Summary: I have now given a basic description of the nature of the evil we are facing. Next I will lay out some of the concrete ways in which the Republican Party has conducted itself in a manner unprecedented in American history. (I give some examples and thought exercises.) Invariably, these instances of unprecedented conduct have been damaging of the nation, its institutions, its political culture, and/or the social order. Focusing on what’s unprecedented provides another means of discerning the dark nature of this force that’s arisen on the right.
The goal of my “campaign” is to put at the center of our national discourse the proposition: “The once-respectable Republican Party has become an instrument of an evil force.” I’ve claimed that I can make that charge stick, that I can paint the picture of this “evil force” so that the American people can see it and, seeing it, repudiate it.
One fleshed out version of this picture I’ve provided here — in “The Republican Party’s Extraordinary Pattern of Destructiveness” emphasized patterns in its behavior: insatiable in its lust for wealth and power, makes a fight over everything, preys on the vulnerable, is deceitful in its communications, etc. All the patterns have in common that they are destructive of the good of the nation.
This destructive force can be revealed from other angles as well. The more ways we can see it, the more thoroughly it will become integrated into our image of the reality. Time now to provide another way of viewing this ugly thing that is right before our eyes.
In the next several entries, the focus will be on another way of gleaning the nature of what’s taken over the Republican Party: by looking at those aspects of its conduct that are unprecedented in our nation’s history.
Behavior never seen before in a system suggests that forces alien to the system are newly arrived within it. Hence, the record of unprecedented developments can serve as a kind of fingerprint of this alien force.
In 2012, two prominent and essentially centrist political analysts – Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution – wrote about the Republican Party as an “outlier” in American politics. They did so in a book, It’s Worse than You Think, and more briefly in a Washington Post column, where this passage appears:
We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
It was an important statement. But in terms of the sickness that besets our nation, it was also disturbing in several ways. First, what they say is so blatantly true, that it is disturbing that it needed to be said at all, let alone that it would be big news that they said it.
Our national discourse continues to grant this Republican Party the status of acceptability, even respectability, as if it were a normal political party, when it has clearly become something quite abnormal.
Second, so resistant is much of the mainstream media to this blatant truth that Ornstein and Mann were apparently shunned by their usual mainstream media platforms because of having said the obvious.
And third, the word “outlier” hardly does justice to the unprecedented and monstrous nature of what the Republican Party has become.
One might add a fourth disturbing element, which is that it took these two intelligent men until 2012 to see what has been visible for years before that.
In the following installments of a series-within-the-series, I will lay out some of the concrete ways in which, to the best of my knowledge, the Republican Party has conducted itself in ways unprecedented in American history.
A few thought experiments can get the ball rolling.
Imagine a list of all developments in America in the past fifteen years that the national representatives of the Republican Party (the Republican president, and/or Republicans in Congress) played some role in shaping. Then imagine a list of those developments in which the outcome was better for America because of the efforts of the Republicans.
Isn’t it clear that while the first list is very long, one is hard pressed to find any entries to place on the second?
Isn’t it clear that during the presidency of Barack Obama, the Republicans have helped produce an outcome that was worse than it would have been without them — on the stimulus, on health care reform, on cap and trade, on reviving the American economy and getting people back to work?
Another experiment. Imagine a list of all communications that these Republicans have put into our national discourse during the past fifteen years—every idea and assertion that has been voiced by national Republicans or its media allies (in right-wing talk radio or Fox News) in an effort to inform and/or influence the public.
Imagine further a second list of those statements that have improved their listeners’ grasp of reality or understanding of the truth of the matters under discussion.
Again, it seems that the first list is very long, and that there are precious few entries on the second. Whether the subject has been the war in Iraq, or climate change, or Acorn, or where the president was born, or Benghazi, or what the government should do about the economy, isn’t it clear that powers on the right have consistently led their listeners astray?
By the standards of more than two centuries of American history, the record of the Republican Party over the past decade-plus –with respect to both destructiveness and dishonesty — a most dramatic “outlier” among American political parties. Really quite astonishing.
Really quite unprecedented.