NOW THAT the Republican nominating process is basically over, bystander Americans can ask: What was that all about? Last week, President Obama characterized the budget positions of Republicans as social Darwinism - survival of the fittest, and to hell with the rest. In one sense, the reference to the father of evolutionary theory was exactly wrong: To my eyes, the positions of GOP presidential hopefuls on broadly human questions - “values’’ - look like a willful replay of monkey-trial cluelessness. Yet this very campaign speaks to how rapidly our society is evolving, and it isn’t only the Republicans who are grasping at how to respond.
In our democracy, politics is about much more than elections. Through public discussion of large questions, we can reckon with the deep uneasiness that comes with unprecedented change. Indeed, the Republican candidates have done the whole society a service by forcing a confrontation with just how profound the ongoing transformation of our culture is. Even as they make outlandish comments about everything from self-deporting immigrants to a return to the gold standard, the level of apprehension that they have brought to the surface belongs to everyone.