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Posted: May 3, 2009 12:01 a.m.

What's an elephant do?

You have to hand it to those folks in Austin, Texas. They know a good campaign issue when they see one. Just the other day, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas mentioned "secession" — resigning from the United States — as a way to escape the odious government in Washington.

A few days later, Gov. Perry’s lawyers were in the U.S. Supreme Court begging for relief from the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Gov. Sonny Perdue’s mouthpieces were trying to help the Texans. They, too, were in Washington, arguing that the Peach State didn’t need any federal badges to police our elections.

The lawyers admitted that Georgia once deprived African-Americans of their liberties right and left, but that occurred in the bad old days. Georgia stopped violating black folks’ legal rights a long time ago. We don’t need the feds looking over our shoulder now … or so the legal arguments of Georgia and Texas and Mississippi go.

About the same time, a pandemic of swine flu threatened to sweep the globe. Only the United States had the wherewithal to fight off the bug. Gov. Perry, Gov. Perdue and other Confederate re-enactors yelled for help.

Then there were the floods and terrible storms. Who do you call for rescue and cleanup help? Uncle Sam, of course.

What in the world is going on here? One moment Southern Republicans are talking up secession, and in the next instant, they are begging the feds for help.

What you’re seeing here is the Republican Party and its Dixie headquarters searching for a makeover and a new beginning for itself. It wants to find a sweet spot that voters will adore. So far, the GOP has had no luck.

First, the elephants mounted a full-court-press attack on the Democrats and President Barack Obama for their tax-and-spend stimulus to recharge the economy. The GOP leadership figured independent voters would balk at throwing around such money. Didn’t happen. At least not yet. Obama’s popularity didn’t suffer in the slightest.

Second, some Republicans decided firing up the old racial furnace might work. Gov. Perry is fighting for his political life in Texas, so he has decided to run as far to the right as possible.

What could be more conservative than advocating secession?

Advocating secession may also amount to treason, but that’s another story.

The Texans, along with other Southerners, then decided to hearken back to the bleak days of the 1960s and remind us that outside agitators were neither needed nor wanted to instruct us on how to run legal colorblind elections.

If Republicans can rally conservatives around the states’ rights flag, the GOP might spring back to life — though arguing over a 1965 civil rights law in the crisis-ridden 21st century seems a bit silly.

In fact, ridding itself of silliness may be the GOP’s biggest problem. Just look at some of the candidates for president and vice president whom the Republicans offered for election last year.

Don’t get me wrong. We need a conservative Republican Party to moderate the liberal Democrats. We don’t need a Republican Party built on states’ rights and new threats of divorcing Uncle Sam. Such a platform simply underscores the GOP’s predicament of keeping its elephant from turning into a dinosaur.

President Obama’s popularity may not last forever. The Democratic tide will eventually ebb. The nation needs a political alternative besides left and center left. But we don’t need another major party built on the ashes of the old South.

Unless the direction of the Republican Party changes, we will see the party become smaller and smaller and more dedicated to espousing the hard-right position on a number of causes.

Of course, failure by the current administration to deal with the economy and another couple of big problems could shift the tide of politics once again.

Remember a few years back when Zell Miller wrote a book titled "A National Party No More." He was talking about the party of his fellow Democrats, not long after George W. Bush took office. During those days the Democratic Party was the one that seemed doomed.

 You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail: shipp1@bellsouth.net, or Web address: billshipponline.com.

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