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The Problem of Republican Idiots | The Nation

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The Problem of Republican Idiots

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One aspect of American politics that receives insufficient attention is that a significant percentage of self-identified Republicans—around half—are complete idiots. And the candidates who wish to be elected by them must pander to them, either by being idiots themselves—see “Bachmann, Michele”—or pretending to be. Nobody in the MSM is empowered to say this aloud. Indeed, the very act of pointing it out brands one a “liberal elitist” who is biased against proud, patriotic conservatives.

About the Author

Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of...

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Eric on this week’s concerts and releases and Reed on how the gaffe-obsessed political press is doing a disservice to democracy.

Today’s corporations have taken a page from the tobacco industry, fooling the public and undermining science in order to boost profits, no matter the human cost.

Well, so be it. A quarter of Republicans questioned profess to believe that ACORN is definitely planning to steal the 2012 election while another 32 percent think it might be. These numbers are admittedly lower than the 52 percent who, in 2009, went on record accusing ACORN of having stolen the election for Obama, but this should strike a person with normal mental faculties as a mite surprising, given that the organization no longer exists. Similarly, a recent poll of Republicans found that 48 percent of those questioned believe that Barack Obama was born in the United States. Again, this is almost double the 28 percent who believed it in February, but it is still rather low, given that Hawaii released the president’s long-form birth certificate to satisfy exactly this group of noisy idiots.

These are rather obvious examples, but it is hardly an exaggeration to insist that this astonishing combination of willful ignorance and stubborn stupidity can be found virtually everywhere Republican politics are discussed. Consider the kerfuffle over Newt Gringrich’s derisive comments about Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, made not long ago on NBC’s Meet the Press. In the first place, there is the problem of Gingrich being on the program at all. He was, I never tire of pointing out, its single most frequently booked guest in 2009, with five appearances, even though he held no official position in government and is the only ex–Speaker of the House ever to be invited on the show. (Nancy Pelosi, the actual Speaker at the time, did not appear at all that year.) In addition, we have the complication that although Gingrich is portrayed in the MSM as a genuine intellectual and potential president of the United States, both notions are just as crazy as Gingrich is. How else to explain a grown man who professes to believe that Obama’s political views can be understood “only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior”? And what about his insistence that the Obama administration leads a “secular-socialist machine” that represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union? Is this not enough to earn the boy a rubber jumpsuit?

What’s funny is that Gingrich’s tsoris arose from the fact that he accidentally said something sensible. Speaking of Ryan’s plan to destroy Medicare in support of yet another set of tax breaks for the wealthy, Gingrich explained, “I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.”

The sight of the reliably crazy Gingrich temporarily sounding sane threw conservatives into a tizzy. The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote that Gingrich “chose to throw his former allies in the GOP House not so much under the bus as off the Grand Canyon rim.” South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley denounced his comments as “absolutely unfortunate.” Fox News’s Juan Williams complained that Gingrich was “urinating inside the family circle.” And a spokesman for the far-right Club for Growth called it “beyond bizarre for Speaker Gingrich to call the Ryan budget radical,” adding, “What’s radical are Newt Gingrich’s comments. Perhaps he’s in the wrong party.”

In response to the right-wing attacks, as well as reports that he had sunk his ridiculous ego trip of a presidential candidacy, Gingrich quickly apologized and insisted that: a) he didn’t mean it; b) he had been “set up”; c) if he was quoted accurately and in context, that should be considered “a falsehood. Because I have said publicly those words were inaccurate and unfortunate and I’m prepared to stand up.” Standing or sitting, it made no difference to Sarah Palin, who attacked Gingrich for wimping out to what she called “lamestream, leftist media” pressure. Got all that? The Journal, the Club for Growth, and Fox News are Palin’s idea of “leftists.”

In fact, few “lamestream” journalists bothered with the actual issues, so excited were they by the alleged implications of the controversy for the lifelong philandering and ethically impaired candidate’s phony presidential campaign. This may or may not be related to the fact that, in perfect contrast to the larger public, much of the punditocracy remains enamored of Ryan’s regressive plan. The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus (posing as the “liberal” on Meet the Press), Slate’s Jacob Weisberg, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and New York Times pundits David Brooks and Joe Nocera have all joined the “lamestream” chorus singing the praises of Ryan and attacking the Democrats for refusing to embrace his plan to 
destroy Medicare to further cut taxes for multimillionaires.

Echoing an earlier column by Weisberg, Nocera writes that he is “disheartened” to ” read about the Democrats’ gleeful reaction to the [special election] victory in New York” that turned on Ryan’s budget. Does the new Times columnist expect Democrats to cry when they win? Perhaps, but that’s not his point. “Even if Ryan’s solution is wrongheaded,” he writes, “he’s right that Medicare is headed for trouble.” Now try that logic at home. How about: “Even though Osama bin Laden was wrong to want to destroy America, he was right that we allow too much sex on television.”

So, yes, the Republicans are in thrall to liars and lunatics serving as a smoke screen for a conservative class war against the poor and middle class, but the real problem is those damn Democrats who celebrate their victories, and defend their constituencies. Advantage, idiots…

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