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“God-Intoxicated Certitude”: When ‘Conservatives’ Become Radicals

If the self-styled Republican “Freedom Caucus” understood the first thing about the United States Constitution they profess to revere, they’d recognize that it’s a conservative document purposely crafted to frustrate radicals like them. As men of the 18th century, the Founding Fathers were deeply suspicious of what they called “enthusiasm,” most commonly defined as God-intoxicated certitude.

Certitude of the kind recently expressed by former Arkansas governor and putative GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee: “The race for Speaker of the House is not about Kevin McCarthy, it’s about burning the corrupt Washington political machine to the ground and rebuilding our country.”

Even granting that Huckabee, a Baptist preacher, was speaking metaphorically, his voice is that of a fanatic or a child. During the 1960s of legend and song, only the crackpot leftists of the SDS and the Progressive Labor Party talked about setting fires. Now it’s old white codgers listening to Mark Levin and shaking their fists at Fox News.

Huckabee’s not a “conservative” at all, except in the contorted meaning of the term brought into use by the Freedom Caucus, Chicken Little Brigade, or whatever they’re calling themselves this week. He’s also not a real presidential candidate. Huckabee has no more chance of being nominated than your humble, obedient servant here, who rarely leaves the farm. Like several Republican candidates, what he’s really about is peddling his dreadful ghost-written books. Presumably Huckabee himself knows all that, even if his gullible followers do not.

But let GOP-oriented New York Times columnist David Brooks explain: “Over the past 30 years, or at least since Rush Limbaugh came on the scene, the Republican rhetorical tone has grown ever more bombastic, hyperbolic, and imbalanced. Public figures are prisoners of their own prose styles, and Republicans from Newt Gingrich through Ben Carson have become addicted to a crisis mentality. Civilization was always on the brink of collapse. Every setback, like the passage of Obamacare, became the ruination of the republic. Comparisons to Nazi Germany became a staple.”

It was bad enough under President Bill Clinton, a moderate Southerner. But the election of Barrack Hussein Obama, a black man with a multicultural background and a funny name, drove the Chicken Little Brigade clear around the bend. The willingness of publicity seekers like Donald Trump to traffic in conspiracy theories about Obama’s birthplace and religion did the rest.

“Obama created the Tea Party,” a Republican lobbyist told The Nation’s William Grieder. “We told people that Obama was a dangerous socialist who was going to wreck America and he had to be stopped, when really we knew he was a moderate Democrat, not all that radical… But they believed us.”

The “Freedom Caucus” not only can’t govern, they don’t appear to believe in governance. Hence the 58 futile show votes to repeal Obamacare, which accomplished absolutely nothing in real political terms. “This hell-no caucus — the degree of purity that they’re looking for doesn’t exist,” former Senate GOP leader Trent Lott of Mississippi told the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty. “I’m sure they’re nice people, but Washington is not a place where you can come in off the street and make it work.”

Trent Lott is a Mississippi Republican, but he’s not “conservative” enough for the Chicken Little Brigade! But then Lott accepts political reality: Obamacare repeal can’t pass in the Senate, and even if it did, President Obama — re-elected in 2012 by more than 5 million votes — would veto it.

See, that’s what we were all supposed to have learned in ninth-grade civics: That the whole point of having three branches of government — executive, legislative, and judicial — was to prevent the concentration of power, to make change incremental, and compromise essential.

As former Rep. Barney Frank puts it in a thoughtful essay in Politico: “We are at any given time governed by the results of the past three elections. The House of Representatives in Washington today contains only people elected in 2014, but they share power with a president elected in 2012, and senators chosen one-third in 2010, one-third in 2012 and one-third in 2014.”

But then if you’ve read this far, you already knew that. Unable to win by normal political means, the “Freedom Caucus” proposes government by televised melodrama: threatening yet another government shutdown or even a default on the national debt — risking a financial crisis far worse than 2008 — to blackmail the president into doing its bidding on issues from Obamacare to Planned Parenthood.

Cable TV news ratings would go through the roof! Until the roof fell in, that is. However, the U.S. Constitution allows for a simple remedy: There are a whole lot more Democrats in the House of Representative than “Freedom Caucus” members. All that’s necessary is for Speaker Boehner to exhibit the political courage to cut a deal with Nancy Pelosi, scheduling votes on issues of bipartisan agreement such as the debt limit.

And the show would be over — just like that.


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, October 14, 2015

October 15, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Founding Fathers, House Freedom Caucus | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“GOP Image And Reputation”: Scalise’s Vote Against MLK Day Gains New Relevance

The totality of an official’s record always matters. This week, for example, it would be easier for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) to overcome the controversy surrounding his appearance at a white-supremacist event in 2002 if he had an otherwise sterling record on issues related to civil rights.

That’s not quite the case. Andrew Prokop noted last night:

…Scalise does not have a record of friendliness to African-American causes. When the Louisiana House voted on making Martin Luther King Day a holiday in 2004, 90 members were in favor and Scalise was one of the six against.

Note, as a Republican state lawmaker, Scalise clearly knew the King holiday was going to be approved, but he made a point of voting against it anyway.

To be sure, there are other notable Republicans who rose to national prominence after voting against a day honoring MLK. Former Vice President Dick Cheney (R), for example, voted against the King holiday as a member of Congress in 1978. Five years later, Cheney changed his mind.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also voted against it in 1983, though in 1999, he said on “Meet the Press,” “We all learn, OK? We all learn. I will admit to learning, and I hope that the people that I represent appreciate that, too. I voted in 1983 against the recognition of Martin Luther King…. I regret that vote.”

Scalise, however, voted against the holiday in 2004.

