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Friday, September 11, 2009

"I'm With Stupid"

It was a triumph of democracy. Ultra-patriot Joe Wilson, Representative from the Great State of South Carolina, called out the president as a liar. On national television. During an presidential address to a joint session of congress. Incorrectly. Not since the invasion of Normandy has there been a greater display of courage.

Honoring this fine American is local South Carolina blog The Palmetto Scoop, which ran a contest giving away 50 of these mega-patriotic t-shirts:

'I'm with Joe Wilson' t-shirt

That Wilson apologized is apparently lost on these people. Are they "with him" in both the "you lie!" shout and in his apology for it? Are they "with him" in his opinion that his comments "were inappropriate and regrettable?" They don't really say. They're just with him, because he's an awesome super-uber-patriot.

Why am I reminded of this t-shirt, courtesy of

'I'm with stupid' t-shirt

Seems appropriate. Romeotees ought to sell these at teabagger rallies (of which there will be plenty tomorrow). It'd be the truest statement any teabagger would be likely to make -- assuming they all stand in a circle.

Wilson, the teabaggers, and other various species of right wing nutjobs have highlighted a problem for the GOP. The party of Lincoln has become the party of -- as Politico puts it -- "cranks."

Joe Wilson’s outburst Wednesday night earned more than a personal rebuke from the president and a dagger-eyed gasp from the speaker of the House; it drew winces from Republicans worried that their party is becoming known less for the power of its ideals and more for the pettiness of its vitriol.

“Neither party has an exclusive on wack jobs,” says Republican media consultant Mark McKinnon. “Unfortunately, right now the Democrats generally get defined by President Obama, and Republicans, who have no clear leadership, get defined by crackpots — and then they begin to define the Republican Party in the mind of the general public.”

Turn on the TV, and you see what he means.

Here’s Orly Taitz, insisting that the commander in chief was born in Kenya. There’s a flock of town hall protesters, waving photos of the president in a Hitler mustache. Former GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin warns darkly that Obama is planning “death panels” for senior citizens. Georgia Rep. Paul Broun equates the president’s plans with “Nazi” policies. Ohio Rep. Jean Schmidt — last heard calling John Murtha a “coward” — tells a birther: “I agree with you, but the courts don’t.”

And then, in the midst of all the catcalls, hand-held signs and “I’m not listening” BlackBerrying, Wilson interrupts Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress by shouting, “You lie!”

Politico cites an unnamed "veteran GOP official" as telling them, "The image of a bunch of white guys booing an African-American president is about as bad as it gets."

I disagree. "As bad as it gets" started toward the end of the McCain/Palin campaign, when cries of "terrorist!" and "kill him!" came from the crowds. It continued with the "tea party protests," where Obama was portrayed as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao all rolled up into one. Then it went on to the August town halls, where idiots showed up with guns. And it kept going Wednesday night, when an over-eager back-bencher shouted an insult to the president in a joint session of congress. It's been "as bad as it gets" for a long, long time.

Much of this has to do with a complete lack of leadership in the GOP. The ship is rudderless, cruising around in circles, and the crew's broken into the supply of rum. The Republican Party is being led by its followers, who are drunk with anger and disappointment and sour grapes. As a result, the worst of the base becomes the face of the party. The cranks really are driving the message and the leadership is leading by following.

This sort of finger-in-the-wind leadership practically guarantees this. Sarah Palin didn't come up with her "death panels" because she believes it, she came up with her lie because she knew it was what the most passionate nuts wanted to hear. Joe Wilson knew his charge was baseless, but made it anyway because he knew some idiot out there would do something like print up a bunch of "I'm with stupid" tees. The only message the party can agree on is that Republicans should be in power, they aren't, and this is the worst thing ever. It might even be unconstitutional. Who knows?

Right after the election, the GOP -- beaten and bloodied -- sat down and tried to figure out how to rebuild the party. At first, they tried to spin it into a win; Barack Obama had actually run as a conservative, they argued, which means that his election was a triumph for the party. That didn't fly and was quickly abandoned -- and just as quickly forgotten.

Other conservatives had different ideas -- rebuild the party from the ground up. The party had been taken over by wingnuts and religious kooks and these elements would have to be jettisoned. At the time, I wrote about, a grassroots effort to bring the GOP back to both sanity and relevance. They'd take suggestions from members, then vote them up or down based on how good those ideas were.

[S]ome of the most popular suggestions are damned good ideas. "Realize that the biggest problem with the Republican party is that it is no longer about personal freedom, but about trying to dictate one perfect way of life..." writes one. "The Republican party turned into stricter government. This is not good."

"The party must return to its roots of small government and personal freedom," writes another. "The current platform of exclusion and moralism is unacceptable and will result in the destruction of the party."

"Keep the religious right in a position of power and you will continue to lose people like me; pure moderates who are fed up and disgusted with the Republican party -- whom I used to identify and vote with," one GOPer says. "I will never support a Republican candidate who pledges to keep marriage from gays or overturn Roe v. Wade. The government has no vested interest in defining social norms, and as long as the dogma continues to trend towards Talibanesque doctrine, I won't come back to the party."

We can assume that last one hasn't come back yet. In the debate over how to rebuild the party, the cooler and wiser heads lost. The Republican Party has decided to go with the stupid, the paranoid, the angry, the gullible, and the delusional. There was a moment when they could pull this thing out of the tailspin toward the absolute bottom, but they decided that the bottom was their destination. They would be the party of the cranks, because the cranks were eager to go out and make a bunch of noise. They all put on their "I'm with stupid" t-shirts and wore them proudly.

GOP strategist John Weaver told Politico that, taken alone, Wilson's outburst wasn't a "huge deal." But it can't be taken alone. It has to be taken in the context of the past seven or eight months. In fact, longer than that. Weaver says that when "taken together with what’s happened over the last eight years, it’s symptomatic of what our problem is."

"We do have structural, demographic issues we’re not addressing," he said. "But we also have tone problems. We could have the best policy ideas in the world, but we can’t get anybody to buy them if our salespeople are angry. Nobody wants to hang out with a bunch of cranks."

Well, nobody but other cranks. That's the problem. The GOP has become a magnet for cranks, with the other pole repelling all the non-cranks. You're either with stupid or against him.


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Anonymous said...

On the "I'm with stupid" t-shirt, shouldn't the arrow point straight up?

M said...

This was a very well-rounded summary of observation, Wisco.

It's amazing how the cranks have wrestled some semblence of credibility in the TV media.

To the TV media, these poor souls are either "angry," or "outraged," citizens with "legitimate concerns" and gripes, not the il-informed zombies in the Republican cult of religious fanatics, legislative corporate lobbyists, and Confederate sympathizers they actually are.

There are mighty forces thrusting stupid people on their feet and it's forward march! with that Cemetary Hill off-to-glory-face.

These people are driving down positive statistics like an anchor on progress and exceptionalism.

Buffy said...

If Joe Wilson is representative of what America has become I weep for the nation.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking that the "I'm with stupid" shirts will need to have arrows facing in both directions to attend teabagger rallies. At least that would be a start.

NatetheGrate said...

The problem appears to me that the United States is finally reaping the rewards of a poorly educated and politically ignorant populace. Democracy assumes input from an interested and informed population; ours, in general, is neither. Our country has always been large enough to generate enough people to keep things going despite the public's general lack of interest, but 300 million may be the tipping point.