Given how low the Republicans have fallen in popularity in the past several years — mainly because of the dire economy, the endemic corruption, the never-ending war in Iraq, the extremist snooping on ordinary Americans, a government that doesn't function well in emergencies, torture as state policy, etc. — given all that, one would think that the GOP higher-ups would realize that John McCain is heading for an ignominious defeat unless some major policy shifts in the party move it back closer to the middle.
But, no, almost as if they have an uncontrollable death-wish, the Republicans remain locked into a self-destructive separation from the popular will. Either that or they simply are incapable of thinking straight after eight years of sensory-deprivation in the dark CheneyBush spin chamber.
The public in general has moved ahead of the politicians in so many areas: opposing the endless Iraq occupation, tolerant of same-sex relationships, eager to move beyond divisive race politics, desirous of effective regulation of food and product safety, even more supportive of Social Security and Medicare, open to major health-care reform, etc. Yet those in charge of the Republican Party continue to hitch their wagon to the old extremist shibboleths that play well mainly to the fundamentalist and Old South base, which by this time is barely 25% of the electorate.
This status-quo tropism in the GOP may be great for Democrats in the November election, but may be horrifically bad for the body politic in general, keeping in play the worst sorts of divisive, hate-filled rhetoric both for the presidential campaign and the next four years in Congress.
Indeed, one could make the case that at least a good share of Barack Obama's popularity rests on the public's perception that he is trying to move America away from the extreme rhetoric practiced by both major parties in the past several years and back to a more rational, positive way of conducting politics in the 21st century so that something positive actually can be accomplished in Washington.
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SPREADING THE MANURE
McCain occasionally makes little noises about trying to rein in the rabid rightwing pundits and agitproppers out there acting on his behalf, but he takes no practical steps, for example, to stop the filth from spewing out against Obama. The clear implication is that he's happy to seem to be keeping his hands clean, while he gains from the noxious bile and lies spread by those supporting a McCain presidency.
It's the tried-and-true dirty politics tactics perfected by the GOP masters of the trade: Roger Ailes, Lee Atwater, Karl Rove, et al. Rove, by the way, is not as divorced from the political campaigns as he pretends to be; he is serving the McCain campaign as a consultant.
Staring at a possible Democratic sweep in November and facing increasing unpopularity in the electorate, GOP strategists are using all the old Roveian techniques of smear and distortion against Obama, hitting him and wife Michelle with all sorts of claptrap bullbleep ("terrorist fist-jab," "flag-lapel pins," "baby mama," "whitey," "Pastor Wright," "not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance," "not born in America", etc.)
All that nonsense about Obama being a Muslim, or not being a native-born American citizen, or not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, or not supporting Israel with enough fervor — all the effects of those false rumors could be stopped in their tracks if McCain, supposedly Mr. Integrity, stepped up to the plate and forthrightly condemned them and those passing them around the internet. But he doesn't, and, sad to say, he probably won't.
ROVE'S BIG-LIE TECHNIQUE
Rove's theory of how to ruin your opponent goes something like this: It's OK to tell the most outrageous lies about someone, even if those rumors can be countered by actual facts, because you're not after voters necessarily believing what you say. What you want to do is to confuse them over time — so that eventually they might think where there's smoke, there might well be fire, that type of reasoning. It's propaganda chaff you're dispersing. Some of it will stick and be believed, some of it will simply be ignored, some of it will remain floating out there in peoples' minds. Since most voters don't pay attention all the time, the meme might actually influence what and how they believe and could pay off on Election Day.
For example, I don't know about you but I've received countless anti-Obama emails aimed at voters, especially Jewish voters, that assert that Obama is a Muslim ("check out his middle name"), and that he got hate-indoctrinated in extremist "madrassa" schools in Indonesia.
When I was in South Florida recently, I asked a politically-connected Jewish leader how Obama was doing among Jewish voters in that state. "Not well," he said. "A lot of Jews, especially older Jews, will not vote for him." "Is it because he's black?" I asked. "Yes, many believe that way. But so many also believe Obama is, by association, anti-Semitic, that he's Muslim, and/or that he would sell Israel down the river to placate militant Islam. The facts don't matter. They want to believe all this nonsense." The beneficiary of this way of thinking, of course, is McCain, even though some of his religious advisors have made clearly anti-Jewish (and anti-Catholic) statements, which, of course, were not well-reported by the mainstream media. The point for many older Florida Jews seems to be that McCain is white, old, and a gung-ho advocate of wars against Muslims in the Middle East. Ergo, even though Jews historically have voted overwhelmingly Democratic, there will be fewer such Florida votes than expected for Obama in November, though the Illinois senator is picking up much of the younger Jewish vote.
