Never Trust These Vichy Republicans Again

If something good can come of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy in the United States, let it be separating sincere Republicans from pretenders who are willing to sell out every conservative principle they have professed to hold dear for the sake of ratings, sales or their career.

Trump is not a conservative. Many serious rightwingers have said so: from the rabble-rousing Glenn Beck and radio host Erick Erickson on the far right to more establishmentarian thinkers like George Will, the writers at National Review and the neoconservative The Weekly Standard to members of the pro-business Club for Growth and the libertarian Cato Institute.

Nor is Trump a Republican. Serious Republicans have said so as well. Mitt Romney, the party’s presidential nominee four years ago, has called the Manhattan businessman — who supported the Democrats and then a third party before deciding he was a Republican — a “phony” and a “fraud” who is “playing the American public for suckers.”

“If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished,” the former Massachusetts governor warned last week.

He is right. But that hasn’t stopped some on the right from supporting a man who lacks any and all qualities a serious presidential candidate (or any serious person) must have.

Twitter calls them Vichy Republicans. Here are the worst of them. Read more “Never Trust These Vichy Republicans Again”

Should America Tone It Down a Notch?

A shooting of twenty people in Tucson, Arizona last week which killed six, including a federal judge and a nine year-old girl and left a congresswoman, Democrat Gabrielle Giffords severely injured, has revived a discussion about the tone of political discourse in the United States. Commentators on the left have alleged that the inflated rhetoric of their right-wing counterparts is in part to blame for creating a climate in which the shooting could occur. Conservatives have criticized them in turn for using the tragedy for political gain.

In an editorial Monday, The New York Times admitted that it would be “facile and mistaken” to blame conservatives for one madman’s actions yet, “it is legitimate,” according to the newspaper, “to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of [death] threats, setting the nation on edge.”

The rage is stirred by talk radio hosts, the Times claimed explicitly, and Fox News pundits, presumably. “They seem to have persuaded many Americans that the government is not just misguided, but the enemy of the people.”

On his Fox News broadcoast that night, Bill O’Reilly denounced the Times‘ stance as “flat out reprehensible.” Republicans had nothing to do with the murders in Arizona, he declared. “The New York Times does this all day long. If you would disagree with their far left view you are hateful.” He similarly condemned NBC News for allowing “vicious personal attacks” to be issued on MSNBC. “The hatred spewed on that cable network is unprecedented in the media,” said O’Reilly.

On the night of the shooting, Keith Olbermann, on MSNBC, professed that, “We need to put the guns down.” He spoke of “politicians and commentators who have so irresponsibly brought us to this time of domestic terrorism” and said that if conservatives including Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Sarah Palin “are not responsible for what happened in Tucson, they must now be responsible for doing everything they can to make sure Tucson doesn’t happen again.”

Reporting on the tragedy in Arizona has if anything painfully exposed the deep divide between left and right that exists, not so much in American society or even politics, but among its media class. MSNBC commentators on the one hand and Fox News contributors on the other have lambasted one another for feeding, 24 hours a day, a discourse that might have inspired politically motivated violence.

Before any details of the attack were evident, on the left, bloggers and talking heads blamed the Tea Party, former vice presidential contender Sarah Palin in particular, for “targeting” political opponents and deploying rhetoric that was draped in gun related metaphors. But liberals have done the same. The demonization of President George W. Bush by leftists was no less spiteful than the smearing of his predecessor by some Tea Party activists. Campaign speechcraft has become more heated and hyperbolic. Punditry has become more outspoken across the political spectrum.

On Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, Jon Stewart, who has rallied against cable news hysteria, suggested that even if the political climate in America is “toxic” and “unproductive”, it cannot simply be blamed for the shooting in Arizona. “Boy would that be nice,” he suggested, “to be able to draw a straight line of causation from this horror to something tangible because then we could convince ourselves that if we just stop this, the horrors will end.” But they probably won’t. “You cannot outsmart crazy. You don’t know what a troubled mind will get caught on.”

Which is not to say that the discourse cannot be improved. Americans should not conflate their political opponents with enemies, said Stewart. “If would be really nice if the ramblings of crazy people didn’t in any way resemble how we actually talk to each other on TV.”

