On his evening-drive radio talk show, WTKK-FM’s Jay Severin recently advised his listeners on how to deal with a Barack Obama presidency, which he increasingly considers inevitable. Severin’s prescription: use any means available to hinder the administration’s ability to operate. Stay on the attack, with any and all complaints and accusations and protests, to gum up the works and prevent Obama and the Democratic-led Congress from accomplishing anything on their “radical,” “socialist” agenda.
“Our job is to undermine him in every possible legal way . . . undermine and destroy his political ability to govern or to have any hope of a successful administration,” Severin expounded on his blog, comparing the task to Colonial minutemen resisting King George. “Start destroying Barack Obama['s] political credibility . . . until he gets elected on November 4th, and, even harder, every day, every minute, and every second after.”
The Republican Party appears headed to a second straight national pummeling, which will leave it marginalized in the federal government and an increasing number of state houses, as well as out of the Oval Office. Many party faithful are already noting the need for the GOP to move back toward the moderate center to survive; to refocus on a reasonable policy agenda, rather than a series of absolutist beliefs and paranoid accusations.
As Severin’s comments indicate, the conservatives with microphones are heading down a very different path — and their followers, who now dominate the Republican Party, are going right with them.
Rush Limbaugh has proclaimed that a John McCain loss will prove the failure of “big-tent” conservativism, and demonstrate the need for greater ideological rigor. Sean Hannity has essentially proclaimed the upcoming election an ACORN-rigged illegitimacy. The most popular conservative Web sites, publications, and voices — National Review Online, Free Republic, Michelle Malkin — obsessively traffic in the most slanderous and crackpot Obama theories, from his supposed lack of US citizenship to William Ayers’s alleged ghost-authorship of Obama’s books.
None of this is new to Republican politics. Indeed, the Republican Party seems stuck in the 1970s, rallying the “silent majority,” as Richard Nixon called his voters in 1969, against the counterculture: radical Vietnam protesters (Ayers), subversive socialists (“spreading the wealth”), Black Power movements (Reverend Jeremiah Wright), permissive free-love advocates (“teaching sex to kindergarteners”), and abortionists (“partial-birth” procedure).
Fortunately, these tropes seem no longer to sway American voters. Perhaps that represents a major change in the electorate, or maybe people realize that such serious times require something more than inane rhetoric. Either way, the populace appears poised to elect Obama by a wide margin next week, and to further stack both chambers of the US Congress with Democrats.
But, as moderate Republicans flee the GOP Village of the Damned, they are leaving the zombies in ever-greater control of the party — and freer than ever to practice their scariest bogeyman tactics.
These radical right-wing creatures now dominate the party’s nominating process, committees, elected officials, organizers, and funders, at the national, state, and local levels, throughout the country.
They are not thoughtful people interested in influencing policy debates; these terrifyingly ignorant hard-liners hold a know-nothing set of rigid beliefs about capitalism, foreign policy, “social values,” criminal justice, immigration, and pretty much anything else that arises. The ideology pumped into their brains is as wrong-headed as the Red Scare promoted by Joe McCarthy, or the racism behind Nixon’s Southern Strategy.
The Limbaugh “dittoheads” have stormed GOP headquarters and devoured dissenters. As political columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote this past week in the Washington Post, “the cause of Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Robert Nisbet, and William F. Buckley Jr. is now in the hands of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity — and Sarah Palin. Reason has been overwhelmed by propaganda, ideas by slogans, learned manifestoes by direct-mail hit pieces.” And let’s not forget robocalls.
Buckley, who died earlier this year, once said that he had spent his life “separating the right from the kooks.” He failed — the kooks now run the right.
They’ve overwhelmed Republican politics everywhere, from New Hampshire, where a conservative talk-show host won the congressional primary, to Nevada, where the GOP’s control of the State Senate depends upon the re-election of two freshmen who voted in favor of the death penalty for minors and for arming schoolteachers.
“What used to be the Southern Republican agenda is now the national Republican agenda,” says Lincoln Chafee, former Republican senator from Rhode Island — who became an independent after losing his bid for re-election in 2006, in large part due to a primary challenge from a hard-right conservative.
Thus, the hand-wringing and debate over the future of the GOP is likely moot. The direction of the party is no longer controllable, but is firmly in the hands of rabid ideologues, dead-certain that those who disagree with them are sure to destroy the American way of life. With stakes that high, and enemies so vile, they will bellow louder and louder — even as their numbers continue to shrink, which of course makes them more dangerous.