Wayne O'Leary

Primal Scream of the GOP

Webster’s Dictionary defines primal-scream therapy as “psychotherapy in which the patient recalls and reenacts a particularly disturbing past experience usually occurring early in life and expresses repressed anger or frustration especially through spontaneous and unrestrained screams, hysteria, or violence.” This sounds a lot like what’s been going on in the Republican Party since 2010 and continues to play out during this year’s presidential-primary season.

There’s little doubt that Mitt Romney, the scion of establishment Republicanism, will be the party’s nominee in the end; despite his malapropisms, he’s got the money, the corporate backing, and the organization. Still, the GOP rank and file are not happy. What Romney hasn’t got, from their perspective, is the requisite hate, nastiness, and in-your-face belligerence; he’s conservative all right, but not angry conservative. That’s what right-wingers mean by the pejorative “Massachusetts moderate” — moderate in language and bearing. Republicans want someone who’s immoderate, not just in ideology, but in attitude and style as well.

Enter Newt Gingrich, the Peck’s Bad Boy of American politics. Newt is the last mean-faced conservative in the race left standing. With the Newtster, of course, you never know how much is real and how much is an act. Gingrich has been around the block; he’s held so-called responsible positions in government; he’s dealt with the other side. At the moment, however, it’s in his interest to appear slightly crazy, because in a deranged political party, that’s the clearest route to nomination.

Remember what most of the successful Republican politicians of the Obama years — the newly elected radical governors and the congressional tea partiers – have in common: extreme views, extreme language, and extremely bad manners; the raised, inverted middle finger is their gesture of choice, literally or figuratively. No wonder Republicans loved the notion of New Jersey’s Chris Christie as President. Think of all those sneering, bullying insults to people they dislike: school teachers, public workers, welfare recipients, the press, academics, minorities, the unemployed, liberals.

But Christie is not running, so Gingrich will have to do, and he’s fully capable, as South Carolina showed. Ah, South Carolina! The Palmetto State may not be the most conservative in the country — Kansas, Oklahoma, Arizona and Texas can all give it a run for its money — but it’s certainly the most rabid in its conservatism.

This is not just the home of character-assassination politics and “you lie” rhetoric, it’s also the birthplace of armed rebellion against the Union and pro-slavery activism. Secession, current cause célèbre of the GOP’s wild Right — half of Texas Republicans and a third of Georgia Republicans claim to support the concept – began here under the father of nullification and states’ rights, John C. Calhoun. South Carolina conservatives don’t just hate Obama; they also hated Lincoln.

It was the perfect locale for Gingrich to spew his right-wing venom and revive his candidacy. South Carolina did not disappoint and, in the process, exposed the raw soul of modern-day Republicanism. Regardless of what transpires with Newt’s campaign — his personal instability makes him an unlikely eventual winner - - he’s already forced front-runner Romney to match him, loony comment for loony comment. It’s what the Republican psyche, tapped by Gingrich (and by Bachmann, Trump, Cain, and Perry before him), demands.

So, what’s happened to the Republican Party? To some extent, it’s become a cult; its members, oblivious to science, history, common sense, or facts of any kind, believe what they believe because they choose to believe it, substituting prejudices for evidentiary logic.

Examples abound: Obama is a foreign-born Muslim or a “European socialist,” who is at war with the Christian religion and the American way of life; the unemployed don’t want to work; people on welfare are lazy and irresponsible; immigrants are dangerous terrorists; the mainstream media lie and make things up; the federal government seeks to destroy individual liberty. Anything that tends to counter such bizarre beliefs is a product of conspiracy.

A number of factors play into this circus of paranoia. For starters, there is the racial component. Barack Obama makes conservative Republicans, especially in Southern and rural areas, positively irrational. They can’t get their heads around a black man in the White House; it’s not the world they have known, and something is obviously amiss. Minorities are supposed to stay in their places, and presidents should be a mirror reflection of the majority.

In addition, conservatives, who flatter themselves as realists, have a somewhat jaundiced view of human nature. People, they feel, are products of original sin and prone to do the wrong thing; they must be controlled and disciplined, lest they take undue advantage. This is especially true of the undeserving poor on whom precious tax dollars are wastefully spent.

Thus, the right-wing mania for deportation, drug-testing, vote suppression, welfare limitations, reduced unemployment benefits, and so forth. Naturally, these disciplinary actions are to be exclusively applied to “them” because “they” can’t be trusted. The individuals doing the disciplining are somehow exempt from judgment; they are morally superior and good with God.

This leads into the evangelical fanaticism associated with modern Republicanism, the source of feelings of superior virtue. If fundamentalist tenets were broadly imposed, religious conservatives believe, the world would be a purer, more perfect place. And so, their imposition must be God’s will. Whether it’s banning abortion and birth control, conferring personhood on fetuses, or installing prayer in public schools, the moral beliefs of the chosen select must be made the law of the land. America must be made “Christian,” even if it’s a narrow, restricted, and uncharitable form of Christianity.

The power brokers behind the scene in Republican politics, the Wall Streeters and the corporate establishment, know this is mostly nonsense. Their antipathies toward the federal government and the incumbent administration relate to economic policy, namely, Washington’s reluctance to eliminate regulations, taxation, labor unions, and other impediments to market supremacy. But they tolerate the crazies within their ranks, even egging them on, because of their usefulness in unwittingly serving the greater good of organized wealth.

Once Mitt Romney is safely in the White House, Republican establishmentarians know, theirs will be the issues addressed and advanced. For them, the primal scream of the GOP is the potential sound of money, and the screamers, full of sound and fury, merely pawns in the game.

Wayne O’Leary is a writer in Orono, Maine, specializing in political economy.

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2012


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