“For all the hyperbole and vitriol that’s become part of our political process” though, “when the reality of that rhetoric; when actions match the disturbing nature of words, we haven’t lost our capacity to be horrified,” he concluded. People hear about crazy, “but it’s rarer than you think.”

The Republican Playing Field for 2012

November’s midterm elections saw impressive gains for the Republican Party in scores of states. The party managed to win back many of the congressional seats and governorships it lost in 2006 and 2008. Indeed, the electoral map today very much resembles that of 2004 when George W. Bush won a second presidential term by a margin of some three million votes.

President Barack Obama’s approval rating remains well below 50 percent meanwhile which leaves the 2012 presidential race wide open. About a dozen Republicans are often mentioned as potential contenders for their party’s nomination for the highest office. None of them have announced to run yet.

The Old Guard

Haley Barbour, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul represent an older generation of Republican leadership that has suddenly come in vogue again with the revival of constitutional conservatism. Whereas Paul has always championed limited government, Gingrich only more recently discovered the virtue of austerity and he has publicly been toying with the notion of running for president in 2012.

Unlike other stalwarts, Barbour has actually managed to rein in spending, not just talk about it. When he took office as governor, Mississippi had run a $709 million budget deficit for the 2004 fiscal year. Without raising taxes, Barbour cut the deficit in half, largely by reducing Medicaid spending. Two years later, when tax revenues were higher than expected, Mississippi achieved its first balanced budget in years.

Barbour, Gingrich and Paul are all pro-life but the former has worked with members of his own party as well as conservative Democrats to tighten abortion laws in his state. Mississippi currently has among the lowest of abortion rates in the country.

In June 2009, Barbour assumed the chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association which has since helped elect several Republicans to governorships throughout the country and is the driving force behind the Remember November campaign. Both Barbour and Gingrich have been critical of the Obama Administration for being “secular” and “socialist” as the former Speaker of the House put it this year.

Barbour responded to rumors of a candidacy most recently on NBC’s Meet the Press where he said that he hadn’t given it any thought. “After this election is over,” he added, referring to the midterms, “we’ll sit down and see if there’s anything to think about.”

The Firebrands

A US Senator since 2005, Jim DeMint is considered one of the most conservative members of the upper chamber, supportive of school prayer, opposed to abortion and adamantly opposed to legalizing gay marriage which he frets could have “costly secondary consequences” due to the prevalence of certain diseases among homosexuals.

Mike Huckabee once, in 1992, expressed similar fears, describing homosexuality as “an aberrant, unnatural and sinful lifestyle” that “can pose a dangerous public health risk.” Since, his opinion has shifted somewhat, urging Americans to treat gay couples with respect and framing his opposition to same-sex marriage as a wider call to the preservation of traditional marriage.

The former Arkansas governor’s economic positions are less pronounced although he once supported the FairTax, which is a proposal to eliminate all federal tax codes and replace them with a single national sales tax.

DeMint, Huckabee and Santorum all favor a great role for religion in politics. Huckabee was trained as a minister and believes in amending the Constitution according to “God’s standards” while the former Pennsylvania senator promotes intelligent design and questions evolution; is staunchly opposed to abortion and has been criticized for apparently equating homosexuality with incest and pedophilia in 2003.

Faced with electoral defeat, Santorum started comparing himself to British prime minister Winston Churchill who warned his country of the dangers of Nazism before the outbreak World War II. He described the parallels between his 2006 reelection campaign and Europe on the brink of war as “profound” and predicted that a Democratic takeover of Congress would herald “a disaster for the future of the world.” Santorum is nonetheless considered a contender for his party’s 2012 presidential nomination.

In a secularizing country where support for abortion and gay marriage is gradually increasing, this Christian triumvirate is probably unelectable on the federal level because of their antiquated religious beliefs alone. Huckabee has a favorable image among Republicans and independents but DeMint and Santorum are too radical for the mainstream in this regard.

The Fiscal Hawks

Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence have both been particularly critical of the Obama Administration’s economic policies, each criticizing its “big government” solutions to health-care and financial reform.

