The Summer of Hate provides a watershed moment for "reasonable Republicans"

I’m not a Republican, but I know many people who are. I have GOP friends, co-workers and family members, and for that matter I used to be a Republican myself. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, to be sure. But it’s true.

It’s no secret that I don’t agree with the GOP on much of anything these days, but there’s kind of an odd element to my conversations with Republican acquaintances lately: a lot of them profess significant disagreement with the platform and policies of their party, too.

Taken in a vacuum, this is hardly surprising. After all, America is the land of disagreement, and there aren’t any parties out there that are acting in significant accordance with my views. So individual Republicans at odds with their party and with others in the party? Makes perfect sense.

We don’t live in a vacuum, though. We live in a complex series of interrelated contexts, and in context the reservations of my Republican friends merit further scrutiny. For starters, those who aren’t on the bus with our current media-enabled popular revolution seem to be the majority.

For these folks I have a word of advice: you have some ugly problems, and they need confronting today.

Republicans vs. the Republican Party

We recently had a little round-and-round here over Sara Robinson’s article on “Fascism in America.” Sara argues, persuasively and with detailed evidence, that the Republican Party represents a looming fascist threat for the United States. She doesn’t use the term “fascist” as a casual pejorative; she uses the word in a specific way and she defines precisely what she means by it. A couple of our readers took exception, with our friend Lara Amber (a very smart, progressive mind, by the way) finding something personal in the analysis:

Most Republicans are nice people, they aren’t “racist, sexist, repressed, exclusionary, and permanently addicted to the politics of fear and rage.” (Nice way to shut down any discourse with anyone across the aisle by the way, way to go Sara! -sound of head hitting desk).

My response there, which I stand by, was that Robinson wasn’t talking about the individuals who comprise the party, but was instead describing its official apparatus. To be sure, the GOP has members who are guilty of everything Robinson says in that passage, and probably more, but I don’t read her as overgeneralizing to the extent that Lara believed. Still, Lara is like me – there are Republicans in her life, good people whom she respects and cares about. So the tendency to say “hey, wait a damned minute” is perhaps understandable.

But herein lies the proverbial rub: as Lara herself notes, the GOP is currently experiencing something of a leadership crisis. Right now its visible leaders are (to Party chair Michael Steele’s dismay) primarily media nutbags and hatespewers like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. It’s also being “led” by a variety of well-funded astroturfers and “activist” organizations – these are the invisible hands manipulating the strings of the teabagger revolution, the birther conspiracy and the faux-ragers who have invaded the townhall health care “debates” – and fueled by the Fair & Balanced® press. You have occasional appearances by political luminaries like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachman (who’s now saying she’ll run for president if Jesus asks her towhere’s Sam Kinison when you need him?) and plenty of yammering by Congressweasels in the pockets of the insurance industry who are desperately trying to distract us from opinion polls showing that a vast majority of citizens want real health care reform built around a public option. And so on, and so on.

If you were asked to rebut Robinson’s characterization of the GOP – “racist, sexist, repressed, exclusionary, and permanently addicted to the politics of fear and rage” – there’s not a lot of evidence out there in the public eye this summer that would serve you very well. So let’s take all this and see if we can summarize in a way that we can more or less agree on. How about this:

The Republican Party leadership is currently dominated by reactionary and corporatist voices that are not in line with the beliefs and values of a significant percentage of the party’s members.

(Yes, I’m more than aware that the Dem leadership is corporatist and out of step with what a good number of its members believe, too. We’ll deal with that another day.)

The second problem facing my GOP friends is even more troubling. In short, your party, your voice and your official political agenda are being hijacked by the most ignorant, unsavory, hateful and toxic elements in American society. Some examples:

I could go on. But do I need to?

If you’re a reasonable Republican, all this has to trouble you (and I’ve heard enough Republicans say that it does to know that  I’m not imagining things). The issue isn’t that all GOPpers are like the fruitcakes running loose here in the Summer of Hate. In truth, this silliness is the work of a minority that isn’t big enough to do much damage at the ballot box. So since they can’t win using the techniques prescribed by law – you know, campaigning, voting, that sort of thing – and since their opinions are shared by so few (again, national polls on health care say over 70% of Americans favor a public option, for instance), they’re trying to get their way by being the loudest. By resorting to rhetorical misdirection and deceit when reason and fact are so thoroughly stacked against them. By pitching the most obnoxious tantrums. By resorting to base terror, intimidation and thuggery. By playing on the media’s insatiable thirst for noise.

The worst part, from the perspective of the rational Republican, is that a lot of these barking loons probably aren’t even members of the party (although the money behind their organized, choreographed hissy fits certainly is). Of course, at least one GOP lawmaker seems more than willing to welcome the lot of them aboard, and the average citizen may not expend the energy necessary to differentiate all the players aligned against Obama.

