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Republicans: Nihilists in Golf Pants

It scares me a little when I'm on the same wavelength with Garisson Keillor:

.... Fifties Republicans were giants compared to today's. Richard Nixon was the last Republican leader to feel a Christian obligation toward the poor.

In the years between Nixon and Newt Gingrich, the party migrated southward down the Twisting Trail of Rhetoric and sneered at the idea of public service and became the Scourge of Liberalism, the Great Crusade Against the Sixties, the Death Star of Government, a gang of pirates that diverted and fascinated the media by their sheer chutzpah, such as the misty-eyed flag-waving of Ronald Reagan who, while George McGovern flew bombers in World War II, took a pass and made training films in Long Beach. The Nixon moderate vanished like the passenger pigeon, purged by a legion of angry white men who rose to power on pure punk politics. "Bipartisanship is another term of date rape," says Grover Norquist, the Sid Vicious of the GOP. "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." The boy has Oedipal problems and government is his daddy.

The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong's moonwalk was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the rest of us, Newt's evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man suspicious of the free flow of information and of secular institutions, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk. Republicans: The No.1 reason the rest of the world thinks we're deaf, dumb and dangerous.

... Hypocrisies shine like cat turds in the moonlight! O Mark Twain, where art thou at this hour? Arise and behold the Gilded Age reincarnated gaudier than ever, upholding great wealth as the sure sign of Divine Grace.

[Garisson Keillor, "We're Not in Lake Wobegon Anymore", In These Times, August 26, 2004]

I'd been doing a lot of thinking, lately, not about Lincoln, but about Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressives. It dawned on me that T.R., with his unflinching commitment to both the physical and intellectual rigors of the "strenuous life", would be no more welcome in the Republican Party now than is John McCain -- and I suspect, considerably less so. T.R. would find George Bush repugnant, would burn with desire to see Dick Cheney in jail.

The last arguably moderate Republican left party leadership when Bob Dole retired. While a harbinger of Conservative encroachment, he was at least never a stooge, at at least made a good faith effort to fight with honor. The party drives its remaining powerful "moderates" -- e.g. Fred Thompson, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, John McCain -- to the marginal councils until they must act in frustration. Thompson and Campbell, both talented and capable politicians who could have served the Republicans well, had they been taken seriously, are gone (Thompson) or going (Campbell) from political life, while McCain might as well strike out and join the Reform. And that's not even to mention the queasy contempt that the party leadership feels for the Republican-dominated New England delegation. "RINOs", they're called: "Republicans In Name Only." And yet, along with McCain, they may be the only Republicans remaining in Congress who still keep the faith that the memory of Lincoln and T.R. evokes.

They are, in short, the true Conservatives: They are the only ones left who truly want to preserve what their party stood for. Or, at least, what they thought it stood for. My own opinion is that it never did, and that Keillor treats them too kindly.

I say this not as a Republican -- I have been registered Independent since the age of 18, despite my parents' frequent hand-wringing over the fact that Independent registration bars me from voting in primary elections, and I have leaned heavily Democratic since my early 20s. I say this, rather, as a student of history, and to illustrate how eerily I'm in synch with Keillor on this point.

Perhaps it's true after all that we're witnessing the self-marginalization of the Republican party.

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