As Indiana governor, Daniels initiated his own health-care plan which he complains will be destroyed by Obamacare. His reputation as a fiscal conservative is solid, having turned a $200 million budget deficit into a $1.3 billion surplus in five years as governor while managing to decrease property taxes by an average of 30 percent. By cutting red tape and overly complicated tax codes, Daniels has made Indiana more attractive to businesses and the state is currently leading in private-sector job growth.

A little up north, fellow Republican governor Tim Pawlenty, sometimes called “Minnesota’s Ronald Reagan” because he rules in a traditionally liberal state, similarly managed to balance his budget without raising taxes. The secret of his Minnesota success however — the governor’s disarming public image and ability to sell conservative policy to nonconservative voters — may well undermine his run for the presidency. The tea partiers in particular aren’t looking for a moderate candidate. His quiet evangelical Christianity on the other hand could be a boon to him unless any of the aforementioned religious zealots decides to compete and question his faith.

A pro-life Christian, Daniels, like Pawlenty, is no fanatic about it. He has suggested that the next president “call a truce on the so-called social issues,” including abortion and gay marriage. The economic and fiscal crises take precedence, he believes.

Also from Indiana and reportedly a friend of the governor’s, Congressman Mike Pence has been mentioned as a contender for the presidency as well. Pence describes himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” He is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia; regards Israel as one of America’s most cherished allies and cochairs the Congressional Task Force Against Anti-Semitism. Pence opposes federal funding for abortions but has avoided cozying up with social conservatives.

As an outspoken proponent of the Republicans’ halfhearted Pledge to America which was unveiled in September and contained few concrete policies on how to balance the federal budget, Pence has nonetheless defended small government policies and spoken out against tax hikes. He believes that Republicans lost heavily in 2006 and 2008, not because they compromised too little rather because they compromised too much “on key principles.”

The day after November’s midterm elections for Congress, Pence stepped down as chairman of the House Republican Conference, writing that he is considering “new opportunities to serve Indiana and our nation in the years ahead.”

The Pragmatists

Finally, there are candidates whose positions are anything but solid. Sarah Palin in particular appears rather without ideology, allowing her to spearhead the recent Tea Party movement by presenting herself as a small-government conservative. Although she is unpopular with independents and Democrats, Palin, who ran for the vice presidency in 2008, is a formidable force in the Republican camp and constantly in the national spotlight. Her endorsement for a presidential primary nominee should be meaningful therefore.

John Thune, the junior Senator for South Dakota, has been mentioned as a potential candidate for over a year. His 2004 campaign emphasized social issues as abortion and same-sex marriage as well as Thune’s support for the Iraq War. His Senate career has been largely unimpressive since but his popularity in South Dakota is so strong that in the most recent election, the Democrats didn’t even bother to put up a candidate against him.

Mitt Romney, who first sought the presidency in 2008, is a moderate in a time in American politics when moderates are ousted one at a time.

As governor of Massachusetts, he cut spending and improved the state’s financial health while enacting a health insurance reform plan that is eerily similar to Obamacare — which he nonetheless claims to oppose. Coupled with his initial, albeit reluctant support for civil unions in 2004 — only to come out against gay marriage later — and his membership of the Mormon Church, Romney is no ideal candidate for Tea Party activists nor evangelicals. Nevertheless, he is considered the Republican frontrunner by many campaign strategists and professionals and has managed to raise far more funds than any of his competitors in this race yet.

Two Tea Party Stalwarts on Sunday

Two politicians who have been instrumental in the recent surge of small-government conservatism in the United States appeared on the Sunday morning talk shows this weekend to share their expectations about the upcoming midterm elections for Congress. Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi sat down at the table of NBC’s Meet the Press while former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate for the Republican Party in 2008 Sarah Palin appeared on Fox News Sunday.

According to Barbour, who, as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, has been the driving force behind the Remember November campaign and is sometimes mentioned as a possible contender for his party’s presidential nomination in 2012, the midterm elections are undoubtedly a referendum on the Obama Administration. He mentioned the rising national debt and persistent joblessness rates as among the foremost of reasons for independent voters to swing to the right this election. “The Obama policies aren’t working,” he explained. “We need new policies.”