The Mandate

If you don’t control your image, your image will control you. – Dennis Green

If you are, in fact, an educated Republican who prefers to deliberate your way to conclusions thoughtfully, these are dangerous times. Because thanks to the way the system is rigged – and let’s understand who rigged it this way and why – most of what you hear through Big Journalism channels is inaccurate, at best, and most of what you hear through alternative channels is noise, at best. And those who do have something intelligent to say? Well, there aren’t many cameras pointed in their direction. Reason and fact aren’t as exciting as townhall cage matches.

I spent a lot of years (beginning in the early 1980s) saying, to any coherent Christian who’d listen, that they’d better get serious about taking back their religion from the jihadists on the right. Now I’m saying it to every Republican who was offended by what Sara Robinson wrote and who is watching the Summer of Hate unfold with a little unease.

You need to find a leader and take back your party – either that or walk away from it in ways that make your disapproval unmistakeably clear. You may think these people don’t speak for you, but they are speaking in your name, whether you like it or not. And at the moment, nobody is doing anything to correct the notion that everybody to the right of Barack Obama is a rabid hyena.

20 replies »

  1. I’m glad you realize we aren’t all nuts. I think I’m going to have to join the Libertarian party. My advice to everyone is to stop watching TV. I’m a much happier person now that I have.

  2. My parents were straight-ticket GOP voters until 2004. They’d seen enough party leader madness by then — and voted blue.

  3. My Grandfather was a straight-arrow, belt-and-suspenders, common sense, rock-ribbed Eisenhower republican. I will forever believe that seeing the Power Rangers in the well of the House in January 1995 is what killed him. He called me election night 94 – quite a shock, since he didn’t make long-distance calls – and told me that he was sorry he hadn’t spoke up fifteen years earlier, and apologized for what the republican party was going to get away with over the next decade.

    He died less than a week after the republican majority was seated, but he spent the last two and a half months of his life mortified at what was coming and powerless to stop it.

  4. Thank you, Sam. This article is very nicely done.

    I encourage you and interested readers to pick up Dave Neiwart’s book, The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right.” Dave very thoughtfully and delicately explores a radical and marginal group of people who exhibit many fascist tendencies and how they have taken over much of the discourse on the right… moving the fringe into the mainstream in ways that threaten us all, regardless of our political views.



  5. One man’s “armed intimidation” is another man’s protest. Your fear of guns shouldn’t taint your respect for someone standing up for their rights. I don’t like racism. It sickens me. But I will stand shoulder to shoulder with a racist to protect our right to express individual beliefs.

    Just because you don’t like guns doesn’t mean that the right to own and carry them should be abolished.

    Use a little common sense man. An individual carrying a legal firearm at a rally is no different than an individual carrying any other polarizing political icon (nazi flag, gay rainbow banner, etc.).

    We need to learn to trust the populous with the rights they have. Police with guns don’t make us nervous, so why should a law-abiding citizen with a gun make us nervous. Many of them are better trained and better educated than a police officer and are much more restricted in the use of their firearms.

    Change your perception. Quit looking at guns as a sign of violence and start seeing them for what they are: a statement of protection of personal liberty. You don’t have to own guns. You don’t even have to like guns. But if you can’t grasp what the meaning of the “right to bear arms” means, then don’t complain when the other “rights” are taken away by people who think just like you… that they know better than you how you should live your life.

    • First, don’t assume that Slammy hates guns. You’d be wrong.

      Second, it’s a hell of a lot harder to kill someone with a gay rainbow banner or a nazi flag or a poster board sign.

      Third, can you honestly say that Bush would have permitted protesters at his rallies to carry loaded assault weapons and handguns? And would you have complained when the Secret Service or local police escorted those armed people away from the area where the President is?

      Fourth, William Kostric wore his handgun and carried a sign that said “It’s time to water the tree of liberty,” a reference to the Jefferson quote “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of tyrants and patriots.” And this guy, if the Salon article is accurate, is not only a Birther, but he’s a Free State member and someone who has defended the right of drug dealers to shoot police officers.

      And finally, there’s not a single right guaranteed by the Constitution that isn’t subject to certain limitations. Freedom to assemble is limited by requiring permits due to public safety concerns. Freedom of speech is limited by libel, copyright, and incitement laws. Freedom to own firearms is limited too. And barring firearms from the area around where the President is going to be seems an entirely reasonable limitation to me, whether the President be Clinton, Bush, Obama, or whomever comes after Obama.

  6. >>If you are, in fact, an educated Republican who prefers to deliberate your way to conclusions thoughtfully, these are dangerous times<<

    Unfortunately both of them do not carry much weight in the party of loons. The scary part is that up till about 1979, ronnie reagan was considered scary, radical right wing. Then people were fooled into believing he was respectable. The immense damage done on his watch has not yet started to be repaired. If one of these psychos, lile palin, rush, santorum, imhofe,bachmann etc. were to pull the wool over people's eyes it could be all over. Of course a good many of them are following in the footsteps of george wallace. wallace as a person,rather than politician was quite reasonable but after having an election taken from him by race baiters said " No one will outnigger george wallace again."

