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The Great Republican Strategery Fail

March 28th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I have to confess that I couldn’t hold back a huge grin when I heard the angry, threatening phone messages left for Bart Stupak after he gave up his pledge to kill the health care bill if it didn’t go far enough in restricting abortion. One guy called him a “baby-killing motherfucker” and said he hoped Stupak would bleed out his ass. Another woman said “There are millions of people across the country who wish you ill, and all of those thoughts that are projected on you will materialize into something that’s not very good for you.” You’ve got to love it. She’s going to destroy him with the awesome, unstoppable power of “The Secret” (which you’d think she could have used to kill the bill before it passed).

What makes these calls so amusing to me is that Stupak is the farthest thing from a baby-killer you can imagine. Because he pushed so hard to make abortion restrictions a part of the health care bill, the final bill does contain language that will make it almost impossible for some women in the country to have an abortion if they can’t pay out-of-pocket. His only failure was not being able to make it even more difficult.

Stupak is just one piece of collateral damage in the Great Republican Strategery Fail of 2009-2010. Stupak, a democrat, told everyone that the health care bill forced taxpayer-funded abortions, and that his amendment was the only thing standing between the Evil Government and millions of dead fetuses. He was adopting the republican strategy of lying about what’s in the bill for the sake of scoring political points. He took a risk, hoping that either his amendment would be passed or the bill would fail, so he could go out and claim a major victory for the pro-life cause, or at least say that he fought the good fight. But his amendment failed, the bill was passed, and now all those people who a week ago saw him as the Lone Good Democrat now see him as a back-stabbing baby-killer. It’s pure poetic justice.

The wingnuts are furious that this bill passed, and this is a huge problem for the Republican Party, who gambled big on the bill’s failure and lost. The wingnuts were told by their cheerleaders in the conservative media for an entire year that this bill had no chance of passing. Locked in their self-made bubble of Tea Parties and Fox News, the wingnuts had no way of knowing that over half the country actually wanted health care reform, as everyone they talked to and everyone they saw on TV were vehemently against it. Suddenly, the bill passes and to them it seems like Obama, megalomaniacal tyrant that he is, single-handedly forced this bill down the country’s throat over the objections of every American—at least every ‘real’ American. Now the republicans are left with a base of insane, frothing-at-the-mouth gun-toting redneck racist militants who will no longer be satisfied with mere political opposition, but who are downright howling for blood.

The republicans decided on their strategy at the very beginning of the Obama presidency, when Rush Limbaugh declared that he hoped Obama would fail and any republican who dared challenge that declaration—anyone who said it might be wiser to work with the president to get things done for the American people—was promptly chastised and forced to apologize to Lord Limbaugh. It would seem that the only way to maintain the support of their right-wing base would be a strategy of 100% opposition, leaving absolutely no room for compromise of any sort.

And as the fight went on, they found themselves having to move further and further to the right, adopting each new crazy talking-point put out there by their craziest members lest they be considered not-crazy enough to be a republican and viciously attacked as a collaborator or traitor. The health care bill will make everyone’s taxes skyrocket. The bill will take away your doctor and force you into a government-run system that will let you die if you’re seen as too expensive. The bill will mandate federal funds for abortion. The bill will set up death panels to issue end-of-life orders to the old and handicapped. Every crazy charge leveled against this bill was met with silence by most republican lawmakers, while some actually encouraged and propagated these falsehoods for fundraising purposes. Nothing like good old-fashioned fear-mongering to open up those wallets.

Now the bill is law and the wingnuts are in a frenzy, afraid to go see their doctor lest they discover he’s been taken away and thrown into the assembly-line of that evil Government Health Care factory where children with Down’s Syndrome go to die. They’re lying awake at night with loaded gun in hand, dreading the moment that government bureaucrat is going to show up at the door and order them to report for execution. Freedom is dead, tyranny has arrived, and now it’s every man for himself.

Naturally, there are those on the right who believed all this bullshit who are now openly calling for the assassination of Obama, or at least tacitly endorsing violence against lawmakers. One conservative blogger who believes that someone from the government is actually going to show up at his house to kill him is calling for people to throw bricks at the windows of local Democratic Party headquarters, and some of his fans are doing it! I’m shocked that so far no one has taken a shot at the president, but that can’t be too far off.

