There's an old Monty Python sketch that satirizes the tendency of mass media dilettantes to offer super-simplified solutions to complex problems:
How to Rid the World of all Known Diseases
John Cleese: "...this week on 'How to do it' we're going to show you how to play the flute, how to split an atom, how to construct a box girder bridge, how to irrigate the Sahara Desert and make vast new areas of land cultivatable, but first, here's Jackie to tell you all how to rid the world of all known diseases.
Eric Idle: Hello, Alan.
John Cleese: Hello, Jackie.
Eric Idle: Well, first of all become a doctor and discover a marvelous cure for something, and then, when the medical profession really starts to take notice of you, you can jolly well tell them what to do and make sure they get everything right so there'll never be any diseases ever again.
John Cleese: Thanks, Jackie. Great idea. How to play the flute. (picking up a flute) Well here we are. You blow there and you move your fingers up and down here.
Graham Chapman: Great, great, Alan. Well, next week we'll be showing you how black and white people can live together in peace and harmony, and Alan will be over in Moscow showing us how to reconcile the Russians and the Chinese. So, until next week, cheerio.
I thought of this sketch this week when I read a Washington Post article by David Broder entitled, "Buidling a More Positive Tea Party?"
To quote Broder's thoughts on the strategy the Republican party should take, "Building a majority coalition will require a strong, sensible platform. And a clear separation from the kooks and cranks who sank both (Democrat William Jennings) Bryan and (Republican Barry) Goldwater."
Broder's thoughts on the GOP are based on the conclusions of an article entitled Populism, American Style by Barry Olson of the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Olson believes that like the backers of Barry Goldwater in 1964, the tea party folks represent a point of view that will be, "viewed as odd and frightening by most voters," and that they might come across as, "wanting to lead victims in a violent battle against an implacable enemy." David Broder agrees with Olson when the latter suggests that the Republican party needs to take the more Reaganesque approach of avoiding, "the classical-populist trap of vilifying... political adversaries as outright enemies."
Maybe Broder and Olson are right about the desirability of a less strident course for the Republican party. But I'm afraid that in order to do what the two authors are suggesting the party would have to ignore most of its voter base, clamp a lid on its most hard-working and enthusiastic activists and show the door to its newest and most talked-about candidates. Do Olson and Broder think that the tea baggers are just an exceptionally vocal fringe element within the Republican party, and that most Republicans actually hold more moderate views? This is hardly the case. First of all, a recent Gallup poll lead that organization to suggest that, “Whether Tea Party supporters are a voting segment that is unique and distinct from the more traditional Republican conservative base, however, appears questionable.” Second of all, a recent poll of Republicans does not tend to suggest that the party is overflowing with sensible moderates whose opinions are in sharp contrast to the more radical tea baggers:
Only 42% of Republicans are confident that President Obama was born in the United States. 63% believe he is, "a socialist." 31% believe that Obama is, "a racist who hates white people."
Well, polls can indicate a lot of strange things, depending on how the questions are worded. Let's move on and take a look at what leading Republicans are saying today, and compare their statements to GOP policies of the past.
1984: President Reagan, "I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally."
2010: Senator Orrin Hatch condemns an Obama speech on immigration, calling it, "cynical political pandering," designed to, "give backdoor amnesty to illegal immigrants."
On the United Nations:
1956: The Republican platform calls for America to, "vigorously... support the United Nations."
2010: Both the Republican platform of Texas and wildly popular Congressman Ron Paul advocate the withdrawal of the U.S. from the U.N.
On the environment:
1970: President Nixon proposes legislation to create the Environmental Protection Agency.
2010: Republican Sharron Angle, the party's nominee for Senate in Nevada, and Rand Paul, the party's nominee for Senate in Kentucky, call for the EPA to be abolished.
On minimum wage:
1960: The Republican platform counts as an achievement its efforts to raise the Federal minimum wage.
2010: Tom Emmer, a leading candidate for the GOP's nomination for the gubernatorial race in Minnesota, call for lowering the minimum wage. Both Glenn Beck and John Stossel, leading conservative persons, have called for an end to the federal minimum wage.
On unemployment insurance:
1960: The Republican platform hails the GOP's success in extending unemployment insurance.
2010: Sharron Angle claims that extending unemployment insurance has, "spoiled our citizenry." Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay claims extending unemployment benefits, "keeps people from going and finding jobs."
And everything else:
1952: Future President Eisenhower: "Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."
2010: A tiny splinter group? Do you know any Republicans who agree with anything Eisenhower said in that quote?
And the more moderate Republicans that Broder and Olson are looking to for the party's salvation? Sorry, but they've already lost their bids for office to the tea baggers.
Senator Bob Bennett of Utah, who was denied renomination by the Republican party this year in favor of a more conservative candidate: "As I look out at the political landscape now, I find plenty of slogans on the Republican side, but not very many ideas," Bennett told The Ripon Society. "Indeed, if you raise specific ideas and solutions, as I’ve tried to do on health care with [Oregon Democratic Sen.] Ron Wyden, you are attacked with the same vigor as we’ve seen in American politics all the way back to slavery and polygamy; you are attacked as being a wimp, insufficiently pure, and unreliable."
South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis was also denied renomination this year in favor of a tea party candidate. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Inglis’ refusal to join in on the Obama-bashing of the far right played a big role in his landslide defeat on June 22. Leading up to the election, he frequently challenged voters who questioned the president’s citizenship or patriotism. At one town hall meeting, he was jeered for saying that (Glenn) Beck, a Fox News Channel host, is a divisive fearmonger. . . . Inglis said he was shocked during the health care votes as he watched protesters jeering Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who was beaten as a leading civil rights activist in the 1960s."
In conclusion, it's too late for "sensible" Republicans to separate themselves from, "the kooks and cranks." I'm afraid the inmates are already running the asylum.