There’s a political tragedy unfolding in America, and I suspect it’s going to get a lot worse. If we’re lucky, our national troubles are the birth pangs of something much better, but such a notion is more likely a chimera; indeed, if human history is any indication, America’s political structure is in decline and will never, ever, recover from its current downward spiral.
It’s not just the War on Women such as the outrageous instances of women who miscarry pregnancies being charged with murder. Nor is it the oh so patriotic “War on [nonexistent] Voter Fraud”. It’s not even the passage of “Papers, please” laws in Arizona and Alabama or the proclamation by the most influential conservative in America, Rush Limbaugh, that teachers are parasites on society or the push to repeal the 14th Amendment which, among other things, negated the infamous Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court.
No, these are not the real tragedy; they’re just the symptoms, as were Iran-Contra, the invasion of Iraq, and the use of torture against prisoners of war. The real tragedy, the sickness that has infected America’s political right wing, is that none, not even their own leading lights, can gainsay them. No matter how ludicrous, no matter how downright silly are the notions of the right-wing extremists who now form the base of the Republican party, a Republican politician disagrees with dogma at his peril, as GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman found out when he had the bad manners to publicly choose science over creationism and anthropogenic global-warming denial.
Did the Republican Party listen to Jon Huntsman? No. Did the Republican party listen to George W. Bush’s speechwriter David Frum? No. Did they listen to John McCain about the evils and ineffectiveness of torture? No, they held their collective noses (as they will this year for Romney) and voted for him in 2008, but he changed very few Republican minds when it came to torture. Did they even listen to Mr. Conservative, Barry Goldwater? No. In fact, in 1996 he sadly noted to Bob Dole, “We’re the new liberals of the Republican party. Can you imagine that?”
Where did this political poison, this party-wide sociopathy come from? It comes from the man whom the Republican Party looks upon with deep, unquenchable pride: Ronald Reagan. He did it by popularizing the nine words that comprise The Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican. How else could Republicans even consider looney tunes politicians like Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich? What else can explain the tectonic shift away from accepting (as they once did) the realities of evolution and anthropogenic global warming? Here’s a good article describing four things Republicans used to believe before the party left the mainstream of the American people, but no longer.
Now of course Reagan, who raised taxes repeatedly, instituted amnesty for illegal aliens, openly decried the income gap between CEOs and workers, bailed out Chrysler, and enthusiastically worked hand-in-hand for the good of the nation with the Democratic Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, would never have intended for the Republican Party to go where it is now. But then, he could not have foreseen that the aforementioned “Eleventh Commandment” would combine with the rise of the religious right, Rush Limbaugh and conservative talk radio, and the “I’m more conservative than you” game that has been played since the early 1990′s, all to equal the current insane asylum that we see passing bills like those in the first paragraph of this article, bills that I cannot believe Ronald Reagan would ever have willingly signed into law. In fact, one could with surprising ease make the case that Barack Obama’s administration has been significantly more conservative than Reagan’s!
Be that as it may, it was still Ronald Reagan who enabled the devolution of the Grand Old Party into what we see today. He did it with that nine word Eleventh Commandment that prohibited Republicans from criticizing, rebuking, or correcting each other, and by doing so took away their single best tool to keep themselves from going down the path of extremism. To be sure, in the Republican primaries we saw the candidates take pot shots at each other, but each of the candidates was forced by circumstance to pander to the Tea Party crowd and the ever farther to the right Republican base. None of the candidates could talk common sense to the Republican base and hope to advance in the primaries, as Jon Huntsman found out. Can anyone here envision the Republicans electing a candidate (not counting Ron Paul) who would openly support a position that is inimical to the Republican base, as candidate Obama did with nuclear power despite the reaction of the Democratic base? No, I don’t think so!
What’s the solution? I really don’t know. All I can see are possibilities and probabilities, none of which are palatable. Assuming President Obama wins reelection, I do not foresee the Republicans changing one whit. I think it’s safe to say the Republican congressional leadership (with an almost-explicit “do it or else” from Rush Limbaugh and company) will continue its policy of obstruction at every turn no matter how routine and necessary the legislation was before January 20th, 2009. They will have no choice, for to do otherwise would risk vilification by conservative talk radio and certain defeat in the next Republican primary. They will soften their positions on gay rights, but that’s about it. They will continue their war on women, on immigrants, and on voting rights. And they will do so in blissful ignorance of the changing demographic of the American electorate.
It is as Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein noted in The Washington Post: “The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.” The link they included is to an article concerning the growing body of scientific evidence that yes, there is an identifiable psychological difference between conservatives and liberals.
A time of transition is coming. America will either come to its senses and return to the liberal path we began to tread with the Civil Rights movement, or America will devolve further down the road to the status that, without exception, describes every strongly conservative nation on the planet: that of a third-world nation.