Hellaine (hellaine) wrote in ontd_political,

The Republican Party Is Turning Into A Cult


Something strange has happened in America in the nine months since Barack Obama was elected. It has best been summarized by the comedian Bill Maher: “The Democrats have moved to the right, and the Republicans have moved to a mental hospital.”

Some­thing strange has hap­pened in Amer­ica in the nine months since Barack Obama was elected. It has best been sum­ma­rized by the come­dian Bill Maher: “The Democ­rats have moved to the right, and the Repub­li­cans have moved to a men­tal hospital.”

The elec­tion of Obama — a centre-left black man — as a suc­ces­sor to George W. Bush has scram­bled the core Amer­i­can right’s view of their coun­try. In their gut, they saw the US as a white-skinned, right-wing nation for­ever shaped like Sarah Palin. When this image was repu­di­ated by a major­ity of Amer­i­cans in a mas­sive land­slide, it sim­ply didn’t com­pute. How could this have hap­pened? How could the cry of “Drill, baby, drill” have been beaten by a sup­pos­edly big gov­ern­ment black guy? So a streak that has always been there in the Amer­i­can right’s world-view — to deny real­ity, and argue against a demonic phan­tasm of their own cre­ation — has swollen. Now it is all they can see.

Since Obama’s rise, the US right has been skip­ping fran­ti­cally from one fan­tasy to another, like a per­son in the throes of a men­tal break­down. It started when they claimed he was a secret Mus­lim, and — at the same time — that he was a mem­ber of a black nation­al­ist church that hated white peo­ple. Then, once these argu­ments were rejected and Obama won, they began to argue he was born in Kenya and secretly smug­gled into the United States as a baby, and the Hawai­ian author­i­ties con­spired to fake his US birth cer­tifi­cate. So he is inel­i­gi­ble to rule and the office of Pres­i­dent should pass to… the Repub­li­can runner-up, John McCain.

These aren’t fringe phe­nom­ena: a Research 2000 poll found that a major­ity of Repub­li­cans and South­ern­ers say Obama wasn’t born in the US, or aren’t sure. A steady steam of Repub­li­can con­gress­men have been jab­ber­ing that Obama has “ques­tions to answer.” No amount of hard evi­dence — here’s his birth cer­tifi­cate, here’s a pic­ture of his mother heav­ily preg­nant in Hawaii, here’s the announce­ment of his birth in the local Hawai­ian paper — can pierce this conviction.

This trend has reached its apoth­e­o­sis this sum­mer with the Repub­li­can Party claim­ing en masse that Obama wants to set up “death pan­els” to euth­a­nize the old and dis­abled. Yes: Sarah Palin really has claimed — with a straight face — that Barack Obama wants to kill her baby.

You have to admire the audac­ity of the right. Here’s what’s actu­ally hap­pen­ing. The US is the only major indus­tri­al­ized coun­try that does not pro­vide reg­u­lar health­care to all its cit­i­zens. Instead, they are required to pro­vide for them­selves — and 50 mil­lion peo­ple can’t afford the insur­ance. As a result, 18,000 US cit­i­zens die every year need­lessly, because they can’t access the care they require. That’s equiv­a­lent to six 9/11s, every year, year on year. Yet the Repub­li­cans have accused the Democ­rats who are try­ing to stop all this death by extend­ing health­care of being “killers” — and they have suc­cess­fully man­aged to put them on the defensive.

The Repub­li­cans want to defend the exist­ing sys­tem, not least because they are given mas­sive sums of money by the pri­vate med­ical firms who ben­e­fit from the deadly sta­tus quo. But they can’t do so hon­estly: some 70 per­cent of Amer­i­cans say it is “immoral” to retain a med­ical sys­tem that doesn’t cover all cit­i­zens. So they have to invent lies to make any life-saving exten­sion of health­care sound depraved.

A few months ago, a recent board mem­ber for sev­eral pri­vate health cor­po­ra­tions called Betsy McCaughey noticed a clause in the pro­posed health­care leg­is­la­tion that would pay for old peo­ple to see a doc­tor and write a liv­ing will. They could stip­u­late when (if at all) they would like care to be with­drawn. It’s totally vol­un­tary. Many peo­ple want it: I know I wouldn’t want to be kept alive for a few extra months if I was only going to be in agony and unable to speak. But McCaughey started the rumour that this was a form of euthana­sia, where old peo­ple would be forced to agree to death. This was then stretched some­how to include the dis­abled. It was flatly untrue — but the right had their talk­ing point, Palin declared the sys­tem “down­right evil”, and they were off.

It’s been amaz­ingly suc­cess­ful. Now, every con­ver­sa­tion about health­care has to begin with a Demo­c­rat explain­ing at great length that, no, they are not in favour of killing the elderly — while Repub­li­cans get away with defend­ing a sta­tus quo that kills 18,000 peo­ple a year. The hypocrisy was star­ling: when Sarah Palin was Gov­er­nor of Alaska, she encour­aged cit­i­zens there to take out liv­ing wills. Almost all the Repub­li­cans lead­ing the charge against “death pan­els” have voted for liv­ing wills in the past. But the lie has done its work: a con­fetti of dis­trac­tions has been thrown up, and sup­port is leak­ing away from the plan that would save lives.

