The GOP Has Become a Party of Nihilists
By Joe Klein
Given the heinous dust that’s been raised, it seems likely that end-of-life counseling will be dropped from the health-reform legislation. But that’s a small point, compared with the larger issue that has clouded this summer: How can you sustain a democracy if one of the two major political parties has been overrun by nihilists? And another question: How can you maintain the illusion of journalistic impartiality when one of the political parties has jumped the shark?
The most liberal members of the Democratic caucus Senator Russ Feingold in the Senate, Representative Dennis Kucinich in the House, to name two are honorable public servants who make their arguments based on facts. They don’t retail outright lies. Hyperbole and distortion certainly exist on the left, but they are a minor chord in the Democratic Party.
It is a very different story among Republicans. To be sure, there are honorable conservatives, trying to do the right thing. There is a legitimate, if wildly improbable, fear that Obama’s plan will start a process that will end with a health-care system entirely controlled by the government. There are conservatives Senator Lamar Alexander, Representative Mike Pence, among many others who make their arguments based on facts. But they have been overwhelmed by nihilists and hypocrites more interested in destroying the opposition and gaining power than in the public weal. The philosophically supple party that existed as recently as George H.W. Bush’s presidency has been obliterated.
There is no Republican health-care alternative in 2009. The same people who rail against a government takeover of health care tried to enforce a government takeover of Terri Schiavo’s end-of-life decisions. And when Palin floated the “death panel” canard, the number of prominent Republicans who rose up to call her out could be counted on one hand.
Why are these men so reluctant to be rational in public?
There was McCarthyism in the 1950s, the John Birch Society in the 1960s. But there was a difference in those times: the crazies were a faction often a powerful faction of the Republican Party, but they didn’t run it. The neofascist Father Coughlin had a huge radio audience in the 1930s, but he didn’t have the power to control and silence the elected leaders of the party that Limbaugh who, if not the party’s leader, is certainly the most powerful Republican extant does now. Until recently, the Republican Party contained a strong moderate wing. It was a Republican, the lawyer Joseph Welch, who delivered the coup de grce to Senator McCarthy when he said, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” Where is the Republican who would dare say that to Rush Limbaugh, who has compared the President of the United States to Adolf Hitler?
The nutters are a tiny minority. The Republicans are curling themselves into a tight, white, extremist bubble. But there may be enough of them raising dust to render creative public policy impossible. Some righteous anger seems called for, but that’s not Obama’s style. He will have to come up with something, though and he will have to do it without the tiniest scintilla of help from the Republican Party.
Remember, Klein isn’t some partisan bomb-thrower writing a DKos diary. He’s a straight process-oriented Beltway political reporter. And he’s had enough.
How about you?