So how are republicans reacting to the overreactions of the beast they helped create? Eric Cantor got on TV and blamed the democrats for using the instances of violence for political purposes! He said he gets all kinds of threatening phone-calls, people attack him for being a Jew, and just the other week somebody took a shot at his office (it was actually just random gunfire) but that he never blamed the other party for this (never mind that no one in the other party accused him of wanting to kill senior citizens) and he didn’t even mention his office getting shot at (at least until the press conference where he mentioned his office getting shot at). Shame on the democrats for using these instances of violence for political purposes. Eric Cantor would never use an instance of violence for political purposes…except in the present circumstance.

Turning the blame for the violence around and pointing their finger at the democrats—I’ll bet he and Boehner erupted with laughter when they came up with that move. There’s nothing they can’t use against the other party, even the stuff that’s entirely their fault. It’s the other side’s fault for blaming them for the stuff that’s their fault.

But this tiny piece of political gamesmanship is inconsequential in the big picture. The republicans aren’t hurt by the wingnut rage because people blame them for stoking it—they’re hurt by the rage because they have no choice now but to submit to it and follow where it leads. They spent an entire year painting the president as some kind of tyrannical dictator hell-bent on destroying America, so they sure as hell can’t negotiate with him now. David Frum, a republican spin-doctor, pointed this out in a column and was promptly fired from his job at a conservative think-tank. All voices of reason will be purged from the party.

As such, the party will get smaller and smaller and any hope of a republican resurgence like they had in 1994 will be tossed out the window. Plenty of democrats disillusioned with Obama will stay home in November and it’s likely the republicans will pick up a few seats, but if their angry base pushes their candidates too far to the right—threatening not to vote for them unless they pass an ideological purity test—the 60 to 70 percent of the population who are not crazy won’t vote for them.

But as much schadenfreude as I derive from seeing the Republican Party reap what it’s sewn, there are negative consequences for the country as a whole that can’t be overlooked. If democrats do indeed maintain large majorities after this Fall’s mid-term elections, they’ll know that catering to corporate interests at the expense of the public has no real electoral cost. Because the opposition party is so ridiculously far to the right that it’s teetering on the brink of the ideological cliff, the Democratic Party is free to move as far to the right as it likes, as those on the left will have no other real choice. That’s the way it’s been for quite some time and thanks to Tea Party rage, it’s going to be even worse. Which candidate will you vote for? The conservative or the ultra-conservative? Do you want a corporate sell-out or a bat-shit crazy fundamentalist? Take your pick.

The system is so horribly broken that change can’t come from within it. If progressives want change, they have to get loud and angry and demand it. But with conservatives already so loud and angry that it looks like the kettle is boiling over, progressives are forced to take the moderate position, and basically say “Calm down, it’s not that bad. Let’s go about this in a calm and orderly fashion and work within the system to slowly bring about the changes we need.” We should be just as angry as the wingnuts, and many of us are, but if you’re shouting next to someone who’s screaming his head off, your shout will sound like a soft whisper.

Over the next few months the wingnuts will no doubt be surprised to find that nothing has happened to their health insurance, that their doctor is still around, grandma is alive and well, and no government bureaucrat is showing up at their doors to kill them. Some of this rage will undoubtedly subside. But the anger goes far deeper than the fight over health reform, and as Frank Rich pointed out in his column in the New York Times, we’d have seen the same thing had the legislative fight been over financial reform or climate change. Whatever Obama does is going to be seen as Armageddon, and wingnuts will never let reality stand in the way of their delusions. If there are no death panels it’s only because they fought hard to keep them out of the health care package, but Obama will just find a way to stick them in the immigration bill.

Meanwhile, republicans will continue along with their doomed strategy, unable to change course because they’ve tied their hands and feet to the base they’ve allowed those in the conservative media to rile up so effectively.

The big winners are Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Fox News. As long as the republicans are out of power, their ratings will continue to soar as they prey on the fear and anger of those who can’t stand the sight of a democrat—let alone a black one—in the white house. As Frum pointed out, Fox News used to work for the republicans, but now the republicans work for Fox News. Sadly for them, Fox News does better when the republicans are out of power.

They went with a colossally bad bit of strategery, and now they’re stuck with it. And so are we.

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