Sarah Palin was all the more blunt. “You blew it, President Obama,” she said. The message of these elections will be, “no more business as usual,” according to the former governor. Minority Leader John Boehner, who is likely to replace Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, has been using the very same rhetoric for several weeks. Just what Republicans intend to do instead has remained largely unsaid however.

The Republicans have offered their Pledge to America but volunteered notably few concrete pro-growth policies. There is still a lot of anger on the right and with Democrats apparently confounded by voter frustration that sentiment will be enough to propel Republicans to victory. But if they want to channel their newfound popularity into sustainable electoral success, Republicans have to stop boasting and lay out a new agenda.

This fall though, “repudiating” the Democrats’ legislative agenda is more likely and that is precisely what Barbour promised.

Health care reform, which was enacted by Congress in the spring and which is still being contested by individual states for being unconstitutional, is a case in point. Republicans haven’t exactly promised to repeal Obamacare as they persist in calling it. Rather they will “replace” it, according to their Pledge or make “big changes” to it, in Barbour’s words.

Asked whether incoming congressmen and senators should be willing to compromise on such hotly contested issues, Sarah Palin said, “Absolutely not. That’s been part of the problem,” she added. “We can’t afford to compromise on principle.”

Both Barbour and Palin have been mentioned as possible Republican contenders for the presidency in 2012. Barbour said on Meet the Press that he hadn’t given running any thought yet. “After this election is over,” he added, “we’ll sit down and see if there’s anything to think about.”

Palin, too, seemed reluctant, citing media scrutiny of her person and her family as a reason for not throwing herself in the race. “I love the freedom that I have,” she said, “that I can tell you anything I want to tell you and not have to worry so much about how it will affect my future political career.” But, “the country is worth it,” she added, “to make those sacrifices. If the country needed me I would be willing to make the sacrifices.”

Is the GOP Leaderless?

On a recent episode of NBC’s Meet the Press President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe professed that the Republican Party today is actually led by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin. In part, he’s right.

I have never spoken or heard anyone in person or through blogs speak of the current Republican Party in a positive light. Even those who believe in the GOP in principle agree that it needs some drastic changes to go in the right direction. No matter how rich, charismatic, intelligent, or talented you are you cannot lead people if they do not wish to follow and the Republicans have gotten wildly off track.

That being said, Limbaugh, Beck and Palin don’t really lead the GOP. They are leaders each in a slightly different way, but their relationship to the American people is direct and not filtered through a political party. Glenn Beck in particular is not about politics at all, rather about virtuous principles and good government. Republicans are extremely sluggish in responding to the current drift of American opinion and indeed seem to spend all their time chasing what they perceive to be the politically expedient rather than the principled path. The GOP appears without position and is, in any event, notoriously poor at explaining it or adhering to it for any length of time.

It is interesting to note that when Plouffe named Limbaugh, Beck and Palin as the Republican leadership he was making an effort to marginalize the party. That may not be the best tactic since all three are gaining in popularity almost every day. It’s hard to convincingly claim that a majority of Americans are on the fringes for a majority does agree with at least a significant part of the message being spread by the three.

While government is formed for the organization of society and the protection of life and property, politics is the effort of individuals and groups to use government for their own gain in power over others. The GOP is about politics as much as the Democratic Party is. Each wants power. Beck and Palin at least are dedicated to promoting proper government. Limbaugh walks the line between good principles and power, desiring a strong GOP that follows good principles. It is the principles of good government the people of America are responding to just now. The Democrats have been hemorrhaging supporters and losing leadership at an alarming rate as well, though the full extent of this problem won’t be evident until after the November elections for Congress. It is parties and leadership the Americans have become disillusioned with. For the moment, politics is disgusting to all and freedom becoming palatable again.

Sarah Palin’s Fanaticism

It has been more than a year since the presidential election but Sarah Palin continues to arouse the political sentiments throughout the United States, being embraced in recent months by the anti-government Tea Party movement and still polling high as a possible contender for the Republican primaries of 2012.

