In this election year, one issue outweighs all others. No matter how many disagreements we might have with Democrats, nothing is more important than remembering that the GOP has devolved into a group of people who cannot even be trusted to remember who was president during 911. Forget the Party of No. These guys are the Party of Crazy.
The latest excursion into madman’s land came with Rudi Giulian—Mr. Nine Eleven himself—inexplicably chiming in with the chorus of “There were no domestic attacks on U.S. soil during the Bush Administration”—an incomprehensible concept birthed by Dana Perino and parroted by Mary Matilin and other GOP cheerleaders. What are we to make of this? An attack that brought down the World Trade Center towers and killed more than three thousand people suddenly vanishes from memory. It’s a sick meme that only the GOP could come up with. And apparently the virus is airborne—as demonstrated by George Stephanopolis’s failure to offer any protest against Giuliani’s un-recollection.
Per usual, the GOP strategy for winning back votes from the American people ignores quaint notions such as presenting something the public can believe in, benefit from, or get enthusiastic about, and instead relies on the one play in their playbook—throw stones at the other party. Large, fabricated, crazy stones.
Compared to forgetting 911 in 2010, the GOP record for 2009 seems like amateur hour. But it’s worth revisiting. Because this is the GOP record. This is how Republicans spent the year. And when the country votes in November, we need to remember exactly what the GOP is all about.
The first stone hurled by Republicans was a multifaceted gem of paranoia, racism, and nostalgia for the 1950s—that Barack Obama is not really American. Republicans even tried to call him a terrorist. Thank you, Sarah Palin, for that particular tidbit of crazy on the campaign trail. When a Vice Presidential candidate (still hard to wrap the brain cells around that) throws out such inflammatory untruths and encourages her audience to yell “Traitor!” and “Kill him!” at the competition—we know we’re seeing something truly special. Perhaps not as special as a former Vice President spending his every breath trying to convince actual terrorists that the sitting president can’t keep the U.S. safe… but special nonetheless.
The un-American meme was echoed by sitting members of congress. Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina—who has made himself a paragon of obstruction during the 111th session—as early as February 27, 2009 called Obama the “world’s best salesman of socialism.” Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama raised the stakes by accusing—not by name, of course—17 House members of being socialists, letting us know that socialism had spread from the White House to the Capitol. Not to be outdone, Rep Paul Broun of Georgia warned the public to brace itself for the impending declaration of martial law by the president’s “socialist elite.”
Next up, an utterly insane attempt to move the president’s birthplace from Hawaii to Kenya. With their customary contempt for reality, fueled by eagerness to amp up the “un-American” meme, the GOP jumped on a truly batty bandwagon, dragged giddily across the American landscape by Orly Taitz and the Birthers.
Again, elected GOP leadership showed no reticence when it came to crazy talk. On February 22, 2009, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama weighed in on what he called Barack Obama’s “eligibility for office” by saying he had never seen proof the new president was actually born in Hawaii. On March 13, Rep. Bill Posey, a freshman Republican from Florida, introduced a bill to “amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to require the principal campaign committee of a candidate for election to the office of President to include with the committee’s statement of organization a copy of the candidate’s birth certificate.” The “Birther Bill,” as it came to be called, had 12 GOP sponsors.
The Birther movement raged on for months, threatening to lampoon the GOP with one of the silliest controversies in political history. It’s bad enough that a lead anchor on a major news network dove into these wacky waters (Lou, we thought we knew ya, but you turned out to be twice as crazy as we thought), but congressmen and senators also rushed to splash around in the Birther swamp. Who put a stop to the madness? Bill O’Reilly. When Bill O’Reilly labels a right-wing conspiracy theory as “nuts,” even the GOP has to pay attention.
Except for Rep. Nathan Deal of Georgia, who last week, on January 7, 2010, wrote to President Obama asking him to prove his eligibility to hold the office of president. Die hard Birthers like Deal must certainly be kicking themselves for not picking Nigeria as the president’s birthplace instead of Kenya. What mileage they could have gotten out of the Undie Bomber.
Next up: The Summer of Craziness, when America got to know the Teabaggers. These unwitting corporate shills for the insurance industry were financed and sent to town hall meetings to shout down congressional representatives in districts where they did not live. They brought guns, carried signs showing the president as a bare-chested witch doctor with a bone through his nose, held up copies of the “U.S.S. Constitution,” misspelled everything, and generally made asses of themselves—a spectacle the mainstream media droolingly broadcast on a daily basis
Once again, the GOP siezed the opportunity to distort reality and proclaimed loudly that this cultish band of lunatics represented the voice of the American public (instead of the 80 percent of the country sitting at home, laughing at the Tea Party protests and hoping against hope that the Finance Committee would report out a bill with a public option). It wasn’t only the pundits and talking heads making this claim, but the Senators and House members bent on stopping health care reform. This was the “American public” these legislators saw themselves as representing.