  7. @Slammy: I’m far less sympathetic to those that feel trapped in the republican party. My dad is one of them. While he may not necessarily be a racist or a homophobe, he sure as hell supports those that are. Knowing better and supporting it anyway makes you *worse* than the actual racists and homophobes. The funny thing is, in supporting racists and homophobes, he’s actually gradually becoming a racist and a homophobe. I’ve seen that a lot lately with the die hard republicans I know. People that once either didn’t care about civil/gay rights or were actually for them now worry the gays are taking over America and the democrats are going to “give the blacks all our money”. (The latter being the most common reason I was told I shouldn’t vote democrat during the presidential election, by the way.) If for no other reason, they’ve rationalized their racism and homophobia by claiming the gays and minorities cost them the election. (After all, everyone knows black people and gay people always vote for democrats. They must hate white and straight people or something.)
    So while republicans may not be personally be racists or homophobes, they sure as hell support them.
    Your dealings with republicans may differ from mine because I’m dealing with the ones in the deep south. You know, the ones the republican party caters to now. Real Americans(TM).

    @Retro Hound: Funny, the libertarians have been tilting pretty racist of late for pretty much the same reason republicans are. They hate black people for being on welfare and Mexicans for taking our jobs and everyone from everywhere else for being socialists. At least that’s how the world works in their twisted minds. On the upside, you don’t have to be a homophobe to be libertarian, so I guess it’s an improvement.

    @Patrick: Yeah, guns aren’t a weapon any more than rainbow flags are. We all remember that rally where the gay men fired their rainbow flags into the crowd and killed dozens of people. If you don’t remember that rally, it’s because it never happened. Guns are for one thing and one thing only: Putting a bullet in something. You can frame it however you want, but it doesn’t change reality and they don’t belong at protests. (This comes from someone that probably owns more and bigger firearms than you do.)
    So if the president sent a convoy of tanks to make sure the idiots protesting with guns didn’t start a massacre, would you call it armed intimidation or a peacekeeping force? Do I even have to ask?

  8. So where were all these fools and knaves when every amendment except the second was being abandoned? And i’m all for the second amendment (the upsides and the downsides), just like i’m for all the others. But the fact remains that if you’re not willing to discharge the firearm in defense of all those other amendments, then the right to carry one around ain’t doing much good.

    I don’t think that we’ll see the intelligent and rational conservatives walk away or take back the Republican Party. It’s a shame, but i just don’t see it happening. America runs on fear; in many ways that’s all we have left. It’s symptomatic of a great nation in decline. A place that used to have everything finding itself with less and less is likely to become ruled by fear. I don’t agree with a lot of Sara Robinson’s piece, but one facet of fascism ascendant is definitely fear as the major political motivation.

    The fear, by the way, runs strong through both parties and their attendant political factions.

    Yoda said it best, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to Hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

  9. So where were all these fools and knaves when every amendment except the second was being abandoned?

    Right. If you weren’t out in the streets with your gun on your hip over the Patriot Act and FISA, you need to step off, sit down, and shut. the. fuck. up.

  10. Common sense says we keep gun toting people away from the potus. ask the ones who were shot. and w/ the lunatic fringe of the republican party whipping the gun toting batshit crazies into a frenzy , common sense must take presidence over the right to carry a gun.

  11. Yes, where were all these newly self discovered civil libertarians when Bush was stripping actual rights from the Constitution? Suddenly a black man is President and they are “up in arms” because their constitutional right to get screwed by health insurers is in peril?

  12. Also I find it interesting that there’s not a lot of gun rights people taking up support for Plaxico Burress.

  13. Re #5, equating carrying a gun at a rally vs. carrying a sign. Point made that we don’t fear police who are armed so shouldn’t fear law-abiding folks with guns. The difference is that police are presumably hired and supervised based on them being trustworthy. Off the street citizens may be trust worthy, but how are we iin the crowd to know? How is the person making the speech to know? Do you suggest that we all just assume that because they have a gun we should trust them and KNOW they are mentally stable and law abiding and not be nervous? Sheesh. Yes, small town where you know everyone and know who the nut-case is, it can work. But we don’t all live in such places anymore — folks don’t know who the nuts are.

    If I have a sign or are shouting something, the words can’t directly kill a few people standing nearby. Not so with the gun.

  14. J Thompson writes:

    Your dealings with republicans may differ from mine because I’m dealing with the ones in the deep south. You know, the ones the republican party caters to now.

    Those are the kind of Republicans that seemed to infest most of my life. So utterly ignorant I have no idea how they navigate life.

    Not only am I now mostly free of them (excepting a close family member), I’ve actually met intelligent, thoughtful Republicans and conservatives lately. They actually exist. But they better getter their party in order, as Dr. S suggests.