There is ample reason to assume that in the end, Palin won’t run for president. Her popularity, though impressive, is unlikely to rise further, considering liberals’ deep resentment with the very qualities that make her popular on the right and her inability to stir enthusiasm with moderate voters. In spite of her Tea Party appeal, Palin has no ideology. While that allows her to spearhead the broad discontent with the Obama Administration’s agenda, it also makes her an unlikely candidate for a party that is busily redefining conservatism.

Moreover, there are two qualities about Palin which put her squarely in the social conservative camp previously claimed by President George W. Bush. First among them is her folksy, Washington outsider image which currently resonates with voters but is unlikely to meet approval with the majority of Americans who agree that a repetition of Bush-Cheney policy is not what the country needs. Second is her religious fanaticism.

Palin has carefully avoided to elaborate on her beliefs in order to amass popular support but any future election is bound to expose her peculiar world views. Like many Americans, she likes to think of the United States as God’s Chosen Country and believes that He consciously directs world events. While that is not an alarming perspective per se, it is for someone who might aspire to become Leader of the Free World.

In June 2008, speaking before her church about her son going to war in Iraq, Palin urged the congregation to pray “that our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God; that’s what we have to make sure we are praying for, that there is a plan, and that plan is God’s plan.”

Should a political leader really promote the view that today’s wars in the Middle East are nothing short of crusades? Is it really a good idea to place the most powerful military force in history at the disposal of a woman who believes that, if elected, it was by God’s will, not the people’s? Imagine Sarah Palin as president of the United States, faced with the prospect of a nuclear Iran and contemplating her role in the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy at the same time.

The United States have had to endure eight years of a presidency inspired by Christian fervor already. George W. Bush admitted in 2005 to having consulted a “higher Father” about invading Iraq and repeatedly implied that he was carrying out God’s work while instigating death and destruction in the Middle East. But even he was careful to note that America was not at war with another religion. Palin’s role in America’s newfound Islam backlash is far more troubling.

There are many reasons why Sarah Palin should not be president. Her ignorance of policy is telling but all the more upsetting is her faith which dictates that she has no influence on world events. The presidency of the United States is arguably the most powerful position on Earth. It should not be put in the hands of a woman who believes that, no matter what she does, it is in accordance with God’s will and therefore righteous.

America’s Not So Original Islam Backlash

Throughout Western Europe, populists on the right have espoused anti-Islam rhetoric for many years. Banning the construction of mosques as well as the wearing of the burqa is now, in some countries, part of mainstream conservative thought. America’s political right is only just discovering the windfall to be gained from Islam bashing however.

Even in the wake of 9/11, Republicans took care not to demonize the Arab world at large. President George W. Bush could be very explicit in stressing that Muslims were not the enemy. In November 2002, for instance, he criticized evangelical Christians who rallied against Islam, noting that, “Islam, as practiced by the vast majority of people, is a peaceful religion.” The president promised that America would not “let the War on Terror or terrorists cause us to change our values.”

But it has, as evidenced by the recent controversy over the planned construction of a Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan, mere blocks away from the site where once stood the towers of the World Trade Center. A “not in our own backyard” sentiment has exploded even in America’s greatest of melting pots; a metropolis once renowned for its open mindedness and cultural diversity.

Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, now believes framing the War of Terror as such was a mistake. “This is not a war on terrorism,” he told an audience of two hundred at the American Enterprise Institute last month; “this is a struggle with radical Islamists.”

Sarah Palin, former vice presidential candidate and until July of last year governor of Alaska, has called the construction of the “Ground Zero mosque,” as the project has been dubbed by its opponents, an “unnecessary provocation.” Just one year earlier, in Hong Kong, she was careful to note that the War on Terror “is not, as some have said, a clash of civilizations.” At the time, she believed that America was “not at war with Islam.”

Europe has had its fair share of such hypocrisy for several years. Hypocrisy, because instead of undermining the intellectual foundation of an ideology that preaches violence and destruction, Europe’s anti-Islamic rabble rousers have, in the guise of contesting radicalism, focused almost entirely on the symbolic.

