When John Boehner, the Republican leader of the House, appeared at the Tea Party rally at the Capitol on Thursday afternoon, it was a dramatic signal: The wing-nuts have taken over the GOP.
Think I'm being harsh? The angry folks at the protest -- which attracted several thousand conservatives -- held up signs with messages of hate: "Get the Red Out of the White House," "Waterboard Congress," "Ken-ya Trust Obama?" One called the president a "Traitor to the U.S. Constitution." Another sign showed pictures of dead bodies at the Dachau concentration camp and compared health care reform to the Holocaust
. A different placard depicted Obama as Sambo. Yes, Sambo. Another read, "Obama takes his orders from the Rothchilds" -- a reference to the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory holding that one evil Jewish family has manipulated events around the globe for decades.
All of this extremism was on display -- proudly -- at an event that was officially sponsored by the House Republicans. After Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) invited tea partiers to the Capitol to rail against the emerging health care bill, the GOP leadership -- somewhat blindsided by Bachmann -- jumped on board, providing speakers and logistical support for the event. Certainly, the crowd was not made up entirely of bigots; I'm not smearing all the protesters who oppose Obama's health care reform effort. But it cannot be denied: Racism and anti-Semitism were part of an official Republican action.
Extremism was also flowing from the podium, where Republican House members were eager for microphone time. Boehner, for one, declared that the health care bill is the "greatest threat to freedom that I have seen." That's some statement. A greater threat than Hitler's Nazism or Soviet communism? About the same time he was speaking, Obama was making a surprise appearance at the White House daily press briefing to tout the fact that the American Medical Association and AARP, the powerful seniors lobby, have each endorsed the health care reform bill. Here's a question for Boehner: Are these two groups opposed to freedom? And at one point during the rally -- call it a Bachmannalia -- when John Ratzenberger, a.k.a Cliff Clavin from "Cheers,"
claimed that the Democrats were turning the United States into a land of European socialism, the audience shouted
, "Nazis, Nazis." No Republican legislator left the stage in protest. Boehner and his fellow GOP leaders should be asked how they feel about mounting a rally that attracted intense hate-mongering.
With their overheated rhetoric, Boehner and Bachmann (who called this rally "the Super Bowl of freedom") are placing the GOP into a corner -- just at a time when external circumstances are shifting in the party's favor. If the gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia showed anything, they indicated that moderate Republicans (real or faux) can fare well against Democrats during a time of high unemployment. These two elections also suggested that independents are skittish about the status quo, open to Republican importuning, and perhaps yearning to send incumbents a message -- and most incumbents nowadays are Democrats. The one place where conservatives made a conservative stand was the 23rd congressional district of New York. In that high-profile contest, the Tea Party movement, which had swung behind conservative third-party candidate Doug Hoffman, was defeated by Democrat Bill Owens.
The lesson of all this for GOPers might well be: Don't go crazy; instead, court dissatisfied independents and be a reasonable alternative to the people in power. By embracing the Tea Party mob, Boehner and company are doing none of that. They are partnering with an extremist band that many indies won't identify with. And that may end up giving Democrats a better chance to hold on.
A recent poll found that only 25 percent of Americans have a positive opinion of the Republican Party (compared to 42 percent for the Democrats). Hanging out with "Nazi"-shouters who wave racist and hateful signs is not likely to boost the popular appeal of congressional Republicans. Boehner and company are not merely playing to the base; they're saddling up with the worst elements of the right. It won't be a pretty ride.
You want more evidence the Tea Party activists are not reality-based? A bunch of them have been promoting the theories of a crackpot Russian academic who predicts that ethnic and racial conflicts will cause the United States to disintegrate within in the next year or so into several different countries. It would be hard to make this stuff up. Check it out here
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