. Apple reinvented itself as a consumer electronics firm, IBM reinvented itself as a consulting organization. Reinventing takes leadership with both vision and power. Vision, to see the new direction, and power, to force the company to move in that way. The GOP needs to reinvent iteself, but there’s very few GOP’ers with the vision to point the way, and none of them has, or is likely to get, the power to do so. If you look at the Republican discussions on how to appeal to the new demographics, you find they are tin-eared, clueless.

One example of this cluelessness is the kerfluffle over how the Republican leadership in Congress handed out committee chairmanships. Yes, it’s usually done on a seniority basis, and no, that didn’t include any women. It was only after the hue and cry from the media that they finally, as Maddow said, searched through their binders full of women, and found one to appoint to head the House Administration Committee — the Congressional equivalent of Home Ec. The other possibility was the Ethics Committee, and they probably didn’t want a woman having anything to do with overseeing their ethics.

Another example is how they handled information technology during the election. The GOP Project Orca* failure is widely believed to have contributed to their poor electoral performance, while the Obama Machine just rolled over them. Now, part of this might be that people who understand technology tend to vote and donate Democratic — over 80% of tech company donations went to Democratic causes, and I’d guess that the other 20% was high level executives hedging their bets. But I’d bet that another reason for the failure of their electoral IT was the Republican apparatchiks hiring companies based on their party loyalty, the way they did in Iraq, rather than because of their expertise. These are the same people who brought you easily-hackable electronic voting machines.

My final example is the recent GOP National Committee Republican Study Committee (a House Republican group) actions on copyright reform. They originally posted a report that was hailed by the tech community as the first sane discussion on the topic this century. Within 24hrs, it had been taken down, because the so-called content creators got on the phones and made it so. This was one of the issues that might have increased their appeal to the youth and technology voters. What their actions did was cement in everyone’s minds that the GOP is the political arm of the 1%. UPDATE: Within a month, the RSC staffer who wrote the paper was fired.

So, there we are. The wind and tide are against them, and they are sawing off the smokestack to make more room for sails. To wax Biblical on the GOP, they see as with a glass eye, darkly.

*As an aside, of course Orca is meant to refer to the mean and lean…well chubby and mean…killer whale. But it also has other associations. In astrophysics, as I recall from my youth, the orca process described how neutrinos carried away the core energy of a star, causing it to collapse into a supernova. And that effect is named, I understand, after the Orca Casino in Brazil, where your money evaporates from your pockets as you walk through it. Although all of this is pre-Internet lore, it might be a more appropriate basis for the name of the GOP system.


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