Does this add an unfortunate wrinkle to the Louisiana Republican’s defense? It’s not unreasonable to think it does.

In the larger context, I saw some suggestions overnight that Republican politics is indifferent to racial division, so the Scalise controversy shouldn’t come as a surprise and won’t be consequential. There’s ample evidence to the contrary.

In 2002, for example, Trent Lott’s praise for Strom Thurmond’s 1948 segregationist platform cost him his role as Senate Majority Leader.

Last year, when Rep. Steve King used racially charged rhetoric about Latino immigrants, Speaker Boehner called the right-wing Iowan an “a**hole.”

Earlier this year, the Republican establishment was quite concerned about Chris McDaniel’s Senate campaign in Mississippi in light of McDaniel’s role at a neo-Confederate and pro-secessionist conference.

In other words, the party is concerned about its image and reputation when it comes to race. The question is whether or not Steve Scalise’s controversy is considered a real threat to that reputation.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 30, 2014

January 1, 2015 Posted by | House Republicans, Steve Scalise, White Supremacists | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Southern GOP Politics”: Steve Scalise’s David Duke Scandal Says More About Republicans Than The Party Will Ever Admit

If you happen upon an end-of-the-year list of 2014’s biggest political bombshells, chances are Eric Cantor’s primary-election defeat to a right wing-backed neophyte named David Brat will make the cut. Because it took basically all of Washington by surprise, it has embedded itself in the psyche of the political establishment over the last six months as a seminal event. And for the last six months, I’ve been an evangelist for the theory that, while surprising, Cantor’s defeat ultimately proved to be pretty inconsequential.

In the end I was wrong, but not for the reasons everyone still reflecting on that story predicted back in June. Republican policy hasn’t moved substantially to the right since then. The hardline flank of the Republican Party is no more influential now than it was before. If anything, GOP leaders have become more willing and better equipped to tamp down rebellions than they were earlier this year.

But by beating Cantor, Brat shook up the leadership hierarchy in the House, and spooked the remaining leaders into welcoming one of those hardliners into their ranks as a token. That token was Steve Scalise, the Louisiana conservative who copped this week to addressing a David Duke–founded neo-Nazi group in 2002, after a local blogger found evidence of his participation, which had gone unnoticed for a decade, lying in plain sight on a prominent white supremacist website.

Scalise may survive this revelation. But another shakeup could be in the offing, and there lies the potential for real conflict among House Republicans. As an emissary to conservatives, Scalise represented a compromise between figures with closer ties to the leadership and more rebellious backbench members. If he has to be removed for this reason, leadership will feel burned and so will the right.

But the more important issue is what happened back in 2002, and what it says about Republican politics, especially in the South.

If more details emerge, and it turns out Scalise was closer to white hate groups than he’s let onif he knew his audience and was speaking their languagehe’s finished. But on the whole, and in a strange way, that might be a better outcome for the party than if Scalise muddles through, claiming ignorance.

Let’s assume that Scalise is telling the truththat poor staffing explains his participation, and that he rushed in and out of the event too quickly to realize what was up, or that he was led into the hotel conference center blindfolded, ears plugged, and fled the scene the moment his remarks concluded.

There’s a problem with southern Republican politics if an up-and-coming star stumbles heedless into a white supremacist convention in the course of his constituent outreach, and then doesn’t notice the mistake for more than a decade.

Conservatives have compared the Scalise revelation unfavorably to Chris McDaniel’s neo-confederate sympathies, which establishment Republicans happily deployed against him when he was poised to topple an incumbent senator in Mississippi; and to the Klan-curious comments that got Trent Lott, another Mississippian, ousted from Senate leadership in 2001.

But whether Scalise’s transgressions are worse than McDaniel’s and Lott’s is a subjective and unnecessary question. The appropriate question, whether Scalise stays or goes, is, Why does this kind of thing happen at all? Conservatives are much less interested in that kind of introspection than in making tu quoque allusions to Robert Byrd and New Black Panthers. But that’s because they’re confusing a structural argument for an ad hominem attack, and responding in kind.

White identity has always driven politics in the South, but where it once propelled Democrats to power, it now, with less outward vitriol, helps elect Republicans. The Byrd reference is unintentionally appropriate for this reason. In the last years of his life, Byrd became the exception that proved the rule. Whites fled the Democratic Party hastily, and it is now virtually impossible for white Democratic candidates to win statewide elections in the deep South (or even in Byrd’s West Virginia). But whites didn’t abandon Democrats because white identity politics changed; they abandoned Democrats because Democrats stopped reflecting the interests of those politics. And white voters aligned with Republicans because Republicans took up their mantle.

Today, that is mostly reflected in conservative rhetoric and Republican social policy, less in visible allegiance between politicians and white supremacists. Things aren’t as bleak as they once were. Under fire, and with 12 years of separation, Scalise and his staff are unafraid to denounce Duke and his hate group. Back in 1999, when Duke was considering a run for Congress, Scalise wasn’t able to be so blunt. “The voters in this district are smart enough to realize that they need to get behind someone who not only believes in the issues they care about, but also can get elected. Duke has proven that he can’t get elected, and that’s the first and most important thing.”

There’s a generous and an ungenerous way to read that statement. But the generous read isn’t particularly exculpatory. Presumably Scalise wasn’t offering voters a delicate assurance that he or another Republican would submerge their white supremacism more skillfully than Duke. But if in 1999 you said “the first and most important thing” about Duke wasn’t his despicable racism, but merely that he couldn’t get elected, it says something important about the voters you were trying not to offend. Many of those voters are still alive today.


By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, December 30, 2014

December 31, 2014 Posted by | Deep South, GOP, Steve Scalise | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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