25 April 2011

Planet GOP

What motivates people like 11 Colorado State Senators (almost the entire GOP caucus in the State Senate): Kent Lambert, Bill Cadman, Scott Renfroe, Mark Scheffel, Keith and Steve King, Nancy Spence, Kevin Grantham, Ted Harvey, Mike Kopp, and Kevin Lundberg, to sponsor "Birther" legislation? (In fairness, the legislation proposed, which is prospective, does not itself on its face question the legitimacy of President Obama's current tenure in office.)

What makes Republicans like Scott Gessler, our Secretary of State, convinced that there are massive numbers of illegal immigrants voting our elections, in the absence of evidence that this is happening (or does he really believe it)?

What drives Republicans like Retired General William Boykin to forward an agenda arguing that Islam is Satanic and shouldn't be included in the freedom of religion?

Why do so many Republicans support succession? Why do so many think contrary to the historical fact, that the Founders were evangelical Christians trying to create a Christian nation?

Why do so many Republicans think it is O.K. to pass laws that are clearly unconstitutional either because they violate the Supremacy clause and assert a state right to disregard binding federal law, or because they violate well established precedents like Roe v. Wade?

Why do so many Republicans claim that President Obama is a Muslim? If one wanted to sully the President's religious credentials, surely the claim that he was a closet atheist, given his adult conversion to Christianity after a secular youth would have been more plausible and atheists are almost as despised by Americans as Muslims in public opinion polls.

How did the Republican party manage to secure a lock on the crazy absurd positions and ideas so fervantly opposed to our constitutional traditions, while claiming a banner of greater patriotism?

Really, factually incredible claims simply don't have the same political currency in the Democratic party that some factually incredible claims do in Republican circles. Really, the Democratic party is far more comfortable with the framework established by mainstream constitutional law than Republicans. Even when Democrats disagree with authoritative interpretations of the constitution in areas such as corporate free speech rights in political debates, they generally don't argue that their view is the absolute law which other parts of the political system are free to ignore. Republicans, in contrast, seem to delight in proclaiming a fantasy constitution to be the real one.

Democrats live with a world view that is bounded by a sense of legal and factual reality; an important subset of Republicans seem entirely divorced from both.

It is hard to hope for politics based on a reasoned search for the truth when a significant share seem to be delusional in many cases. How does one build common political ground with people who don't seem to be playing by the same rules?

Not all Republicans, especially among the rank and file in professional and managerial ranks in America fit this stereotype. But, a surprisingly large number do seem to be a fit for it.

What is going on? Is this really a stable ideology, or a case where a small, tightly disciplined cadre of of extremists have taken hold? For how many are these beliefs sincere and heartfelt, and for how many is this calculated hypocricy and stagemanship?

I know some of the outlines of where some of these ideas have roots in intellectual history, their political roots, and the origins of the political identity of people who now identify as the conservative Republican right wing. But, that doesn't make it seem any less bizzare when I encounter it. How did ideas from Glen Beck recycled from a John Bircher political philosopher gain such much currency with so many people? Why was the intellectual environment so fertile for these ideas? How did right wing media and mainstream media (there scarcely is any truly left wing media) become so disconnected from each other? Why has the outcome of the Civil War been so hard for so many to accept a century and a half later?

Europeans aren't rushing to talk radio stations proclaiming that the monarchies deposed in the 1870s are still the legitimate governments of their countries today and winning majority support in polls of members of major political parties. Why are an important subset of Americans engaged in the same exercise?

Why are Tea Party members so angry at government's existence and operations? Does it make any sense for what is at its roots, as the name suggests, an anti-tax party, to be thriving at a point when taxes are already at sixty year lows?

Why is the public so succeptible to mass political hysteria? Is there something in the political process that is encouraging this kind of sentiment? Or, is this kind of sentiment inextricably intertwined with democracy itself? What does it take to make the masses see crazy talk for what it is?

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