Friday, February 19, 2016

Seven Years Of Politics On The Brink

Our modern political insanity dates from Rush Limbaugh's speech seven years ago

We are approaching an ignominious, important, and yet forgotten anniversary in American political life, and one that explains the recent conservative response to the death of Antonin Scalia.  On February 28, 2009, after Republicans had taken a massive electoral beating after their severe mismanagement of the economy led to a fearsome crash, many important conservatives gathered at the CPAC conference.  On that day Rush Limbaugh, clad in an open-necked black suit with slicked down hair like a Bulgarian mafiosi, gave a fiery speech calling for massive resistance to the Obama administration.  The response was boisterous enthusiasm that helped propel the complete and total commitment to destroying the president at all costs.  Even if conservatives had already decided upon that course of action, Limbaugh's speech amounted to a public declaration of that intention by the conservative movement.

It's hard to remember now, but back at the time of Obama's inauguration, it looked as if conservatives were going to have to bend to a tidal wave of support for the new president.  Democrats had large majorities in both houses of Congress, and the massive crowds that showed up to cheer Obama's inauguration seemed to be harbingers of the end of the 30-year-long reign of political conservatism in DC.  After all, an opposition party compromising with a massively popular new president was nothing new.  Democrats controlled the House under Reagan, but still passed his massive tax and social spending cuts in the early 80s.  Perhaps some in the Republican establishment were ready to play (relatively) nice in 2009, but the conservative media wouldn't let it.

Well before Limbaugh's speech on the 28th, Fox News premiered the Glenn Beck Program on January 19th, the day before Obama's nomination.  Beck would soon fulminate against the president with a heaping dose of paranoia and conspiratorial thinking.  He would call progressives "fascists," much like Jonah Goldberg, whose book making the same ridiculous claim was just published in 2008. The conservative media had been paying attention during the election, and saw the response that Sarah Palin received by appealing to the worst instincts of their base.  She would be a prophet of the coming changes.

The conservative political leadership was confronted by its own failure in November of 2008.  It could very well have licked its wounds and stepped aside for a bit, taking some time to think about what to do next.  It didn't do that, of course.  After seeing the response that Limbaugh and Beck were getting from the rank and file by appealing more directly and crudely to it than even Palin did, it decided to treat Barack Obama as if he were an illegitimate president and an enemy of the country.  That has been the modus operandi of the Republican Party for seven long years now, with disastrous consequences for the country.  This is why Marco Rubio, a supposed "moderate" constantly claims that the president is intentionally trying to destroy the country.  This is why an obvious sociopath like Ted Cruz has rallied the Tea Party base despite alienating everyone who actually knows him. And this, ultimately, is why Donald Trump is the leading candidate for the Republican nomination.  The leadership has talked a big game for years, raising the expectations of their base beyond what's realistically possible.  Trump has managed to somehow convince a plurality of that base that he will actually make their wildest desires come true.  After years of lies, hatred, calumny, and disinformation being fed the conservative base by both its politicians and media, such an outcome is hardly surprising.

The conservative politicians know that they have struck a devil's bargain, but so far, it's worked for them.  They may have lost the presidency, but mobilizing their foot soldiers has helped them turn statehouses red in numerous blue states and to control both houses of Congress.  The obstructionist tactics have made it impossible for the president to properly govern the country, and the occasional debt ceiling hostage crisis forces him to give ground.  For that reason this nightmare won't end until the Republican party is kept out of holding the Senate, House, and White House for at least three election cycles.  Until the political strategy articulated by Limbaugh seven years ago starts to no longer pay off, it will be with us.

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