Next up: the Joint Session of Congress on September 10, 2009, where GOP members rudely waved around blank sheets of paper during the president’s address, claiming them to be the proposed and ignored GOP health care legislation alternative. Ironically, this was probably the most honest moment of the year for the GOP. Certainly more honest than Joe Wilson’s rude and unprecedented outburst of “You lie!” when the president accurately described the Democratic health care proposal as excluding undocumented immigrants.
Taking a cue from Wilson’s unhinged outburst, Republicans spent the fall of 2009 accusing President Obama of things that were demonstrably untrue. And again, it wasn’t just the talk radio screamers making these false statements. GOP legislators—the same group of people up for re-election this November—pushed these fact-busting talking points over and over again. Here are are few examples:
- The president never uses the word terror (Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, referring to a speech were Mr. Obama used the words “terror” or “terrorist” 27 times)
- Trying terrorists in U.S. courts compromises our system (ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Kit Bond, when Richard Reid and Ramzi Yousef are at this moment sitting in federal prinsons after behing tried in U.S. courts)
- Obama took too long to speak after the Undie Bomber attack (Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, ignoring the fact that Bush took twice as long after Shoe Bomber attempt)
- Taking time to decide the Afghanistan strategy put action on the ground in limbo and put our troops in danger (Sen. Jim DeMint echoing Dick Cheney’s “Obama’s Dithering & Waffling Endangers the Troops” meme. Not only was this assertion patently false, it was made even more reprehensible when the GOP filibustered as a block against the defense appropriations bill)
- The Obama administration ignored Yemen, which led to the Undie Bomber (Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-MI, when for the previous two weeks, the administration had been carrying out air strikes against Al Qaeda in Yemen, after months of studying the situation there)
- Mr Obama failed to reach out to republicans on health care (this unfathomable bit of psychosis from Senators Lindsay Graham and John McCain)
The above list covers only the last two weeks of December.
There are a handful of commentators who reliably point out the GOP flights into fantasy. Rachel Maddow does the most rigorous job of debunking—or in Maddow’s case, excoriating—but Randi Rhodes, Jon Stewart, Keith Olbermann, Ron Reagan, and Jack Rice can be counted on to call out the GOP, not only for their distortions, but also for their hubris in the face of video, audio, and YouTube documentation of the facts. Print media also offers a few vigilant voices, including Media Matters, Think Progress, and a smattering of tough journalists in newspapers and magazines.
What is miising from this body of work, however, is a compilation of the distinct examples into an overall portrait of today’s Repubican Party—a craqy quilt of hysterial stone throwers who are dismissive of reality, distainful of the truth, and contemptuous of the welfare of the Ameircan people. It’s entertaining to point out the daily forays into the GOP’s delusional discourse, but it’s dangerous to minimize their implications
Governance is a serious business. It is a life and death business. It determines whether or not our children are sent off to die on foreign soil. It determines whether or not our friends and family can be admitted to a hospital for proper care. It determines whether our neighbors can remain in their homes, put food on the table, get jobs. Politics may be a game, but governance is not. And what elected Republican legislators have shown us this past year—indisputably—is that they have no interest in governing. And that is astonishing.
Personalities such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, even Sarah Palin, are fun to watch but essentially unimportant as targets of progressive anger and energy. The same might be said of Rachel Maddow from the conservative’s point of view. We love what she does, but for the Teabaggers to spend what questionable political capital they have on tarnishing her image is a waste of their time. They more correctly put their focus on the president and congress. And that is exactly what progressives need to do.
We don’t even need to recall the Bush years in order to demonstrate the dangers of electing Republicans into office. We don’t need to recall the illegal war or the failing economy, the constitutional breeches, the stained reputation, the environmental degradation. One would think that after eight years of disrepute and failure, the GOP would be chomping at the bit to again prove itself worthy of the people’s trust and respect. But we can look to current behavior—that will no doubt escalate as the GOP becomes more desperate to win back seats in November—as evidence that Republicans deserve neither. Even without Bush, the current Republican Party gives voters plenty of reason to run, not walk, away from the GOP at the voting booth.
But will we? Or will Americans once again ignore what is right in front of our eyes?
It is up to progressives and liberals to make this record clear—to talk about the gravity of governance and the serious nature of elected office. Legislators who spend their time devising ways to play to the cameras, dreaming up outrage and outrageous lies in a cynical attempt to distract us from the things that really matter—legislators like that should be tossed out of office. A party that operates in that way should be denied the privilege of governing.
This year, as the election drama unfolds, we must continue to put the puzzle pieces together so that the total picture is stark and irrefutable. A political party with such an aversion to reality, reason, and sanity cannot be trusted. And certainly should not be voted back into office.