Saturday, February 28, 2009

CPAC & The "Country First" Fallacy

"The enemy is the left."

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, CPAC, 2/27/09


We seem to have passed a point in the political discourse, or at least the Republicans have.

A Democrat may think the Republicans are stupefyingly, calamitously, tragically wrong and devote every ounce of his being to ensuring the defeat of their agenda. A Republican may think the Democratic agenda is irresponsible and generally catastrophic, and devote his life to stopping it. But neither side questioned whether the other side’s main agenda was making America better.

This is new territory.

DeLay has taken the handoff from Rush Limbaugh, who espoused a sentiment – treasonous in intent if not by law – that he hopes President Obama fails. DeLay, when asked if he agrees with that sentiment, replied, “Exactly right. I don’t want this for our nation.”

Nor does Sean Hannity, who briefly had a poll on his website asking which kind of revolution his followers prefer, and the choices included “violent overthrow” and “military coup”. Of course, publicly advocating the violent overthrow of the government is treasonous in both spirit and manifestation.

The Republicans have now officially stopped fighting for their country. They have no longer left this up to our interpretation. They have just come out and said it.

The GOP has, in recent years, fought for their ideology, and we always assumed that they believed that the prosperity of America would be the natural result of the application of that ideology. “Republican values, conservative values, are right for America,” said new RNC chair Michael Steele.

While it was clear that too few of them have understood the limits of ideology, you still couldn’t bring yourself to question whether they were at least trying to get to the same place as everyone else, even if their adherence to an orthodox practicing of their one true way was a tiny bit scary.

But with Republicans once again renewing their attacks on President Obama – or basically anyone to the left of Arlen Specter – as a “socialist”, we’re seeing a new level of intolerance from a party with a culture that former Nixon aide John Dean termed “authoritarian”. 

Tucker Carlson, a "small-c" conservative thought leader and self-identified Libertarian, was booed off the stage at CPAC for having the temerity to actually suggest that the Republican Party get back to concerning itself with (gasp) facts when they make their case.

This has become only about gaining power, not about the country. John McCain’s “Country First” slogan turned out to be less jingoism than it was outright misdirection. Carlson's plea for actual integrity was shouted down because conservatives from Bill O’Reilly to Dick Cheney have repeatedly shown the willingness to outright lie to grab that power. They’re not even trying to hide it, and there is no room at CPAC for someone like Carlson who is interested in making an intellectually honest argument for his beliefs. If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’, the old sports adage goes.

And CPAC can no longer be written off as the lunatic, extremist fringe of the GOP. Michael Steele and Tim Pawlenty have never been known as ideologues, yet they have toed the line and stood at attention at this conference. As we saw in their unanimous House rejection of the recovery package, the Republicans are responding to their resounding electoral defeat by, as one pundit put it, “re-trenching”: recommitting, in pure, orthodox form, to their ideology.

In the context of the authoritarianism described by Dean in “Conservatives Without Conscience”, it should not be surprising that Sentors Specter, Snowe and Collins were the only Congressional Republicans to cross the aisle on the recovery package. They are perhaps the only Republicans in either house who are either immune from right-wing group-think (or outright coercion) or at least as subject in their home states to the forces of moderation.

But the state of things is clear: the orthodox conservatism expressed with such furor at CPAC now represents the mainstream of Republican thought. Limbaugh, scheduled to speak at CPAC, has firmly established himself as the preeminent opinion-maker in the Republican Party. 

Consider what happened to Congressman Phil Gingrey (R- Georgia), who said, “It’s easy if you’re Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes Newt Gingrich to stand back and throw bricks.”

Gingrey the very next day found himself on Limbaugh’s show, begging for forgiveness, and issued the following statement:

Because of the high volume of phone calls and correspondence received by my office since the Politico article ran, I wanted to take a moment to speak directly to grassroots conservatives. Let me assure you, I am one of you.

I never told Rush to back off. I regret and apologize for the fact that my comments have offended and upset my fellow conservatives—that was not my intent. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, and other conservative giants are the voices of the conservative movement’s conscience.

Rush Limbaugh, who flunked out of college, was kicked off of Monday Night Football for racist comments, and said he hopes that the President of the United States fails in fixing our economy, charts the path of the Republican Party.


What makes this so frightening is that it shows us that Republicans, if they had to choose between living in a decaying America run by Republicans or in a Pax Americana brought about by Democrats, would actually choose the former.

Now, I know conservatives, good people of conscience, who did not vote for Barack Obama, but would gladly never see another Republican President if Obama could leave office after 8 years having stabilized the economy, set us on a path towards energy independence, got a grip on health care, and extricated us from the Middle East quagmire.

But those same people need to ask themselves why they continue to vote for people do not feel as they do on that count. Because the preponderance of Republicans involved in politics would prefer we remain in crisis if it speeds up the return of the GOP to power.  Anyone who supports this approach with their votes or their money needs to reintroduce their own consciences into their internal discourse.

Here is the real chilling question:

Where in the world do we find examples of people who seek and exercise power through a strict, orthodox adherence to an ideology, believe there is only one true way, are intolerant of any other ideas, and are willing to take that power by force (as Hannity’s website suggested) - even to the detriment of their country?

Is it not the Taliban and Saudi Arabia – those who attacked us on 9/11?

And make no mistake, this is exactly that kind of extremism.  While Muslim extremists pick and choose what they want to take from Mohammed to feed their anger or their short-term aims, Conservative extremists here cherry pick from Ronald Reagan without regard for the fact that this is not 1980 anymore.

When we consider who it was that claimed to be bringing “freedom” to Iraq even while they were curbing it here in the form of the Patriot Act… is it not fair to ask if the terrorists have, indeed, won when it comes to the right in this country? Republican Senator Jeff Sessions even went so far as call on Republicans to mount an "insurgency" in the model of the Taliban in order fight the Democrats.

The Republicans have registered their flight plan, and they are en route to a place where they will, like the abused child that grows up to become an abuser himself, have become that which they hate, having mortgaged all other ethics to buy into the one ethic that still matters: the acquisition of power.

This has now gone way past the liberal and conservative tug of war. It’s no longer about which side is better able to make the state of our union stronger. The GOP has taken us to a point where we now have to acknowledge that majority of the minority, as it were - the “party of no” that all but unanimously opposed all attempts to rescue the economy - may not even be interested in the health of the nation if that health is not what will allow them to rule.

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