Commentators say there’s a civil war going on in the Republican Party, the Grand Old Party (GOP) – the party Republicans like to call the big tent party. One might question just how grand the GOP really is. There’s little question about how old it is. And as for big tents, the biggest are set up either for the weddings of the very wealthy in conclaves like the Hamptons or Fairfield County or for travelling circuses on the summer circuit, complete with elephants and clowns.
The war within the Republican party is a civil war pitting the forces of the right against the forces of the far right. Paraphrasing what LBJ’s campaign said about Barry Goldwater: “In your heart you know they’re right – extreme right.”
It’s very hard to crawl so far out on a branch with less and less support underneath. One will either cling with white knuckles, fall off, or end up somewhere in Alaska where one can see how the international dateline turns the extreme right into the extreme left in places like the Russian Federation and North Korea.
But that’s exactly what some very sincere, committed, genuine, intelligent and politically active people are trying to do. They’re trying to crawl out to the very end of the very last branch of a very old tree. They’re trying to out-flank one another on the right, as if ideology were a window on integrity, purity, morality, loyalty or faith. It might be admirable. It’s certainly extreme and more than a little misguided. No matter where the buck stops, at least one Tea Partier will say: No, we can go further than this, we can be more conservative than this, we can get so bright and tight conservative that we’ll literally squeak with self-justification.
As with any revolutionary movement, the mover and shakers are always on the outlook to purify the central committee. They’re ever ready to purge the movement of contrary voices. They’re more than ready to make the operating group smaller, more powerful, more summary in its draconian ways. It’s “with us or against us” time again. It’s a civil war in the GOP.
One tries to visualize what the end point of conservatism might look like if the Jacobins of the right are allowed to take over the country.
Would the government be so small as to be non-existent except for the lone voice of some right wing Robespierre sounding off on who’s in and who’s out?
Would there be no taxes levied for anything?
Would heterosexuals be allowed to marry heterosexuals of a different race, or heritage? (As in the old days when an Italian marrying an Irish lass was considered a mixed marriage, though those particular unions more often than not produced the best looking children.)
Would so many books be banned that libraries would become beer halls given over to open microphone competitions for best speaker in a supporting role?
Would the internet be so regulated and monitored that parental controls would become people controls and freedom of speech would become the freedom of a caged hamster? “Do whatever you want as long as it’s in a seven by twelve cage.”
Would special funding go to survivalist groups and prepper camps where the biggest problem of all would be the world’s obdurate refusal to end? Would clean living have more to do with hygiene and less to do with ethics? Would state propaganda be so clever and persuasive as to impel what’s left of the middle class to vote against its own interests?
Would the world turn upside down, reducing the best to enervated silence, while encouraging the worst to split the air with scratchy voices, bloviating about going rogue, spouting a million clichés, chilling debate and killing spirits?
Would people remember people who gave of themselves, who sacrificed themselves for causes bigger than themselves?
Would people remember the invisible man or woman, known to nobody but the ones he or she helped, who gave freely from his or her lack, who loved others, who was decent, who was kind?
Would the poor be deemed a threat to national security? Would refugees seeking a better life be deemed a threat to national security? Would the people who take an interest in the well being of the poor and refugees be deemed a threat to national security? Would those with voices who dare to disagree with the powers that be be deemed a threat to national security? Would national security be deemed a threat to national security?
Would the health police build camps for those with infectious diseases?
Would divisions at every level and for every reason become a part of the new math in which a majority is more easily obtained if one just gets rid of the opposition? Would the wizards in Seattle and Silicon Valley invent an app to translate the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to say what the very few in power want the old documents to say, complete with the electrical charge of a cattle prod timely delivered should one get any ideas?
Would anyone ever get any ideas?
The United States is the best; make no mistake. No matter what the Boomers spouted back in the 60’s and 70’s. No matter how much the Bush Administration misled the people and spent their treasury, and no matter how many tears people of good faith will shed in frustration over the online Health.gov nightmare. No matter how foolish our elected officials in D.C. sometimes look, and no matter how much air time broadcast companies give to people who’d be better served by social workers and psychiatrists. No matter how bad the music is, no matter how bad many of the school rooms are, no matter how much the people have relinquished and given away their power to too big, nameless, faceless bureaucracies with computer generated voices and hearts as cold as a silicon disk – the United States is still the best. People wave the flag because they can, and others don’t wave it, because they don’t have to.
But it’s not a guaranteed thing. It’s never been a guaranteed thing. Time passes and the due date on a $16 trillion debt approaches. That’s the threat out there – the other shoe everybody expected to drop after 9/11. It’s imminent and a potential disaster exerting the pressure that’s now reducing each citizen to the person he or she will be when the lights go off.
It’s real and it scares some and makes little or no impression on others. The ones who are most frightened can’t get far enough to the political right. They believe salvation lies in strict order, straight lines, balanced books, clean hands, clean, God-fearing people, and a militaristic sense of humor.
The ones who are still sleeping aren’t much help, either. When they wake they’ll be more concerned about themselves than anything else. But the solutions (and the country needs solutions) won’t come from the frightened far right, or the confused, too-late-to-the-game far left. It won’t come as a result of the civil war within the GOP.
If there is to be a solution, or a program, or an agenda, or a call to sacrifice, it will come from the middle, if there’s still a middle to be discerned. The voices from the far right pull the near right ever closer to an edge, tearing the GOP and a whole lot of other things down the middle as they go. The voices on the left aren’t talking; they’re snoring.
By Michael Hogan