Note: This article was first posted on the front Politics page of the Huffington Post
It’s not poor Mitt’s fault. Jesus could be the Republican candidate this year with Lincoln as his running mate and the Republicans would still lose. That’s because the American people don’t have a death wish. You see we may all wallow in our own delusional fantasy lands but we want sane leaders.
I’ll explain. You might be a Christian like me who says he believes in the power of God to heal. But if I get a brain tumor I’d much prefer an atheist with an MD/PhD in neurosurgery if it comes to surgery than my pastor. The same goes for political parties. Members of the religious right, libertarians, conservative Roman Catholics, papal groupies, Mormons, you name it — from soccer moms to the the rest of us — love our particular mythologies. Notwithstanding our addiction to wishful thinking when it comes to presidential leadership we want someone who takes our idiosyncrasies seriously but that doesn’t govern according to them.
The difference between the Republican Party as it once was say pre-Roe v Wade and as it is now is illustrated by the fact that when I was a Republican Party/antiabortion activist in the 1970s to late 1980s, we of the “pro-life” right were outside agitators. We were knocking on the doors of insiders like Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp and George Bush senior. (I describe my family’s odd “contribution” to the Republican Party in my “God Trilogy” Crazy for God, Patience With God and Sex, Mom and God.)
But today it’s as if us outside agitators had been running for congress or for president. That would have been laughable back then. Come to think of it, it was laughable when Pat Robertson tried it in 1988.
No one’s laughing now.
Encountering the Republican Party today is like going to the hospital only to find that your faith healing pastor has replaced your doctor. When you’re offered Bible study instead of the surgery you were scheduled for your reaction is “Oh shit!” even if you’re a believer. I mean, most people know the difference between belief and fact when their lives are on the line.
See, we Americans want our beliefs (religious or otherwise) respected but not taken too seriously. For instance lots of us say we believe in guardian angels but most of us still wear a seat belt. In other words we want leaders to be nice to us and say pleasant things about our beliefs but not base policy on the Bible or health insurance on the Tea Party’s fear of “Death Panels,” or concoct a “military policy” based on what some xenophobic Christian Zionists say let alone the latest bomb-them-all neoconservative wet dreams concocted by the same people who talked Bush into Iraq.
The problem with today’s Republican Party is that it’s gone way past paying polite lip service to our weirdest beliefs and has become way to much like us. It’s as dysfunctional as we are.
Speaking of freaking the rest of us out, the Republican Party has allowed its Middle East policy to more or less be written for it by the buffoonish Prime Minister of Israel, the one who showed up at the UN with a Wile E. Coyote cartoon bomb and drew a red line on it. Part of that “pro-Israel” stance is manifested by the Republicans trying to use the murder of our ambassador in Libya as a political weapon to “prove” the President is “pro-Muslim” and “weak on terrorism.” (Never mind the 3000 Americans who were killed on 9/11 on W’s “watch” after he ignored repeated warnings from the CIA, but that’s another story.)
Pandering to the Israel lobby goes way past political genuflecting to the Christian Zionists waiting for Jesus to “return” and/or reassuring understandably the jumpy West Bank settlers. Rather Republican faith-based “policy” cuts to the heart of where our military personnel — people like my Marine son John who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq and who thank God! survived — will die, be maimed and scarred next. Again– No one’s laughing now.
The same general lack of good humor by most Americans towards the Republican Party goes for political “strategies” too. It is one thing to coddle bigots and reinforce their bigotry with obscure race-based flyers placed on windscreens in southern church parking lots, as happened when W Bush used his religious right surrogate Jerry Falwell and went after John McCain in 2000, by accusing him of having an illegitimate black child. It’s another thing to base actual anti-immigrant legislation on an ignorant “Tea Party” subgroup’s dumbest fears of the “other.” And it’s one thing for some know-nothing individuals to hate the black man in the White House just because he’s black, but it’s another thing for the Republican Party to openly work in 30-plus states to resurrect old voter suppression tactics most Americans are ashamed of.
And Paul Ryan has done enormous damage to the ticket. Everyone more or less knows that Romney only pretends to be a wild eyed far right nut in order to get the far right nut vote. But Ryan is the real Ayn Rand/libertarian-dismantle-the-government article and a true believer.
Romney has become the lightning rod for Republican pundit discontent because he has all too successfully pandered to the heart of his own party. Also, the Republican talking heads need someone other than themselves to blame for unleashing a lot of crazy ideas that aren’t flying, say like the need to bomb Iran right now, deprive women of contraceptives in the name of religious freedom no less, and ban gays from marrying. But how can you fault a candidate for trying to be loyal to his base?
Still, being loyal to one’s base as a Democrat brings very different results than trying to pander to Republicanism these days because most Democrats in that base aren’t touring the Creation Museum while denying global warming, evolution, the need for comprehensive sex education or worrying about frozen embryos’ “civil rights.” So when President Obama is loyal to his base he enacts legislation to give health care to all Americans, stops a war, tries to prevent Israel from lashing out at Iran, kills bin Laden, tries to calm the Middle East, shores up the American economy, defends and expands the civil rights of gay Americans and women and actually governs– in spite of being obstructed by a Republican Party dominated by extremists.
Romney will lose and then become the fall guy for the Republican pundits, as in “he was a bad candidate.” But Romney’s problems are a symptom of the disease afflicting Republicans, not the cause of that disease. He’s wacky because they are. He panders to the super rich because that is all his party actually does care about when not trying to stop blacks from voting or women from using contraception or gays from loving whomever they want to love.
When the Republicans bring back actual “doctors” (to overuse my metaphor) and send the “faith healers” back to where they belong, we Americans just might trust them again. Meanwhile we’ll reelect our sane president. I mean it’s pretty basic: President Obama believes in science, that global warming is real, that the solution to the problems in the world can’t be found in the book of Revelation, that the way to reduce abortions is through helping poor women and providing comprehensive sex education in schools, that Americans need Social Security and Medicare, and that most Americans like women, paved roads, our gay neighbors, our Hispanic friends and a working post office.
In other words our president is a smart compassionate decent grownup governing from the common sense center, something that used to be a prerequisite for Republican leaders too.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of the New York Times bestseller Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps and Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back .