No Comment — February 24, 2009, 8:36 am

“The Stupid Party”

How do Americans view Barack Obama and his relationship with the Republican minority? Nearly 80 percent say that Obama is outstripping their expectations as a President; nearly 70 percent say he is delivering on his promises; roughly two-thirds of Americans approve his performance. Republicans do not fare so well. Their approval numbers come in at half or less of Obama’s, and the public believes, also by a large margin, that Obama has stretched out a hand of cooperation to the Congressional G.O.P., and they have responded by spurning him. The public, it seems, is forming a very harsh judgment on the performance of the Republican leadership, which in time of crisis has reduced itself to a simple mantra: just say “no.”

The poll also offers us a chance to understand how Republicans view the world. The Washington Post reports: “74 percent of Republicans in the new poll expressed grave worry about the deficit, 29 points higher than in December when George W. Bush held the reins.” Nothing has changed about the deficit—it is still a deficit that George W. Bush created. But the Republican Party’s attitude has been dramatically transformed. Telling indeed.

My theory is that the American public would be happy with an opposition party that plays a constructive role in governance by forcing the exploration of the government’s proposals and putting forward its own alternatives. Our experience as a democracy is that such a process of lively public debate helps us move to correct answers. But the Republicans are not behaving as a responsible opposition party. Their behavior reminds us of John Stuart Mill’s label for the unconstructive Tories: he called them the “stupid party.”

Moreover, the hallmark of contemporary Republican thinking really is stupidity. Consider Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, who responded to a question about whether Obama was a legitimate president with this blather “Well, his father was Kenyan and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven’t seen any birth certificate… You have to be born in America to be president.” Shelby, of course, supported John McCain, and there’s no dispute as to where McCain was born: in Coco Solo, Colón Province, Panama. Shelby is apparently vying to become a leader of the party’s rampant Neoconfederate bloc.

Or Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning who told a gathering how excited he was by news that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had pancreatic cancer. She would be dead in nine months, he said, because it was a disease you just don’t survive. Bunning later issued an “apology” that implied that Ginsburg was making a big deal out of his remarks (she never made a comment on them) and in the process misspelled her name.

Or consider South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, whose recent efforts to attack the Obama stimulus package consisted of a stream of nonsense. In a rapid-fire series of remarks, Sanford compared the stimulus to “Weimar Germany” and “the Soviet grain quotas of Stalin’s time.” He reminded us that “people who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” and then drew on comparisons closer to home. “The Golden Gate Bridge was a Hoover-era infrastructure project designed to get the economy going,” he said. “The Hoover Dam was a Depression-era, you know, project designed to get the economy going.” But Sanford wants to condemn the country to a G.O.P. Groundhog Day—his comparisons are not just wrong, they are nutty. Start with the facts that the Golden Gate Bridge and the Hoover Dam are pre-Depression era projects.

And of course there was the recent historical excursion of Ohio Republican Congressman Steve Austria:

“When (President Franklin) Roosevelt did this, he put our country into a Great Depression,” Austria said. “He tried to borrow and spend, he tried to use the Keynesian approach, and our country ended up in a Great Depression. That’s just history.”

Except of course that Roosevelt became president in 1933 and the Great Depression started in 1929 in the presidency of Republican Herbert Hoover.

How does this play to the voters? In an intriguing article in the current National Journal, Ronald Brownstein and David Wasserman take a look at how Republicans are doing with educated voters. Their view: Democrats are scoring “dramatic gains” among better educated voters, namely those who hold college diplomas. They bore into a number of sample counties, like Oakland County, Michigan, which was once reliably Republican—and where well-educated voters now feel the G.O.P. is just too stupid to earn their vote.

The Stupid Party may have appointed Michael Steele as its chairman, but it’s still represented by aging white southern men who seem to have a hankering for re-fighting the Civil War and who emit an unending stream of idiocies when they connect with the media. They lecture us about history and prove in the process that they are schooled on prejudice and venom. They believe that opposing the president in a time of crisis without proposing any credible alternatives of their own is a virtue and that debate is best conducted with fear and superstition and not reason and facts, yet every time they raise their voices they raise the same question: “How did the country come to the domestic and foreign policy mess it now faces?” We don’t have to look far.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

July 2016

American Idle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

My Holy Land Vacation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The City That Bleeds

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

El Bloqueo

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Vladivostok Station

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Ideology of Isolation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The City That Bleeds·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing."
Photograph (detail) © Wil Sands/Fractures Collective
Post
Inside the July Issue·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tom Bissell on touring Israel with Christian Zionists, Joy Gordon on the Cuban embargo, Lawrence Jackson on Freddie Gray and the makings of an American uprising, a story by Paul Yoon, and more

i. stand with israel
I listen to a lot of conservative talk radio. Confident masculine voices telling me the enemy is everywhere and victory is near — I often find it affirming: there’s a reason I don’t think that way. Last spring, many right-wing commentators made much of a Bloomberg poll that asked Americans, “Are you more sympathetic to Netanyahu or Obama?” Republicans picked the Israeli prime minister over their own president, 67 to 16 percent. There was a lot of affected shock that things had come to this. Rush Limbaugh said of Netanyahu that he wished “we had this kind of forceful moral, ethical clarity leading our own country”; Mark Levin described him as “the leader of the free world.” For a few days there I yelled quite a bit in my car.

The one conservative radio show I do find myself enjoying is hosted by Dennis Prager. At the Thanksgiving dinner of American radio personalities (Limbaugh is your jittery brother-in-law, Michael Savage is your racist uncle, Hugh Hewitt is Hugh Hewitt) Dennis Prager is the turkey-carving patriarch trying to keep the conversation moderately high-minded. While Prager obviously doesn’t like liberals — “The gaps between the left and right on almost every issue that matters are in fact unbridgeable,” he has said — he often invites them onto his show for debate, which is rare among right-wing hosts. Yet his gently exasperated take on the Obama–Netanyahu matchup was among the least charitable: “Those who do not confront evil resent those who do.”

Artwork: Camels, Jerusalem (detail) copyright Martin Parr/Magnum Photos
Post
Europe’s Hamilton Moment·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"We all know in France that as soon as a politician starts saying that some problem will be solved at the European level, that means no one is going to do anything."
Photograph (detail) by Stefan Boness
[Report]
How to Make Your Own AR-15·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Even if federal gun-control advocates got everything they wanted, they couldn’t prevent America’s most popular rifle from being made, sold, and used. Understanding why this is true requires an examination of how the firearm is made.
Illustration by Jeremy Traum
Article
My Holy Land Vacation·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"I wanted to more fully understand why conservative politics had become synonymous with no-questions-asked support of Israel."
Illustration (detail) by Matthew Richardson

Average number of Americans who are injured by chain saws each year:

36,000

A farmer in Kenya bit a python who tried to eat him.

A former prison in Philadelphia that has served as a horror-movie set was being prepared as a detention center for protesters arrested at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump fired his campaign manager.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today