With almost all Republican legislators, with any inclination toward statesmanship, having retired or planning to retire, who, in the Republican party, elected or not, will find the strength of character and the political courage to wrest control of the party from the clutches of the lunatic fringe and bring the debate, on the conservative side, back into the mainstream of what used to pass for civilized politics? The survival of a robust two party system depends on someone stepping up and risking his or her career.
While the Republican party is currently owned and operated by the four-man partnership of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity, there are legions of “junior partners” scattered throughout radio, television, and the blogosphere who follow them closely and repeat the day’s mantra with zeal and purpose. It is clear, however, that the CEO and President is Limbaugh himself. The agenda has less to do with improving the lot of the Republican party, or the American people, than it does with improving the ratings of the partnership. By keeping their listeners angry, fearful, and suspicious, ratings stay high and their positions as hate merchants to the far right remain secure.
Anyone who doubts Limbaugh’s power need only look at the handful of elected and appointed officials who dared disagree with him. On January 28, 2009, Republican Congressman Phil Gingrey of Georgia had to take back his comments of the previous day, which mildly defended the Republican leadership against charges from Limbaugh that they were being too meek in dealing with the Democratic agenda. His statement of apology was filled with sycophantic praise for Limbaugh aimed at soothing the great one’s ruffled feathers, and assuring “grassroots conservatives” that he is one of them.
Then, on February 25th, Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina commented in an interview that “anyone who wants the president to fail is an idiot, because it means we’re all in trouble.” While he did not apologize directly for his sin, he tap danced vigorously, and later that same day, issued a statement pretending that he had not known of Rush Limbaugh’s publicly declared hope that Obama would fail. He, as we would later learn, had bigger issues to apologize for.
Only three days later, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele opined on CNN that Rush was just an entertainer. “Incendiary” and “ugly,” for sure, but still only an entertainer. Two days later Steele, hat in hand, completely retracted his remarks in a telephone interview. It was an abject, embarrassing, on-air boot licking that sent Steele back to his post with his testes in a cigar box. And so the list goes on. Now, no elected Republican dares to cross one of the self-appointed guardians of true conservatism.
Sometime, within the next few weeks, we should see Bill O’Reilly revive his annual campaign against the bogus, but crowd-pleasing, war on Christmas. There is no war on Christmas but O’Reilly, who operates from the No Fact Zone, has never let that hamper his yearly rage against the “secular progressive agenda” whose main goal is to remove Christmas, Christianity, and spirituality from the public square. He rails against retailers who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” and points to this as evidence of a vast secular conspiracy to kill Christmas. He knows this is not the case, of course, but it’s something to keep his followers outraged and distrustful throughout, what is supposed to be, a season of love and peace. You can’t let those anger muscles atrophy over the holiday season.
The trend toward “Happy Holidays” by retailers is simply the beloved free market at work. It is strictly a financial decision aimed at possibly broadening the holiday message to include all those folks who don’t celebrate Christmas. They’re trying to add to the Christmas honey pot, not kill it. They’d be insane to try to kill the one cash cow they have traditionally counted on for one-third to one-half of their yearly revenue.
The real zealots, who protest exposure to any religious symbols anywhere; Christmas trees, stars of David, crosses, and even Santa Claus, have always been there. They are not new. They are not a threat to religion or spirituality. And they are not the reason O’Reilly wages his yearly tilt at the secular progressive windmill. It’s just one of many a red herring in the fish tote of radical right broadcasting. They continually stoke the fear that something is about to be taken away from their loyal flock, and especially threatened are God and the Christian way of life. These people are cynical and deliberate vendors of anger, unrest, and hate that may one day turn into violence – for which they will shirk any culpability.
The idea that God and Christianity are endangered species in this country would be almost laughable if the Limbaugh “partnership” and its many allies didn’t keep the fear and anger attached to it so agitated. God has never been more omnipresent in American life, particularly in politics. We are the most religious of the western democracies, and over 76% of Americans identify themselves as Christians. There is no other modern industrial country on the planet where election to public office depends, not only on a public declaration of a belief in God, but an absolute oath that you are a Christian.
As often as it is repeated, as widely accepted as the idea is, and as much as some in our society want it to be true, The United States of America was not founded as a Christian nation, rooted in the Holy Bible. and based on Judaeo-Christian theology. It simply isn’t true, and this development in American politics goes against one of the most important tenets set down by the founders in the Constitution; No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
The freedom to believe in and worship God is not in danger in this country. The freedom to believe in a non-Christian god or gods, or to believe in no god at all, is what is in danger. The founding fathers didn’t care if you sought spiritual comfort in the Holy Bible, the Torah, the Koran, or a John Deere manual. It has no bearing on one’s worth as a human being or one’s fitness for public office. God and Christianity are only under attack in the minds of some members of the fundamentalist Christian right, and those who would seek to keep them angry and afraid.
I know. I’ll report to the stake, matches in hand, as soon as I’ve finished writing this post.
So, that brings me back to my original question. While Limbaugh, Beck, O’Reilly, and Hannity, the self-appointed Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, carry on in the proud tradition of Father Coughlin, Joseph McCarthy, Cleon Skousen, and the John Birchers, where is our modern day Joseph Welch, or Ed Murrow, or William F. Buckley, Jr? Who will rise up to call these demagogues out, to label them for what they are, and tell rank-in-file Republicans and conservatives that these men preach false values and seek to capitalize on manufactured fears? The party can well afford to lose the 10% on the lunatic fringe that this would cost them, and they’d be better for it. They could then begin again to attract the millions of Americans lost to the Ind and Dem columns as a result of surrendering the party to its most extreme elements.
Frank Schaeffer recently said, “A village cannot reorganize village life to suit the village idiot.” In this case, Limbaugh, Beck, et al. is the village idiot, and the Republicans have completely rearranged the party agenda to accommodate them. It’s as if the Democrats were bending over backward to please Lyndon LaRouche. If someone doesn’t step forward soon to strip Limbaugh and his partners of their control, the Party of Lincoln will continue to shrink until it is a tiny, all white, all southern, shadow of its former self. And that would be a tragedy for the American political system.