More examples of Rove's technique of spreading the Big Lie have surfaced in recent days. So desperate is the lame-duck CheneyBush Administration and its huge energy conglomerate supporters to start pumping for oil offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) that such GOP luminaries as Dick Cheney, George Will and Congresswoman Jean Schmidt last week stated unequivocally that China was now drilling for oil 60 miles off the U.S. coastline. Pure B.S., not happening, but these GOP heavies just say whatever they want in an effort to move their extreme agenda. Even if they have to retract, the time-release meme is already located deep in the recesses of the collective mind of the electorate and, they hope, could pay off down the line.
THE INCITEMENT OF MURDER
But often, using such national leaders as Cheney, Bush and Rove as role-models (after all, they were able to lie and deceive America into an unnecessary war and occupation), it's not just lies and innuendo and rumor being peddled by the agitprop pundits of the HardRight. Sometimes the activity and speech of the GOP operatives crosses over the line into downright incitement of illegal acts, for which nobody ever is criminally charged, of course.
For example, taking off from Ann Coulter's earlier incitements (she said that liberals are "traitors" who deserve to be shot, a Supreme Court justice should be poisoned, the New York Times building should be bombed with the reporters and editors inside it, etc.), two noted conservative pundits in recent weeks seemed to be suggesting that assassination of political opponents was a reasonable political option in the name of victory.
Fox News' veteran reporter Liz Trotta recently said: "If it could," the U.S. should "take out" both Barrack Obama and Osama bin Laden. And radio talk-show host Michael Reagan (Ronald Reagan's son) said that an anti-war activist trying to influence U.S. military forces in Iraq should be tied to a post on a firing range and shot by the American troops.
In a similar vein, Andy McCarthy at National Review said, in response to the Supreme Court ruling that Guantanamo detainees have the right to contest their imprisonment in civilian courts, the U.S. should round up all the detainees there and just slaughter them en masse.
Laura Ingraham on Fox News was more circumspect about the court's decision last week, confining her opposition to recommending a violation of the presidential oath to faithfully execute the laws of the land: If she were President, she averred, "I would have said at this point, that's very interesting that the court decided this, but I'm not going to respect the decision of the court because my job is to keep this country safe."
CAN WE ASSUME AN HONEST ELECTION?
There are more such examples, but you see the pattern. The Far Right, which has had its way with the law and with controlling the ideological parameters during the past eight years, could well lose those powers via the ballot box, so it's pulling out all the stops in a desperate attempt to stop the future or, at the least, to minimize GOP losses.
We all, but especially Republicans this time out, have to expand our thinking beyond the damage we can do to our opponents. A former McCain stalwart parses it this way:
"Simply put: Republican strategists who think that business-as-usual — i.e., the slanderous politics of the past 30 years — will take care of matters this time around are deluded. Worse than that, they will doom the reputation of the Republican Party and turn it into a marginal footnote of American history if they keep trivializing this historic event. That is too bad because, as I said, we need a two party system."As everyone understands, there is so much riding on the November election, which, one would think from the early polls, should yield a major defeat for the Republicans. But this assumes that the November election is reasonably honest and that, despite the GOP's voter-suppression maneuvers, Democratic or third-party voters come out in such massive numbers that, seeing the overwhelmingly anti-GOP pre-vote polls and the post-election exit polls, vote-manipulators would not dare fiddle with the tabulations. But if that Democrat/third-party surge doesn't happen and McCain were, say, to take 45% of the actual vote, the mainstream-media spinners could hype the possibility of a GOP victory in key states and the Republican corporations that tabulate the votes with their secret software could serreptitiously make up the needed percentage points for victory. (For more on all this, see Mark Crispin Millers' new book, "Loser Take All: Election Fraud and The Subversion of Democracy," and Ernest Partridge's articles "Where's the Outrage?" and "According to Plan?").
Would Bush&Co. be willing to try something fraudulent like that in November? Aside from the fact that the evidence suggests they already have in previous elections, imagine yourself facing possible criminal indictments and time in the federal slammer, standing in the war-crimes dock at The Hague, and losing all the riches and power you've built up over eight years — you might be tempted, too.
Even John McCain, supposedly Mr. Straight-Talker, has turned into Mr. Flippity-Floppity, as he, desperate to nail down the GOP base vote, tries to run from his former, somewhat more moderate positions.
As Digby writes: "There is nothing — - nothing — - that John McCain won't do or say to get elected." It's clear that McCain sold his political soul to the Dark Side when he decided in 2006 to make another run for the White House, and he isn't going back to the principled GOP maverick so many once knew and admired. How he lives with himself these days, I can't even guess.
The lesson in all this is that when a candidate or party is staring at likely defeat, it is not uncommon for them to flail out in desperation against their opposition. That either works or, in this case, is so obvious and short-sightedly mean-spirited that the public, in revulsion against such tactics, turns against them even more eagerly at the ballot box.
Let it be so.
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