In November of last year, Switzerland imposed a ban on the construction of minarets throughout the country, the only natural effect of which will be a further estrangement of Muslims who merely seek to practice their religion in peace. France, last January, decided to ban the burqa, the full facial veil worn by no more than a tiny fraction of conservative Muslim women living in the West. In France, a mere 2,000 women are estimated to wear a burqa or similar garment but as a result of its ban, all Muslims see their religious freedoms slowly evaporate.

Perhaps Europe’s most infamous of Islamic critics is Geert Wilders from the Netherlands whose Freedom Party will likely become part of the next Dutch government. Wilders has campaigned against what he describes as the Islamification of the Netherlands for many years, proposing to ban the burqa, the Quran and closing Islamic schools. He has consistently criticized the political establishment for allowing Islam to gain a foothold in the 1990s, blissfully ignoring its supposed incompatibility with Western tradition in the name of cultural relativism. His popularity has only increased as a result.

Wilders is scheduled to speak at Ground Zero on September 11 as part of a rally against the Islamic community center being built nearby. American conservatives, including Newt Gingrich, will join him.

Europe’s and America’s newfound backlash against Islam have similar reasons and are fueled by similar factions.

Both in Europe and in the United States, there is a crisis of confidence among intellectuals and representatives of traditional power structures about the superiority of their culture and values.

In Europe, this lack of confidence is older and harkens back to the post-colonial guilt and cultural relativism of the 1960s which led a whole generation of political leaders, mostly on the left, to turn a blind eye on the mounting frustration experienced particularly among the lower classes with a seemingly endless influx of migrants. These people, who traditionally voted for social-democratic or Labor parties, saw their neighborhoods change, sometimes deteriorate; their worlds literally turned upside down because of urban renewal projects; low-incomes jobs being shipped overseas, all the while their political representatives reveled in the wonders of globalization. It seemed to them as though the politicians who claimed to defend their interests simply didn’t know, let alone understand their problems.

Since the turn of the century, this constituency of largely working-class voters has turned to more radical solutions. They supported Jörg Haider in Austria, Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands, Jean-Marie Le Pen in France, People’s Parties in Denmark and Switzerland, and more recently, Geert Wilders. What these political leaders and parties shared were blunt anti-immigration policies, a nationalistic tone and a fierce agitation against the establishment. Although readily identified as “far right,” most actually maintained fairly socialistic economic positions, opposing, for instance, raising the retirement age and favoring a certain measure of protectionism to secure jobs.

In most Western European countries, these anti-immigration platforms are in the process of being institutionalized as part of the political landscape. With the exception of France, all aforementioned parties either have been or are expected to become part of governing coalitions. They subsequently temper their rhetoric while working to enact real solutions, not banning the Quran or deporting criminals whose parents hail from Arab countries but imposing immigration controls and tougher prison sentencing for what is otherwise low level crime.

In the United States, a similar crisis of confidence is developing though it is both more recent and more defined. The Tea Party phenomenon is the most noticeable expression of a mounting discontent among a majority of Americans with what Newt Gingrich calls the secular-socialist machine that is the Obama Administration. Many Americans fear that their country’s traditions are being squandered by the current government in favor of European-style socialism.

In reality, America has been a welfare state for many decades and even most Tea Partiers supports its most pervasive of programs: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Like the European anti-immigration parties, Republicans in the United States today may strike a nationalistic tone, denouncing the Democrats’ policies as “European” (i.e., foreign) but they usually won’t propose to curb on entitlements. They understand that what’s driving their base is what’s driving disenfranchised voters in Europe: fear, of the future and the unknown, and, perhaps even more so, anger. Politically, it’s much more expedient to try to capitalize on such emotions than offer sound policy alternatives.

In fairness, there have been several Republican legislators who dare to voice bold, libertarian solutions to America’s pressing budget woes and evermore expansive government. They are urging Democrats as well as their own party to discover anew the virtues of austerity and fiscal balance in government and letting the free market reign. But overwhelmingly, Americans, like their counterparts across the Atlantic, agree that there is a place for government in nearly every sector of the economy, no matter the rhetoric.

