The Republicans' Descent into Delusion

The Republicans' Descent into Delusion August 13, 2009

I don’t usually post on purely political issues, but this one has become impossible to ignore. In the last few weeks, the American right has worked itself into a fever pitch of insanity over the prospect of healthcare reform.

If you’ve been watching the news, you’ve seen the shouting, raging protestors disrupting town-hall meetings, screaming at their representatives about how the healthcare bill is tyranny and fascism. These people are almost loud enough to drown out all other debate over health care. And their concerns, almost without exception, are pure, undiluted insanity. Take this right-wing protestor (who was subsequently invited on Fox News, naturally) to spout blithering hysteria about how President Obama is “sentencing our families to death” by trying to get a bill passed that would cover the uninsured.

Until a few weeks ago, I would have thought claims like this were too absurd to need refutation. But it’s not just random nutjobs who are saying these things: the very leaders of the Republican party, its spokespeople and elected officials, have thrown their weight behind them. Whether it’s Sarah Palin making ludicrous claims about “death panels”, or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggesting that health care reform would lead to mandatory euthanasia, or U.S. Representative Virginia Foxx saying on the floor of Congress itself that the healthcare bill would result in “seniors… being put to death”, or Senator Chuck Grassley saying that the government would “pull the plug on Grandma”, the Republican Party as an entity has fully committed itself, with every outward indicator of sincerity, to defending these delusional lies. And the media, which can be relied upon to reduce every political debate to a he-said-she-said collision of talking heads, has dutifully given airtime to these claims as though they were serious and thoughtful arguments, rather than the ravings of maniacs.

The flood of brazen lies and hysterical fearmongering is the latest symptom of the sickness that’s taken the Republican Party. It first manifested itself in the “birther” movement, the right-wing conspiracy theorists who insist in the face of all evidence that Barack Obama was not born in America. Now it’s reappeared in the form of the “deathers”, who took a single provision in the healthcare bill making provisions for voluntary end-of-life care directives (a provision that was introduced by a Republican senator), and somehow decided it meant that President Obama was planning to institute mandatory euthanasia on a massive scale.

As I said, this would sound too crazy to need refuting, if it hadn’t become the sole focus of the frothing mob that the conservative movement has become. I’m aware that this kind of craziness has always been an undercurrent in American politics. But never, to my knowledge, has the tinfoil-hat-and-black-helicopter brigade gotten control of one of America’s major political parties. (Along the same lines, Steve Benen has an insightful post on the motivations of the various groups that oppose reform.)

The raving fury and willful denial of reality that has the GOP in its thrall should be familiar to every reader of this blog. These are the same traits that are always seen in doomsday religious cults, the kind that are convinced the whole world is out to get them and everyone who’s not part of the cult is an agent of the evil conspiracy. One could well argue that the virulent strain of Christianism that’s taken root in the Republican Party, a religious sect already especially prone to such delusions, has accelerated the party’s slide.

The most important lesson that liberals and progressives need to learn here is that there’s no point trying to appease people who engage in this sort of behavior. They don’t come to the table in good faith; they don’t want to negotiate; their only goal is to obstruct and destroy.

President Obama was elected on a promise of bipartisanship and consensus-building, and I don’t expect him to change that philosophy. Nor do I want a mirror image of the totalitarian behavior of the last administration, which sought to suppress any opinion contrary to its own. But I do hope that elected Democrats will see the futility of trying to bargain with Republicans who promote fear and hysteria, and consciously make an effort to shut them out in favor of the increasingly few reasonable conservatives remaining. If we’re going to extend health care to the millions of uninsured Americans, pass a carbon cap-and-trade bill, reform our nation’s energy policy, or achieve any other major progressive goal, the doomsday-cult conservative shriekers need to be marginalized and pushed to the lunatic fringes where they belong.

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