These claims have become so detached from real­ity that they often seem like black com­edy. The right-wing mag­a­zine US Investors’ Daily claimed that if Steven Hawk­ing had been British, he would have been allowed to die at birth by its “social­ist” health­care sys­tem. Hawk­ing responded was a polite cough that he is British, and “I wouldn’t be here with­out the NHS.” Frank Laf­fer, the right-wing econ­o­mist lauded by David Cameron, claimed on CNN that it would be a dis­as­ter if the gov­ern­ment got its hands on Medicare, the pro­gram pro­vid­ing health­care for the elderly, paid for entirely by… the government.

This ten­dency to sim­ply deny incon­ve­nient facts and invent a fantasy-world isn’t new; it’s only becom­ing more height­ened. It ran through the Bush years like a dash of bour­bon in water. When it became clear Sad­dam Hus­sein had no Weapons of Mass Destruc­tion, the US right sim­ply claimed they had been shipped to Syria. When the sci­en­tific evi­dence for man-made global warm­ing became unan­swer­able, they claimed — as one Repub­li­can con­gress­man put it — that it was “the great­est hoax in human his­tory”, and all the world’s cli­ma­tol­o­gists were “liars”. The Amer­i­can media then presents itself as an umpire between “the rival sides”, as if they both had evi­dence behind them.

It’s a shame, because there are some areas in which a con­ser­v­a­tive phi­los­o­phy –remind­ing us of the lim­its of grand human schemes, and advis­ing cau­tion — could be a use­ful cor­rec­tive. But that’s not these what so-called “con­ser­v­a­tives” are pro­vid­ing: instead, they are pump­ing up a hys­ter­i­cal fan­tasy, that is only a thin skin cov­er­ing raw eco­nomic inter­ests and base prejudices.

For many of the peo­ple at the top, this is mere cyn­i­cal manip­u­la­tion: one of Bush’s for­mer advi­sors, David Kuo, has said the Pres­i­dent and Karl Rove would mock evan­gel­i­cals as “nuts” as soon as they left the Oval Office. But the ordi­nary Repub­li­can base believe it. They are being cru­elly manip­u­lated into oppos­ing their own inter­ests through false fears and invented demons. Last week, one of the Repub­li­cans sent to dis­rupt a health­care town hall started a fight and was injured — and then com­plained he had no health insur­ance. I didn’t laugh; I wanted to weep.

Indeed, if you spend any time with Amer­i­can right-wingers — as I have, report­ing under­cover on events like the National Review cruise and the Chris­t­ian Coali­tion Sol­i­dar­ity Tour of Israel — you soon find that your argu­ments don’t cen­tre on phi­los­o­phy. You have to con­cen­trate on cor­rect­ing basic fac­tual errors about the real world.

They insist Europe has fallen to Islam, since Mus­lims immi­grants are becom­ing a major­ity and are impos­ing sharia law. In real­ity, Mus­lims make up 3 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion of Europe, and most of them oppose sharia law. They insist Franklin Roo­sevelt caused the Great Depres­sion, and should have cut gov­ern­ment spend­ing. In real­ity, when­ever he did cut spend­ing — as he tried peri­od­i­cally through­out the 1930s — the econ­omy began to tank. But explain this patiently — with a thou­sand sources — and they sim­ply shriek that you are lying, and they know “in their heart” what is true. They insist gay mar­riage would cause the insti­tu­tion of the fam­ily to col­lapse. In real­ity, where it has already been intro­duced in Europe, het­ero­sex­ual fam­i­lies con­tinue just as before. On the list goes: evo­lu­tion is a lie, a blas­to­cyst is akin to a baby, tor­ture pro­duces action­able intelligence…

How do they train them­selves to be so imper­vi­ous to real­ity? It begins, I sus­pect, with reli­gion. They are taught from a young age that it is good to have “faith” — which is, by def­i­n­i­tion, a belief with­out any evi­dence to back it up. You don’t have “faith” Aus­tralia exists, or fire burns: you have evi­dence. You only need “faith” to believe the untrue or unprov­able. Indeed, they are taught that faith is the high­est aspi­ra­tion and most noble cause. Is it any sur­prise this then per­co­lates into their polit­i­cal views? Faith-based think­ing spreads and con­t­a­m­i­nates the rational.

Up to now, Obama has not responded well to this onslaught of unrea­son. He has tried to con­cil­i­ate the elite eco­nomic inter­ests, and joke about the fanat­i­cal fringe they are stir­ring up. He has shame­fully assured the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies that an expanded health­care sys­tem will not use the power of gov­ern­ment as a pur­chaser to bar­gain down drug prices, while wryly say­ing that he “doesn’t want to kill Grandma.” Rather than chal­leng­ing these hard inter­ests and bizarre fan­tasies aggres­sively, he has tried to flat­ter and soothe them. His health­care plan is weaker and harder to explain as a result.

But this kind of mania can’t be co-opted: it can only by over-ruled. Some­times in pol­i­tics you will have ene­mies, and they must be demo­c­ra­t­i­cally defeated. The polit­i­cal sys­tem can­not be gummed up by a need to reach out to the mad­dest peo­ple with the mad­dest fears. There is no way to expand health­care with­out anger­ing Big Pharma and the Repub­licaloons. So be it. As Ari­anna Huff­in­g­ton put it, “It is as though, at the height of the civil rights move­ment, you thought you had to bring together Mar­tin Luther King and George Wal­lace and make them agree. It’s not how change happens.”

How­ever strange it seems, the Repub­li­can Party really is spin­ning off into a bizarro-cult who believe Barack Obama is a baby-killer plot­ting to build death pan­els for the grannies of Amer­ica. Their new slo­gan should be — shrill, baby, shrill.


Tags: republican party
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