In essence, the differences between the major parties in the United States are still slim. So when health-care reform came to Congress, most opposition members retorted to scare tactics, warning of “death panels” and denouncing their pro-choice colleagues as “baby killers.” With immigration reform looming, Republicans, again, rather simplify reality than face the inevitable necessity of changing America’s current immigration structure.

By framing the War on Terror as a clash of civilizations and by warning that immigration reform will “open the floodgates” to admit a stream of malevolent, job stealing Mexicans into the country, Republicans are thriving on a nationalistic, increasingly isolationist current of populist fury that is also fiercely anti-establishment. Within a few years, no matter their popularity today and likely electoral successes in the near future, that could easily come back to haunt them, as it did in 2006 and 2008.

For almost thirty years now, the Republican Party has understood that preaching family values and talking of America as a shining beacon of Christendom is more likely to attract voters than volunteering solutions that either slightly or starkly differ from the left’s. Newt Gingrich stills describes the United States as “an intensely religious country that believes our rights come from God” while simultaneously trying to appeal to the small-government conservatives and libertarians in the Tea Party. Perhaps the November midterms and remaining years of Barack Obama’s presidency will determine whether those two, seemingly opposite, sentiments can be mixed to revitalize the Republican base.

Palin’s Smear Tactics

Sarah Palin is no asset to the Republican Party. Behind the image of no-nonsense folksiness she so likes to project, the former Alaska governor hides no intellectual depth whatsoever. She owes her popularity to her fierce criticism of the Obama Administration which has propelled her into the position of something of a spokesperson for the tea party movement. Republicans may applaud her right now, but they mustn’t forget that so far, Palin hasn’t revealed much of a political philosophy besides responding to every Democratic initiative with a nagging “no, no, no!”

What’s more, although she ran for vice president in 2008, Palin hasn’t showed herself capable of principled leadership yet. She resigned as governor for purely political reasons and went on to smear Democrats and Democratic plans alike with half truths and a fearmongering paralleled only the likes of Fox News television host Glenn Beck.

This Monday, Palin attacked President Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel who, “although known for his caustic, crude references about those with whom he disagrees,” had went to far this time by referring to liberal activist as “retarded”. That, according to Palin, was a “sick and offensive tactic.”

She denounced “Rahm’s slur on all God’s children with cognitive and developmental disabilities” while citing “a patriot” from Massachusetts who had a child born with Down Syndrome and demanded an apology. “This isn’t about politics,” the man told her, “it’s about decency.” He said he wanted to live in a country “free from mindless prejudice and discrimination.”

The Massachusetts man might not have written Palin for political reasons, but that is exactly why she posted his message. The truly “sick and offensive tactic” here is Palin’s use of children and parents struggling with a disability in order to get her name in the spotlight again.

Of course, calling people “retarded” is offensive and of course, a White House official shouldn’t be using such language but it’s hardly enough of an insult to fire someone over it. Indeed, it’s hardly enough of an insult to dedicate a column to the subject. Unless you’re Sarah Palin and you’re willing to say anything to score political points.

Palin appealed to the president, writing, “you can do better, and our country deserves better.” I say, the Republican Party can do better than Sarah Palin — and the country definitively deserves better.

The Palin Brief

She overwhelmed the country as vice presidential candidate in 2008. The Left found plenty of reason to resent her and while initially hailed by Republicans as the hockey-mom voice of folksy America, conservatives soon found that underneath the no-nonsense layer of toughness that Palin exhaled, the then-governor of Alaska really had no intellectual depth at all. Combined with a candidate who failed to salvage anything but catch phrases from his heydays as a staunch and sincere conservative representative and senator, it was little surprise to anyone that the Democrats swept the nation and won both Congress and the White House.

Part of the right hasn’t given up on Sarah Palin however. Her 2009 autobiography Going Rogue: An American Life became a bestseller and whatever she writes at her Facebook page is quick to become a matter of national concern. Indeed, Palin has reinvented herself as speaking for the small-government tea party movement, warning of socialized medicine, death panels, and the Obama Administration delivering the country into the hands of terrorists — whom, she complains, are treated as criminals who have rights by this government. Outrageous!

