A new wave rattled the political hustings in November as a formidable bloc of angry voters forged a muddle of frustration and partisan fury into a winning electoral strategy while the opposition wandered aimlessly about wringing its collective hands. As the campaign raged on ugly, over-heated rhetoric crushed civil discourse in a nation that should be working to establish problem-solving mechanisms, not engaging in shrill, attack-mode diatribes designed to constrict the legislative process.
Unfortunately the voices of moderation have been stilled by considerations that have nothing to do with honor or just pursuits. Vince Lombardi used to say “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” But we aren’t in the midst of a football game; we are in a battle to preserve the integrity of our political system where winning at any cost puts he country’s moral compass at risk. Republican Tea Party activists have ensnared the base in a tangle of weedy grass roots and allowed the movement’s most radical elements to speak in its name, concerned only about assuming power not the virtue of their positions.
For Democrats there’s an uneasy attempt to straddle legitimate anger at being maligned and fear of sounding too strident in defense of their principles. But trying to talk bullies out of being who they are is a silly unproductive artifice unworthy of any organization that asserts a right to leadership. It’s as if we had suddenly been dispatched to an extreme-fighting universe where cheering crowds celebrate ugly, under-handed tactics as long as it helps them win. There is no sense of fair play and no shame about the misdeeds, lies and hypocrisy of leaders who call themselves patriots and moralists but whose behavior defies honor and decency.
There’s an imposing roster of ne’er-do-well pols who manage to get re-elected and can be seen on panels earnestly espousing their views - - much married Newt Gingrich, the Republican Party’s putative ‘idea’ man who left Congress under a cloud - - John Ensign smiling in relief at having been cleared by Justice of criminal wrongdoing with respect to the financial ‘arrangement’ he made for his former chief of staff with whose wife he had an affair - - David Vitter who had an extended affair with a prostitute - - allegations that John Boehner also had an affair. And these are the Christian values folks.
But regardless of what covenants they have made with their creator privately they continue to abuse the public trust. Gingrich describes Congress and the president in unseemly, less than truthful terms and Republicans revel in Charlie Rangel’s troubles but little is made of the fact that Boehner once handed out checks from tobacco lobbyists to supporters of their cause on the House floor. Lately he described a current House bill initiated by Democrats as “chicken crap.” Perhaps it is too much to expect that a degree of decorum be observed in Congress and by the media.
But it may be that respect and courtesy simply don’t matter to representatives who are so low-minded they don’t know the difference between honest disagreement and politically-motivated disrespect. Gone are the days when leaders spoke out about distortions and inappropriate language. In 1961 JFK’a Pentagon reprimanded General Edwin A. Walker for “spreading right-wing propaganda among his troops and accusing prominent American officials of Communist sympathies.” (The New Yorker, 10/18/10).
Today no speech is too radical or bizarre to fall outside the bounds of mainstream political expression. Michele Bachmann and Glenn Beck conger up arcane justifications for their positions and, no matter how improbable, they find support for their wild-eyed accusations from people who must subscribe to the courses offered in Beck’s goofy on-line university courses.
We have retreated to the twilight zone of a shameful past where bad behavior by political zealots was condoned in the cause of protecting the country from Communists and fascists supposedly hiding behind every pillar and post. In the past, however, the lunatic fringe seemed to actually believe its own nonsense. Today it’s hard to know what shapes the mind-set of right-wing zanies - - honest belief or political opportunism.
In any case, “For the moment, ,,, it appears that the extreme right wing is on the verge of securing a degree of power over Congress and the Republican Party that is unprecedented in modern American history. For defenders of national cohesion and tempered adversity in our politics, it is an alarming state of affairs. (The New Yorker, 10/18/10.)