Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Scorched Earth Party?

That would be the U.S. Republican Party, according to two articles I recently read. Paul Krugman, from whom I stole the title of this post, writes about the transmogrified Republican Party in his recent column:

How did one of our great political parties become so ruthless, so willing to embrace scorched-earth tactics even if so doing undermines the ability of any future administration to govern?

The key point is that ever since the Reagan years, the Republican Party has been dominated by radicals — ideologues and/or apparatchiks who, at a fundamental level, do not accept anyone else's right to govern.

Anyone surprised by the venomous, over-the-top opposition to Mr. Obama must have forgotten the Clinton years. Remember when Rush Limbaugh suggested that Hillary Clinton was a party to murder? When Newt Gingrich shut down the federal government in an attempt to bully Bill Clinton into accepting those Medicare cuts? And let's not even talk about the impeachment saga.

The only difference now is that the G.O.P. is in a weaker position, having lost control not just of Congress but, to a large extent, of the terms of debate. The public no longer buys conservative ideology the way it used to; the old attacks on Big Government and paeans to the magic of the marketplace have lost their resonance. Yet conservatives retain their belief that they, and only they, should govern.

Earlier, Neal Gabler wrote something similar when discussing right-wing political beliefs as a religion:

The tea-baggers who hate President Obama with a fervor that is beyond politics; the fear-mongers who warn that Obama is another Hitler or Stalin; the wannabe storm troopers who brandish their guns and warn darkly of the president's demise; the cable and talk-radio blowhards who make a living out of demonizing Obama and tarring liberals as America-haters -- these people are not just exercising their rights within the political system. They honestly believe that the political system -- a system that elected Obama -- is broken and only can be fixed by substituting their certainty for the uncertainties of American politics.

As we are sadly discovering, this minority cannot be headed off, which is most likely why conservatism transmogrified from politics to a religion in the first place. Conservatives who sincerely believed that theirs is the only true and right path have come to realize that political tolerance is no match for religious vehemence.

My mind linked the two theses together, to come up with this:

The Republican base prefers their own rule to a destroyed country which they in turn prefer to the rule of the Democrats.

There are certainly Democrats who have corresponding (reverse) preferences, but those are never the Democrats in power. That group is sorta jello-like and wobbly, so as not to come across as bipartisan. (Imagine a fight of sharks against blobs of jello...)

This may not make much sense, but I'm trying to see how Krugman's and Gabler's arguments go with the oft-heard argument that "the left" should not start behaving like the right, should not become intolerant just to fight back. But what IS the tolerance of intolerance? Karl Popper, to the pink courtesy phone, please.

I do believe that the articles I have quoted above are right when they state that the Republican Party has not just drifted to the right but leapt there with all their might (while throwing the money bags over, first, of course). That's the way they stopped being a permanent minority: By enlisting populist policies of the lowest common denomination (fear and hate the Others!) and by energizing the fundamentalists. Those are the tigers they now ride. Seems like they are stuck up there, for the time being, because the tigers are hung-g-ry.

These developments are not completely inexplicable. Neither is the Democratic Party free of blame in all this. But I still think that the muddy middle is not large enough, interested enough or informed enough to make a real difference in these politics of division.