Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Republican Party Just Gets Scarier

Time to dive back into American electoral politics, not least because we are currently witnessing a first in American history: one of the major political parties has completely devolved into an ideologically-focused extremist political movement. By movement I mean something very different than party, although many other nations have parties like this on their fringes (like the BNP, for instance.) Traditionally the two major parties (whether they be Republicans, Democrats, Whigs, or Federalists) had a broad appeal and were essentially coalitions of different groups, geographic origins, and agendas. They also had a fundamental respect for their opposition's right to exist.

No longer.

The continuous circus sideshow otherwise known as the Republican presidential debates has exposed the GOP's scary twin obsessions with ideological purity and demonizing their opponents. Case in point: Newt Gingrich, who is arguably the godfather of our current adversarial mode of Washington politics, called for Barney Frank and Chris Dodd to be jailed. I don't know about you, but when I hear someone calling for their political rivals to be thrown in prison, my blood runs cold. But it doesn't stop there. Just today Rick Perry claimed he would purge the government of civil servants who did not agree with his philosophy. Back in 2008 Michele Bachmann proposed a committee to root out "anti-American" members of Congress. This language does not sound like the discourse of a democracy, it sounds like plain old-fashioned authoritarian extremism.

This type of rhetoric, which amounts to "if you can't beat 'em, throw 'em in prison," is a reflection of the even bloodier words that circulate on talk radio and the conservative blogosphere. Ann Coulter, that perennial hate-filled banshee who inexplicably continues to get interviews on mainstream television, implicitly called for Occupy protesters to be shot this week. Glenn Beck has repeatedly referred to progressives as a "cancer" in need of being cut out. In any healthy democracy, these voices would be completely sidelined, free to scream their hatred from the safety of a street corner rather than with a giant media megaphone at their command. Down in the muck of talk radio there's plenty of racist resentment of the president being stirred up. Just witness Rush Limbaugh's defense of the NASCAR fans who booed Michelle Obama, whom he had the unmitigated gall to label "uppity." To my knowledge there's never been a First Lady treated like this, and if you think that Mrs. Obama's race doesn't enter into it I've got a bridge to sell you. Instead of running away from the right wing media and its violent words, Republicans have tended to embrace it.

What we have here is not a political party in a traditional sense, but a vehicle for an extremist ideology whose fanatical adherents are more than willing to tolerate violent rhetoric and disqualify anyone to the left of Francisco Franco for their party's nomination. While this state of affairs is disturbing, it looks like these brigands' extremism is making them increasingly unpalatable to those who are not true believers in their creed.

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