Wayne O’Leary

Party of No

You don’t have to be crazy or delusional to be a Republican these days, but it doesn’t hurt. A few months into the era of Obama, it’s become apparent the US no longer has a two-party system; it has a one-and-a-half-party system. The GOP, which reigned supreme not so long ago, is sinking like the proverbial stone.

The Republican party’s disintegration, its evolution into a political rump faction, has been on full display in recent weeks. GOP stalwarts are flailing about and grasping at straws in a forlorn attempt to slow the party’s descent into irrelevance; they sense the obvious reality that the real political debate in the country is now between segments of the Democratic party—centrists who want to move forward cautiously and progressives who want to move more aggressively—and not between the parties themselves.

Thus, we have the pathetic spectacle of the Party of No justifying its new moniker by reflexively opposing any administration measure that comes up to the Hill: the stimulus package, the president’s budget—You name it. Meanwhile, Barack Obama is pilloried for proposing universal health insurance, for introducing a financial-recovery plan, for meeting with erstwhile antagonists overseas, for just getting up in the morning. No doubt his daughters’ new canine, a Portuguese water dog, will shortly be found suspiciously un-American.

It all started shortly after the Inaugural, when the random pre-election charges of “socialist” aimed at Obama by Republicans began to be repeated regularly like a mantra. Calling the president a socialist and his party’s program socialism is a stock Republican tactic, something akin to the perennial accusations of “communist” thrown about by right wingers from the 1940s through the 1960s. Republicans don’t apparently know what socialism means—to them, it’s any form of government activism—but they’re acutely aware that the old godless-communism standby won’t wash anymore in the absence of the long-gone Soviet empire. They drag it out occasionally with reference to Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, but it gains little traction—except with the fanatical Cuban émigré population of south Florida, or the fringe nuts with their “Obamunism” bumper stickers.

Communism is manifestly no longer a threat. Socialism is a bit different. In the American perception, it has a vaguely foreign, leftish resonance, and it can be used as a convenient catchall pejorative for anything Republicans don’t like—from single-payer health insurance to public infrastructure spending to regulating the corporations to taxing the wealthy. It has an additional virtue for the GOP lexicon in that most places where it has genuinely been applied are in Europe (France!), and heartland America is generally suspicious of all things European. So, expect to hear a lot more about socialism from desperate Republican ranters in the coming months.

Expect to hear a lot about fascism as well. Part and parcel of the GOP craziness about Obama is that the president is not only a socialist, but at the same time its mirror opposite, a fascist on the order of Benito Mussolini. Fascism, Republicans might be interested to learn, is a form of right-wing authoritarian nationalism (conservative Republicanism gone wild), while pure socialism is a form of left-wing communitarianism, with the community at large, through its government, controlling the means of production, distribution, and exchange. Socialism can be very democratic, as in Sweden; fascism always takes a dictatorial form, as in Nazi Germany. Socialism usually restricts private enterprise; fascism coexists happily with it. Obama, sad to say, can’t simultaneously be both.

That’s all right with Republicans, who are just throwing epithets out there, hoping something, anything, will stick. So it is with the Fox-News-sponsored tea-party rebellion, which has given GOP regulars the excuse to wear funny hats again. Harking back to the patriots of yore, Republicans think they’re protesting taxation without representation, when what they’re really opposing is taxation with representation—and not much of that, it turns out. Obama and the Democrats are lowering taxes for most Americans, and few of the muddle-headed tea-baggers prancing about in protest are in the top income category actually slated to be taxed more. Their vehemence just reflects a party undergoing a psychological breakdown.

The same Republicans who think Obama is about to confiscate their hard-earned savings also believe he wants to take away their guns. Not only that, but he wants to abort their babies, subvert their Christian values, and surrender their national sovereignty. How he’ll find time to accomplish all this while at the same time implanting socialism and fascism remains a mystery, but the hysterical GOP rank and file are convinced it’s in the works.

The reason they’re so sure is that what passes for leadership in the current Republican party keeps telling them so. It’s a lineup for the ages. There’s Newt Gingrich, deranged conservatism’s mad philosopher king; Rush Limbaugh, the movement’s Falstaffian Goebbels; Sarah Palin, its dime-store “La Pasionaria”; Dick Cheney, its scowling Torquemada; Mitt Romney, its Scrooge in corporate drag; and, whistling “Dixie,” Rick Perry, its blow-dried Jefferson Davis.

There are some serious and thoughtful spokesmen for what remains of the Republican party—Florida Gov. Charlie Crist comes to mind—but by and large this is a political organization so marinated in ignorance and so steeped in hatred that it’s beyond rationality. Like the marginalized GOP of the 1930s, which reviled Roosevelt as a traitor to his class, today’s Republicans have demonized Obama as the fiendish agent of their impotence. During the long period of conservative dominance stretching from Reagan to Bush, they acquired a sense of governing entitlement, the self-satisfied notion that they had a right to rule. The recent election interrupted this serene reverie, and GOP loyalists can’t tolerate their reversal of fortune; they’re raging against what Dylan Thomas called “The dying of the light.”

At their core, modern Republicans are a breed whose cynical worldview demands enemies or hate objects—communists, liberals, terrorists, the Muslims, the French, the Venezuelans. The Party of No, which has articulated little positive that it’s for, requires a “them” to be against. It also needs scapegoats for its sudden fall from grace, so evil forces must be at work and un-American plotters afoot. This would be harmlessly amusing except that throughout our history the paranoid style exemplified by today’s Republicanism has too often spawned the bloody violence of the assassin.

Wayne O’Leary is a writer in Orono, Maine

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2009

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