Friday, September 05, 2008

A Worrisome Turn Toward the Dark Side

It seems like the Republicans have been breaking through one moral boundary after another, from the preposterous witch-hunts of McCarthy to the outrageous use of government apparatus for political gains by Nixon, from Willie Horton to smearing Max Cleland. So a claim that the Republicans have made a platonic shift to evil has to be viewed with some skepticism. Nevertheless, I worry that such a claim may be valid.

Watching the Republican Hate Fest ’08 this week, I heard a line that really resonated: when did unplanned unwed teenage pregnancy become a good thing? Thinking about it, it occurred to me that nearly all of the Republican talking points were as divorced from reality as their claim that Bristol Palin’s pregnancy was a joyous event. In fact, viewed through this prism, the entire Republican enterprise seems to be nothing more than political marketing run amok.

Even their biggest ideas are self-evidently false. Lowering taxes creates jobs. Life begins at conception. Liberals love to tax people. Democrats want high taxes and big government. Obama doesn’t know enough to keep us safe. Sarah Palin is terrific. People just want the government to get out of the way. Government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem.

The issue is campaigning and governing by slogan. And not slogans that neatly summarize a complex thoughts into something memorable. In fact, it’s the opposite: slogans as a way to disguise something unpalatable as something palatable. We see it all the time. The “PATRIOT” Act. “Compassionate Conservative.” “The Ownership Society.” “Support the Troops.” In every case, the actual meaning is almost perfectly contradicted by the reality.

So far, it’s more or less business as usual, though far more so for the Republicans, whose actual beliefs are way outside the mainstream and who must therefore work harder to disguise those beliefs to try to get elected.

But there was something about watching Republican after Republican get in front of a camera and describe Palin as the greatest thing since sliced bread. Had Obama picked a comparable light-weight, there’s no doubt the choice would be greeted as prima facie evidence of his dangerously bad judgment. And I believe that on some level Republicans know perfectly well that McCain’s choice is wrong-headed, but are so committed to their cause that they are fine with denying what they know to be true.

And there’s the rub. A movement this large, even if unable to win national office, that is so dedicated, so zealous, so free of honor, is a danger. I am concerned that these people could convince themselves of anything. And I think we saw that this week in St. Paul when the party faithful embraced the idea that off-shore drilling was, virtually overnight, an urgent national priority. Six weeks ago none of them had even heard of it; three weeks ago their own leader was against it, and a week ago none of them cared a jot about it. And now they are ready to lead their party unto death in defense of it.

Very committed zealots who feel they are free from the constraints of reality are a dangerous threat to civilized society. Ask the Germans.

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