Wayne O'Leary

Don't Look Now Abe

The carnival of excess that is the Republican search for a 2012 presidential nominee makes for good summertime entertainment, but it also raises troubling questions about the future viability of the American two-party system. A perusal of the declared and potential GOP candidates reveals one trait most share in common: outright craziness.

It may be natural, inbred craziness (Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum) or carefully calculated craziness (Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty), but whatever its origins, GOP aspirants as a group are so over the top in their stated beliefs and day-to-day commentary that in most of the world’s democracies, they would be relegated to permanent fringe status. If this were Western Europe, Obama’s challengers would be political curiosities belonging to the various neofascist, anti-immigrant parties of the far right, whereas in the US, they carry the banner of one of the two major parties.

I almost said the two mainstream parties, but Republicans have moved well out of the mainstream; they now reside in the philosophical eddies of the political current, inhabiting the murky, impenetrable waters along the distant shoreline, the haunt of bizarre bottom feeders and netherworld creatures that defy normal description. From the presidential campaign trail to the Congress and the embattled state capitals that changed hands last November, spokespersons for the GOP are acting out in a manner guaranteed to cause their iconic founding father, Abraham Lincoln, to spin in his grave.

Contrast their statements with Lincoln’s words before Congress in 1861 on the subject of workers’ rights: “Labor is prior to, and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

Can anyone imagine a Republican saying any such thing today? The modern GOP not only thinks capital is superior to labor, it believes labor, especially if that labor is in the public sector, deserves no consideration at all, let alone collective-bargaining guarantees or sanctity of negotiated contracts.

The GOP of today is, above all, a rights-loving party. The only problem is it views rights as selections on an a la carte menu from which it can pick and choose. Union rights, for example, can be severely circumscribed, while the rights of “living” corporations apparently know no bounds. Abortion rights should be restricted — to the point of existing only in theory. Gun rights, on the other hand, can’t be limited under any circumstances — on pain of “Second Amendment remedies.”

Even the basic rights associated with democratic government, such as registering to vote and freely electing one’s representatives, are subject to the whims of Republican statehouse Robespierres intent on suppressing the vote and imposing administrative dictatorship (“financial martial law”) at the local level. As for the right of privacy, that depends on who you are.

There is one right, sacred above all others, that contemporary Republicans, the certifiably crazy and those who merely feel the need to appear crazy for their base constituency (e.g. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman lauding the Medicare-killing Ryan budget), universally observe. It’s a right enunciated nowhere in our founding documents. No matter. From libertarian tea partiers to big-government conservatives, today’s Republicans agree that no one with accumulated resources should ever have to pay taxes — especially to the hated federal government, which they regard as the true source of evil in the world.

In symbolic terms, this means signing the “taxpayer protection pledge” of Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, thereby agreeing to oppose any and all federal tax increases on individuals or businesses. (A total of 237 GOP House members and 41 senators have taken this blood oath.) In practical terms, it means pulling the policy option of raising revenues to address the nation’s budgetary woes completely off the table.

Abe Lincoln would have something to say on this subject, too. The Great Emancipator freed the slaves, but he didn’t free his fellow Americans from their responsibility to fund the Government. In 1861-62, he introduced the first federal income and inheritance taxes to finance the Civil War — wars were paid for then — actions that today would be grounds for his dismissal from the Republican party.

In 2011, the GOP (aka the Irresponsibility party) will countenance no tax increases — not now, not ever. Since it also demands elimination of the national debt and deficit, the only recourse left is the virtual dismantling of the federal government and all its programs, an undertaking that remains the Holy Grail for this generation’s GOP partisans. Anti-tax crusader Norquist expresses it succinctly, if crudely; the Government, he says, should be shrunk until it’s “small enough to drown in the bathtub.” By signing his pledge en masse, Republicans have signalled their full agreement.

Lincoln would never have signed the pledge; neither would T.R. or Eisenhower, nor (in his lucid moments) would Reagan, despite his rhetoric. But, then, they weren’t insane. With the people who have succeeded them in the GOP, it’s really an open question. “We’re broke,” wails John Boehner, the tearful clown masquerading as House Speaker. Of course, we’re broke. Boehner and his colleagues, in the throes of a mass ideological seizure of epileptic proportions, have barricaded the bank and blocked all deposits.

A May survey by the Pew Research Center explains the group psychology at work here. Most Republicans, it appears, are ideologically rigid Fox News viewers who reject all compromise and intensely dislike Obama and the federal government he represents.

Combine this with the fact that 90% are extreme religionists, typically fundamentalists, who hold literal views not only of the Bible but of the Constitution, and you have a lethal brew: America’s first religious-based party, an amalgam of right-wing Christianity and right-wing politics.

Abraham Lincoln, a tolerant non-churchgoer who practiced reason in public affairs, would have been aghast at the latter-day derangement of his party.

Wayne O’Leary writes in Orono, Maine.

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2011


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