What sort of psychological bent would lead people to want to be part of a dead-end political party like the GOP?
Clearly, fear--stirring it as well as succumbing to it--is central to such a psyche, and Republicans are swinging that big spiked mace as wildly as if it were the night before a bitterly contested election. This Web ad that came out last week isn't from Michael Savage or Glenn Beck (more from them later) but from House minority leader John Boehner and intel committee ranking Republican Pete Hoekstra.
Actually, we do feel safer, most people would say. The world doesn't hate us quite as much now that a president is offering a handshake instead of the finger, and we're not alienating our allies now that we're not asking them to jump off the Geneva Convention while screaming "Yee-ha!" all the way down.
The strange thing is that Repubs are still producing this kind of National Security theater, complete with cardiac arrest-soundtrack, even though it's failed time and again over the past two years in campaign ads for Tom Tancredo, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and just about every other doomed GOP hopeful.
At some point the vaunted Republican noise machine stopped being about winning elections and became instead a feckless attempt at mass justification, popping out one lame excuse after another for the party's failures. And it was a short leap from there to simply hitting rewind on the rightwing's longtime romance with a Lost Cause. Like Southerners still waving the stars'n'bars 150 years after Appomattox, or Col. Custer blithely riding up that coulee into an overwhelming force of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, today's Repub diehards will go to their graves muttering about the fascist-socialist-gun-snatching tyranny of Barack Osama, convincing themselves sotto voce that, by fighting for a lower tax-rate for the extremely wealthy, they're the true descendants of the American Revolution. As the teabag-besotted begillionaire Mitt Romney told a Republican crowd this weekend, with no apparent sense of his own absurdity, "We are the party of the revolutionaries, they [Democrats] are the party of the monarchists."
That new study indicating that conservatives might not quite understand that Stephen Colbert's wingnut rants are devastating mockery rings true. Because not understanding isn't just a failure to get the joke, it's a defense mechanism: Without a certain level of cluelessness, the whole party would be knocking around in an unstatesmanlike manner, blurting, "My God, what have I done?" Isn't it simpler to insist, as Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe does, that Arlen Specter's flight from the GOP is exactly what the party needs to regain control of both the House and the Senate? "This is the first visible evidence that what happened in 1993 is happening again now," Inhofe told Fox News, sounding like Caligula claiming that treasure chests of seashells were his tribute from Neptune for defeating the sea.
Why are these marble men so determined to resurrect dead, failed ideas? It isn't simply because they don't have new ones (which they don't). There's also a psychological payoff to committing yourself to a bankrupt idea--whether it's the odd notion that cutting taxes will save us from our economic crisis of liquidity, or the disproved theory that abstinence-only education will decrease teen pregnancies.
The sad fact is, fidelity to a Lost Cause valorizes you, it imitates honor. So the Republican Party isn't about greed or power or any base selfishness; rather, it's about nobly committing to something larger than itself--ending abortion, spreading democracy by force, saving Terri Schiavo, or, as of late, saving the GOP itself from knowledge of itself. Never mind that none of those commitments is remotely achievable, even the last.
For the kingdom of Lost Cause Republicans is not of this world. This world is corrupt and fallen. But there is another world where all of our desires, be they sleeping with 72 virgins or living tax-free, will be fulfilled, and heavenly justice will prevail.
The beauty part about a Lost Cause is that you don't have to struggle to find practical political solutions--that would require compromise and make you impure. Instead, you only have to make gestures and think magically. As Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina said, "The best way to get to 60 is to have a core group of Republicans who really do what they say and stand for their principles."
To achieve purity, whether in a body politic or an individual body, you must be ever vigilant for contaminants. Corruption could come in the form of compromising on a stimulus package or saying something rude about Rush, or, this season, in the form of actual viruses. (Some GOPers conflated H1N1 with Specter by dubbing his defection as "The Swine Flew.")
That is, purity requires paranoia, and what better paranoid fantasy of (white) purity befouled (by darker races) is there than the Mexican Immigrant Swine Flu Bioterrorist plot? See, says hate radio's Michael Savage, the pandemic's source isn't pigs but Islamofacist terrorists who may have "concocted this virus and planted it in Mexico," knowing full well that Mexican immigrants are the "perfect mules for bringing this virus into America."
For Glenn Beck, the virus itself is the ruse, cleverly designed to put baby-killers in charge of the department of Health and Human Services. "She [Kathleen Sebelius] can be confirmed right out of the gate because of this swine flu. So don't look over here, look at the swine flu, look at the swine flu, look at the swine flu. And she just goes right through the gate."
Unclean! Unclean! They've all come back, those Goldwater-era obsessions--commie infiltration, brains getting washed, contaminants you can't wash out. And now, from crazy-eyed Rep. Michelle Bachmann, Obama's "re-education camps."
Wait, haven't we seen this movie before?
What's an honest American to do besides take that long, last ride into the purity of a blinding flash of white?