There was a time when the Republican Party was a big tent. But, after the election of Ronald Reagan, the party marched further and further to the right -- until it now resembles The Party in George Orwell's novel, 1984. Orwell imagined a world in which -- twice a day -- the clocks struck thirteen; and in which -- once a day -- everyone dropped whatever they were doing to participate in The Two Minutes Hate. He left a vivid picture of that exercise:
Within thirty seconds, any pretense was unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group like an electric current, turning one even against one's will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.
After reading accounts of last week's Conservative Party Action Conference, which was keynoted by Glenn Beck -- a man with a history of drug abuse and mental instability -- one is left with the impression that something very much like that is afoot in the United States. The same kind of paranoia was on display at the Tea Party Convention two weeks ago, where Sarah Palin was the featured attraction. It does not take much imagination to conjure up a vision of the assembled multitudes shouting,"Love is Hate!" and "Freedom is Slavery!" instead of exhorting the former vice president to "Run, Dick, Run!"
What is even more distressing is the tendency of Republicans to throw the history of the past decade down the memory hole. This is most evident in their collective screed against government spending and deficits. In an article in last Wednesday's Toronto Star, David Olive challenged the notion that Democrats are the party of fiscal irresponsibility:
The biggest increases in national debt relative to GDP since the end of World War II have occurred during the tenures of Ronald Reagan (+18.5%), George W. Bush (+11.9%) and George H. W. Bush (+11.2%). As for all important job growth, Democrats have occupied the White House for just one-third of the years since 1977, when Carter took office, but have accounted for roughly two-thirds of the job growth over that 32-year span.
As the accompany graph makes abundantly clear, the Republicans have been smoking something funny. Their claims are simply at odds with the facts. But facts -- and logical consistency -- seem to have no bearing on what is happening these days.
Three weeks ago, President Obama put forward legislation to establish a commission whose mandate would have been to study government finances and make recommendations for the future. It would have been modeled after the commission which reviewed Pentagon commitments and recommended closing military bases at the end of the Cold War -- and it was an idea which Republicans had touted. But, when push came to shove, seven Republicans -- who had co-sponsored the legislation -- voted against it, saying they would consider spending cuts but not tax increases.
When Obama set up such a commission by executive order last week, former Republican Senator Alan Simpson -- a man whose use of barnyard humour causes some to mistake his brilliance -- declared that he wasn't "smokin' that same pipe;" and he expected "Rush Baby" to make him a target. Mr. Limbaugh should be forewarned: if he chooses to mock the former Senator, Mr. Simpson will make chicken feed of him.
In fact, the entire Republican program can't pass the barnyard test. John Kenneth Galbraith -- the Canadian economist, whose father was a local politician in Ontario -- loved to tell a story of accompanying his father around the hustings when he was a child. Once, at a meeting of local farmers, the elder Galbraith -- finding no stage upon which to stand -- mounted a manure pile and apologized to his audience for addressing them from his opponent's platform.
It's time the Democrats confronted Republican arguments head on. For, like The Party in Orwell's novel, the Republican rallying cry is, "Ignorance is Strength!"