So House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi becomes very unusually emotional in recalling the events that lead up to the murders of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in November, 1978. She calls for some civility in the increasingly hostile attacks on herself, the Obama Administration, “liberals” in general, and “the government.” And then up steps Rep. John Boehner, the House Republican minority Leader. This is your big chance, Jack. You could say something like, “yes, the current protesters have perfectly legitimate grievances, but we do think that the rhetoric and the mood are getting out of hand, that threats of violence have no place in the conduct of our treasured American democracy, neither civil war nor secession is on the Republican agenda, that in fact we do have a major chance to begin to ‘take back America’ in the 2010 Congressional elections, that the Republican Party is organizing to do just that, and we welcome the support of everyone who wants to participate in the democratic process in order to accomplish that goal.” But you didn’t say anything like that. Instead, you threw red meat to the wolves.
Boehner didn’t deplore any of the threats of violence, of civil war, of secession. He didn’t deplore the racist symbols and language and threats of violence that some demonstrators use, and use at events where elected Republicans speak. He didn’t deplore the presence of firearms at many events, whether protests or town meetings. He did not refer to the democratic process nor did he say that the United States is a democracy and that the next election, at which grievances could begin to be addressed. Rather he fully endorsed the protests and the protesters, in the very vague but very inflammatory terms of “we want our country back” (and “we want it back right now” six months after an election in which they lost, by a lot), “we want to pass on to our children the country we knew as children,” and “we don’t want the government interfering in our lives [except of course when it comes to matters of religious belief, human sexuality, and personal privacy].”
Of course, we all know how these sentiments, which may seem a bit bland when said the way I said them just above, are expressed by many at these rallies. Not quite so politely. We all know how they are egged on by Beckoning Savagely O’RHannibaugh and the Fox “News” Channel. We all know about “birthers” and “deathers.” We all should know that Limbaugh attributes every single thing that he sees with his very limited, anger-warped, vision as being wrong with America to “the liberals,” who, of course without specific definition are the ultimate evil. We all should know that Mark Levin talks about “squashing Democrats underfoot like cockroaches,” and that Lou Dobbs, who is still on CNN, very recently said that the ultra-leftist (sic) Gov. Howard Dean should have a stake driven through his heart for supporting the public option in health care reform.
Much has been written about the “crazies” on the Right. And much has been written about how “the Republican Party has been captured” by them, that the “looney” tail is wagging the Republican dog. I beg to differ. If the Republican Party and their Privatized Ministry of Propaganda, otherwise known at the Fox “News” Channel and the Beckoning Savagely O’RHannibaugh screamers, if the Hitler-in-heels-with-a-smiley-face from Alaska, even during the Presidential campaign, did not first give these folks total legitimacy and then promote their activities as widely as possible, did not egg them on, did not endorse, either directly or indirectly, their claims, charges, and positions, they would be a sideshow that would get little attention, for there are actually very few of them. And why does the Republican Party do this? Because without the “birthers” and the “deathers” and “tea-party people,” most of whom are very well-organized and funded by well-known Republican fronts, they would be nowhere.
Since the end of the Roosevelt Presidency (the first one) in 1909, the GOP has been the party of reaction. With a few exceptions, such as Nixon’s (!) support of environmental regulation and national health insurance, for most of that time it has based its existence on being against things, not for things. The thing that it was against for most of that time was “communism,” whether of the Stalinist version or the domestic variety. The Communist Party of the United States (which happened to be, according to its own constitution, a non-revolutionary party) was wiped out as a political force of any consequence by a combination of the Smith Act of 1940, the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 and the McCarthyite witch hunts of the 1950s. But the Soviet Union did not meet its demise until the 1990s. Since then the GOP has been looking for a reliable enemy, something Bill Kristol actually wrote about openly.
They have tried a bunch of them: “terrorism,” “Islamism,” “Islamofascism,” “liberals,” “the government,” “socialism,” “fascism” (both of the latter of course attached to liberals, not real socialists or real fascists). None of them has stuck, until now, one reason being that they were not able to put a face on the “enemy.” Now they can. And it happens to be a black face. How convenient. Does the fact that President Obama is an African-American (literally, interestingly enough) make this an entirely racist exercise? No. But the benighted David Brooks of The New York Times to the contrary notwithstanding, the fact that he is African-American is hardly irrelevant. And let us not forget that the Republican Party has used the “Southern Strategy” since Nixon invented it in 1968, that Reagan cemented it in place when he opened his 1980 primary campaign at the site of the 1964 murder of the three civil rights workers in Mississippi, that in particular after the last election, the GOP has become a largely regional party, based in the states of the old Confederacy.
These are facts. It is also a fact that the Republican Party would be absolutely nowhere without this minority of protesters, well-funded by Republican-front organizations. The Republican Party would be absolutely nowhere if it had to defend the Georgite polices that has put the nation into its present economic plight, policies that produced many very legitimate grievances (and of course the economic grievances of the protesters are quite legitimate, even if they have not a clue that it is the policies of the party they support that created the current situation).
Combine the new right-wing so-called “populism” first with the inherent (but of course unspoken) racism of the modern GOP, then with its well-known and openly courted/deferred-to/organized base in the Religious Right and among the gunners, and you have the well-recognized explosive mixture (very potentially, literally explosive) that our democracy now confronts. But in confronting it and dealing with it, our side has to be very clear which is the tail, which the dog, and who is wagging whom. John Boehner’s response to Speaker Pelosi made that very clear indeed. The sooner our side recognizes which is which and who is doing what to whom, the better able will we be able to fight back, to protect what is really at stake here: U.S. Constitutional democracy. Indeed, in endorsing and further encouraging the right-wing protests, of whatever rhetoric and form, John Boehner is Mr. Republican, not some mere bystander going along for the ride. And oh yes. This message is for you too, Mr. President.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a Columnist for BuzzFlash, Dr. Jonas is also a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Special Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal Online; a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century (POAC); and a Contributor to The Planetary Movement.