“It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”
That was a quote that reporter Peter Arnett extracted from an unnamed major after the United States unloaded a massive attack on the village of Ben Tre in Vietnam. Here is the full quote from Arnett’s article:
‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it’, a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong.
Versions of that quote have been used for years to describe a course of action so extreme and destructive that it is nearly impossible to defend.
Which brings me to the modern Republican Party.
Apparently, the GOP sees the country as a village that must be burned to the ground to save. This mentality is rooted in the most obvious of places, the Tea Party. After taking a beating in the 2006 mid-terms (losing both the House and the Senate) and again in the 2008 Presidential election, the GOP was out looking for clues. They were seen as extreme and out of touch. The incompetence of the Bush administration–particularly on the Iraq War and the response to Hurricane Katrina–had deeply damaged the brand and teed up the Democratic overthrow of the GOP.
So, the party was at a crossroads. What to do, what to do? One way to go would have been to moderate the party and attempt to appeal to a wider swath of voters. That might have not only been good for the short-term, but it would have been even better for the long-term. As we all know, that’s not the route they took. Instead, they embraced the anti-tax, anti-reform, anti-black guy in the White House Tea Party movement. Oh sure, not all Tea Party members are racist, but they sure do tolerate them just fine. In turn, the GOP found they could tolerate the Tea Party just fine too. They wanted the energy and the votes, and boy did they get it.
In the near term, it worked. Especially in the House of Representatives. The Tea Party revolution tipped the House back to the GOP and narrowed the Democratic majority in the Senate.
How did they do this? On the backs of fear, division, hatred, anger, Democratic apathy, and gerrymandering.
They targeted Obamacare and turned it into Obamascare. The town hall meetings in the summer of 2009 were consumed by hecklers and vitriol from the loud minority. Those who believed in healthcare reform were lucky to get out of these events with their hides. Shit was made up from whole cloth. Death Panels, government takeover, killing babies, the sacrificing of puppies. Okay, I made up the last one…I think. It was more than a little wild and wooly, but you have to say, it worked.
Sure, it helped that Republican Governors turned districts into Rorschach tests in an effort to keep GOP incumbents safe. It also helped that turn out from the left during the 2010 mid-terms was depressed. Historically, the off-year elections are dominated by the energized and older voter–the angry and reliable that make up the GOP base. As well, ome on the left were disenchanted with the President over the Affordable Care Act as well. They wanted single payer or at minimum, a public option. However, the Senate GOP had decided to filibuster any healthcare reform legislation, requiring a super majority to bring any bill to law. Throw that in with “Democrats” like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, not only did single payer become a pipe dream, but even the public option became an impossibility. Obamacare was the best bill that could be passed and liberals weren’t happy. That disenchantment not only hurt the Democratic Party, but it would end up damaging the Republicans as well.
Emboldened by the 2010 wave, the GOP became even more intransigent. Nearly every bill that came to the Senate was filibustered. The hapless new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, employed the “Hastert Rule” at will, disallowing an “up or down” vote unless a majority of his majority approved. Democracy wept.
The GOP doubled down on this strategy in 2012. Nominating extreme candidates in both the House and the Senate. The upper chamber in particular saw some real loons. Richard “[rape] is gift from God” Mourdock in Indiana and Todd “legitimate rape” Akin (why so rapey, GOP?) in Missouri were just two of the strongest examples of winnable races that were thrown away by extremist foot in mouth disease. Even in the 2010 mid-terms, there were hints that this level of nuttiness had a sell by date. Sharron “2nd degree remedies” in Nevada and Christine “I am not a witch” O’Donnell in Delaware showed that Tea Party appeal had its limits, and the Republican Party should have learned those limits when they lost seats in both the Senate and House as well as taking a beating in the Presidential as Barack Obama handily defeated Mitt Romney. Remember, it was supposed to be a “Republican Year.”
Unfortunately for the GOP and the country, the lessons of 2012 were not learned. Or rather, if they were learned they were not acted upon. The Republican Party has no idea how to get the lunatics out of the asylum. After working so hard to get them elected, they are now stuck with them. The even more maddening thing is that what we are really looking at is about 50 far right members of the House GOP that are stalling all legislative progress. How could such a small–if vocal–minority do so? By scaring the bejesus out of their more moderate members. No one in the House wants to be primaried from their right flank. They have seen what has happened to reasonable Republicans all across the land, and they know if they want to hang onto their seat, they must appease the Tea Party.
They are in a terrible fix.
There have been some signs that the more reasonable majority of the GOP are fed up with the lunacy of their far right, particularly in the Senate. The recent rejection of Ted Cruz’s tactics on the government shutdown by Senators McCain, Corker, and Graham point to a way forward for the party. However, in the House there is no such outward movement. Speaker Boehner has been effectively castrated. He can do what’s right for the country and end the shutdown, pass a debt ceiling hike, but he must do so at the risk of his speakership. So far, it’s hard to see a path for him that will allow for both. So, we wait on Boehner to be visited by the elusive quality known as courage. That should bring about warm feelings and positive vibes, shouldn’t it.
There is perhaps one other way to get at the GOP leaders in congress. It’s the same method that the Tea Party used. Fear. Since reason and good sense have not been able to do the trick, pants shitting terror may be the only way to go. They will have to be made more afraid of Americans than they are of the Tea Party. It just could happen. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released yesterday found the Grand Ol’ Party so deeply underwater that they can see lost cities just beneath their feet. The poll found by a 22% margin, the GOP is shouldering the blame for the shutdown as opposed to the President. A poll earlier in the week from Gallup had the GOP at their lowest favorability rating in the history of the venerable polling service.
To be fair, things aren’t great for Democrats either. There is more than a little of the “a pox on both their houses” mentality out among the public at large. However, while the numbers for the Dems are bad, the results for the GOP are devastating. Right now, the path they are on does not lead to Mecca, it leads to the wilderness. 4 plus years of marginalizing minorities, women, the LGBT community through hate filled rhetoric and legislation may just leave the GOP with only one option. Marginalizing the Tea Party will not work. They will have to find a way to expel the madness.
In 1980, Fidel Castro found an interesting way to get undesirables out of his country. With mounting dissatisfaction from within due to a poor economy and pressure from the Carter Administration to let people leave the country and come to the United States in exile, Castro obliged by letting out criminals from their jails and the mentally ill from their asylums. Boehner and the GOP must find a way to do the same. Brimstone and treacle will follow, but they must burn it down and start over if they are to save themselves and the future of their party.