The Republican Farm Team
Charles R. Pierce – whose ability to combine thoughtfulness and snark has made him one of my more favorite political writers in legacy media the last couple of years – has a post surveying a few of the nuttier Republican-proposed laws now in play at various state legislatures. He makes a useful point:
What you’re seeing in the state legislatures is the activity of the Republican farm team. The people voting for laws springing from the mushy brains of people like Bob Marshall and Lori Klein are the young Republicans who, a few cycles from now, will be running for Congress, probably from safe Republican districts that they’ve helped draw up, and aided immeasurably by voter-suppression laws that they’ve helped pass. Most of them will be the products of the vast conservative candidate manufacturing base — the kids at CPAC, the College Republicans, the various Christianist organizations. They will not equivocate. They will not moderate. And they are the future of the party. Anyone who thinks the Republican party eventually again will have to “move to the middle” (this translates from the Punditese to “regain its sanity”) isn’t paying attention.
In 2006, the Republicans were handed a defeat every bit as epic as any one ever handed to the Democrats. They did not pause to give it a second thought. Their resolve hardened. They ran what few “moderates” were left right out of the party. And, in 2010, they got a wave election that not only gained them the House of Representatives, but also the legislative majorities in the states that are now producing these goofy-ass laws, and a lot more seriously dangerous ones as well. And, even then, they blew a chance to retake the Senate by running sideshow freaks like Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell. They didn’t care.
They do not stop, even when they’re losing. The country told them, through the 1998 midterms, that it didn’t want Bill Clinton impeached. Bill Clinton got impeached. In 2005, everybody including their Democratic colleagues told them that they were going off the cliff in their meddling in the life and death of Terri Schiavo. There were gobs of polling data to back them up. The Republicans kept meddling even after Ms. Schiavo passed….The current [presidential primary] frontrunner is a nutball ultramontane Catholic who lost his last race by 18 points, at least in part because he was one of the more noxious of the Schiavo meddlers.
The fact is that the presidency is not really that important to them. They have found a way to make it impossible for any Democratic president to govern as a Democrat. Their real goal is in the legislatures, federal and state, where they have been able to exercise their power on the issues they care about. They will not change themselves.
I think there’s a lot of truth to this. (I would add that through the legislatures, they’re also a long way along in their project to reshape our state and federal judiciaries in their image.) And I have not seen, among progressives, anywhere near the commitment to developing a bench of future candidates for higher office, or the political and media infrastructure to support and market them, that you see among the Christianists and Tea Partiers. Some of them are savvy enough to tack to the middle long enough to win elections; most don’t bother. But they all have an agenda that is a clear and present danger to what we think of as a representative democracy – not to mention a functional economy, a nation of non-theocratic laws, and a biologically habitable planet.
The most encouraging development so far in the Republican primary circus is the developing schism between the one percenters, who want to use the Tea Party movement to remove all limits on their efforts to steal what wealth they haven’t already stolen from the rest of us, and the true believers of Wingnuttia who are rejecting Mitt Romney like a bad organ transplant. Romney’s transparently awful attempts at pandering to the Republican base have done more than any Occupy sermon to remind the base that the GOP’s political and economic elites think they’re idiots and chumps (a not unreasonable conclusion, but with Romney they overreached) – and that the oligarchs who take control of the GOP for granted really don’t share their concerns or priorities. With luck and intent, that schism can be widened if deep corporate pockets suddenly come to the conclusion that setting up their Frankenstein For America SuperPACs maybe isn’t such a great idea.
That said, Pierce is right, and any number of Democratic (and not a few moderate Republican) commentators are wrong when they idly muse that a blowout loss by Santorum or Gingrich might be just what the Republicans need in order for them to pull back from the far side of sanity. No such luck. The wingnuts are not going away, no matter how badly they lose this November, and they will continue to be a menace to our future for the foreseeable future even as a disproportionately vocal and influential minority. The current example of this is the contraception “debate” – a deliberately staged insta-controversy in which a very small minority of reactionary bishops, legislators, and media figures took a public policy considered completely uncontroversial by most Americans and made the “debate” over it mainstream. Sure, Obama kicked them in the teeth over it, but now most of us “know” that contraceptive use is “controversial.” Mission accomplished. State-level bills will probably start showing up next year.
Pierce’s conclusion is also important:
The president should not be talking about “Congress” and “Washington,” and expect the country to clue in that he’s nudging and winking in code about the Republicans. He should make it clear that one of our two major political parties is now an extremist party from its lowest levels to its highest echelons. This should be an issue in the campaign as important as income inequality or campaign finance, but it won’t be. Barack Obama’s just not built that way. And, out in the states, things are getting crazier by the day.
Obama won’t say it, and neither will corporate media, but others – from high elected officials down to lowly progressive bloggers – need to, over and over and over. Are the Democrats problematic? Sure. But one of our country’s two major political parties is being hijacked by a noisy minority of people who have gone seriously gone off the rails. They are a menace. And it may be a long time, if ever, before they let up.