As we previously argued though, another “I’m-just-like-you” president is hardly what the United States need. Not only is the country involved in two overseas wars; it is faced with the possibility of armed conflict in a third; it is still struggling with the effects of the greatest economic downtown in decades; and it will reform health care on the federal level which, in all likelihood, will bring about an enormous expansion of government responsibility and spending. All in all, one would think that there is plenty for the party of small government and free markets to talk about.

Unfortunately, much of the GOP is brain dead and conservatives tune in to listen to the likes of Glenn Beck, Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh who, rather than providing intelligent criticism of an administration that far from favors small government and free markets, warn that the president is pouring the country down the drain of socialism.

As strong and united as the Republican Party may seem, Republican voters are in fact extraordinarily divided. Not even half of the people who identify as a “Republican” approve of the direction in which the party’s leadership is taking them — whoever those “leaders” are supposed to be. No more than two out ten people favor Sarah Palin while just 1 percent said former President Bush embodied “the best reflection of the party’s principles.”

Conservatives are united in their opposition to the spending frenziness of the current Congress and White House but they are disappointed that the Republican Party opposes it so little. Sadly, the reason for this is that Republicans too have stopped defending free-market capitalism while more and more they agree that government is the answer to problems, not its cause.

Unsurprisingly, right-wing intellectuals long for the days of Ronald Reagan when there were plenty of political philosophers and economists to back up the party’s agenda. In his first inaugural address, President Reagan could say that the “freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured” in the United States “than in any other place on earth” because individualism was at its peak. Compare that with the religiously inspired Republican leadership of today. Reagan could boldly declare that “government is the problem” because his era’s generation of economists had amply proved it. Compare that with the endeavors of the last administration.

As Reagan assured a Moscow audience in 1988 though, “Freedom is the right to question and change the established way of doing things,” adding, in defense of capitalism, that freedom also implied “the continuous revolution of the marketplace.” Let us hope that as we continue to question and demand a different sort of change, somewhere in the party that once produced one of the finest of American leaders, there is still a voice of reason and pride. Until that happens, it would appear that we are stuck with Sarah Palin.

Republican Party Lost Direction

Many appear to agree that in spite of their increasing popularity in the polls, today’s Republicans are divided when it comes to their party’s future. After the evangelic surge under George W. Bush, the populist, anti-Obama rhetoric that is espoused nowadays by the likes of Glenn Beck, Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin fails to charm part of the conservative backbone that would like to see their GOP move back to the old-styled small government, free-market philosophies which used to make it great.

Just a few days ago, JD Roger quoted Ronald Reagan-biographer Steven Hayward when he declared the Republican Party “brain dead”. Hayward longs for the days when right-wing intellectuals as Allan Bloom, Milton Friedman and Francis Fukuyama fueled the party’s agenda with their writings on the accomplishments of Western-styled democracy, individualism and free-market economics. What we get instead, he complains, is ridiculous “birthers” and “tea partygoers” who are encouraged by blustering lunatics as Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

Writing for The Washington Post, Jon Cohen and Dan Balz explain in part why so many people turn to listen to these hysterics. Besides a strong anti-Obama sentiment, they write, there is actually little that holds the Republican Party together these days. Not even half of the people who identify as a “Republican” approve of the direction in which the party’s leadership is pushing them. Moreover, they don’t really know who their party’s leaders are supposed to be anyway. No more than two out ten people favor Sarah Palin while just 1 percent said former President Bush represented “the best reflection of the party’s principles.”

In spite of strong internal disagreement on issues as abortion and same-sex marriage, the Post states that most Republicans “see the party as paying too little attention to federal spending. Most strongly oppose the government’s use of hundreds of billions of dollars over the past two years to bolster the economy.”

Yet it was under the last Bush Administration already that government spending skyrocketed while Republicans in Congress today dare hardly to voice any criticism of massive bailouts and outright government takeovers of business. The economic downturn has apparently been able to silence even the staunchest of capitalists in Washington even though many Republican voters are protesting evermore loudly against further government intrusion in their private lives — and in their private businesses.