“Palling Around” with Reactionaries, Republicans Embrace the Fringe

by Robert S. Becker, Ph.D. on April 21, 2009

The big surprises from the post-inauguration rightwing blitz are the vehemence of the name-calling and, trusting polls, apparent futility, even boomerang effect. Indefensible labeling of the President (as socialist, fascist, or foreign-born Muslim) have misfired, elevating Obama as more trustworthy, more mainstream. And the beat goes on, from mind-numbing Rush Limbaugh tirades to comic fabrications by Rep. Michelle Bachmann to desperate Republicans cozying up to rightwing bigotry and paranoia.

Dying for the spotlight, tone-deaf Newt Gringrich went out of his way to smear a beloved, 84 year old ex-President, Jimmy Carter, for only winning the Nobel Peace Prize by being “un-American.” Bring it on?

Yet nothing matches last week’s lunatic fringe Tea-bagging: shout-outs by an elected governor about secession, racist slurs against a popular president, and delusional militants decrying taxation, federalism, evolution, global warming, and civilization since 1900. One moral giant bemoaned 9/11 terrorists missed the Capitol building, thus not annihilating Congress. For the first time in memory, a blinded party, only months from running the White House, is consciously, explicitly embracing ultra-extremists.

Picking bottoms is impossible, whether in stocks or politics, but promoting bewildered, at times anti-American Tea-baggers feels like a threshold. Either Republican leaders wake up by summer, or we have confirmation of long-term exile. Rudderless, leaderless, and solution-less, a strident GOP disdainful of minorities won’t win moderates by aligning with any fringe, let alone wannabe terrorists. The insular Laura Ingraham of FOX TV voiced this bizarre, new Republican brew: “we are all rightwing extremists.”

The New Base: “Rightwing Extremists”

Really? Exactly how many “rightwing extremists” poison a political party? This reach goes beyond the target audience imagined for John McCain’s most notorious, futile set of lies, voiced by Sarah Palin: Obama “palled around with terrorists.” Today’s GOP is not just palling around but jumping into bed with reactionaries and misfits, the scary elements that helped Obama win unlikely border states.

Only a few Republican insiders apparently realize pandering to fundamentalists (on taxes or religion) is a dead end. McCain’s head campaign strategist, veteran Steve Schmidt, is aghast, warning about devolving into a “sectarian,” religious party with hardcore litmus tests (contempt for same-sex marriage). “Our coalition is shrinking,” he said, losing ground to growing populations: “suburban voters, working class, college educated voters, Hispanics, or left-handed, Albanian psychics; the percentage voting republican has declined precipitously.”

Left-handed, Albanian psychics? Is that the GOP idea of diversity? This is a top operative, only last summer shoving Palin on a reluctant McCain, now defending same-sex unions, convinced religion-mandated parties exclude those “who would otherwise be members.” Losing Hispanic voters alone could “cost the Republicans the entire southwest,” jeopardizing winning 270 electoral votes.

Gore Vidal Echoes McCain’s Man

From the left the same melody: the prescient genius, Gore Vidal, recently quipped Republicanism is no longer a political party but a “mindset” unified by “categories they dislike.” Vidal explained the GOP has for 60 years resolved its “minority” problem usually one way – tapping established celebrities (say, Eisenhower and Reagan) for big elections. Likewise, George Bush was cherrypicked by party power brokers so desperate they let family pedigree trump a void of competence. If W.’s last name had been, say, Decider, not Bush, does he run for president, win twice, and conduct a train wreck?

By marrying the party to Rush’s Dittoheads and disaffected, undisciplined Tea-baggers, Republicans are doubling down their current high risk bets. To avoid virtual extinction, shouldn’t a viable party work to promote some notion of governance, themes or pet projects that address problems, say, the economy? Is this strategy or suicide?

So far, knee-jerk, anti-Obama attacks (and against a tax reducer!) plus internecine wars help Democrats. Yet liberal columnist Gene Robinson frets these “made for television” protests may inspire a leader “clever enough” to “fashion a sophisticated populist” revolt, exploiting a “growing sense of us vs. them, of the little guy vs. the big guy.” Yet name one Republican whose range or intelligence can heal badly split constituencies (evangelicals vs. Wall Street reactionaries vs. jingoistic neo-cons), let alone challenge the most gifted politician in a generation, our president?

Even God Can’t Make a GOP

Yes, W. unified the right, but thanks to a perfect storm: the Clinton impeachment, weak Gore campaign, many GOP governors and state houses, Congressional command, and Karl Rove’s one-time brilliance – plus a compliant Supreme Court. Even were Republicans more unified, what leader corrals today’s partisan cats throwing teabags against authority, government, and taxes – and a president they can’t stand? After devastating Bush failures, an incompetent McCain run and now pandering to the fringe, not even divine intervention pulls this divided elephant out of a hat.

And beyond current party rigidity, venom, and gall, what happens to Republicans in swing states when incendiary issues like gay marriage and abortion lose their steam, predictable by 2012? One either finds it unsettling (if you believe some opposition is good) or downright gleeful to imagine the “party of Jesus” untethered, without Rove’s nasty wedge issues to band-aid all schisms. I suspect, as with the economy, the news and demographics will get worse for Republicans before they get better. In the meantime, let’s recognize an historic event occurring with about the frequency of a major volcanic explosion: the unimpeded, self-generated dissolution of yesterday’s dominant political party.

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