Healthcare reform supporters who tuned in to the Glenn Beck Show the morning after Sunday’s vote for a dose of schadenfreude were sorely disappointed. For months Mr. Beck, a conservative radio talk-show host, had bewailed the fate of the nation should the healthcare bill pass into law. He warned it would be “the nail in the coffin of our country.”
Yet not 12 hours after the bill’s passage in the House, Beck appeared on air in a chipper mood. Chin up, he told his listeners. If we elect conservative Republicans willing to repeal the bill, the country can be saved.
In other words, no need for panic: The apocalypse has been postponed until November 2010.
Entertaining as it is to watch the goalposts move, the right’s end-of-life-as-we-know-it language has real consequences. It has eliminated opportunities for political compromise and threatens to reduce the Republican Party to a hodgepodge of epithet-hurlers and conspiracy theorists.
Given this, should anyone be surprised at the latest Harris poll that reveals how thoroughly such overblown rhetoric has infused the GOP? Of the Republicans polled, 2 out of 3 believe Obama is a socialist, nearly as many think he is Muslim, and a full quarter suspect the president may be the anti-Christ.
That’s right: The anti-Christ. This is the current state of the Republican Party. So what’s the end result of all these stoked fears and raised temperatures? For one, they ensure that no matter how postpartisan Obama would like to be, he will not be given that chance. While Democrats compromised on the public option and abortion language in the healthcare bill, Republicans refused to even glance across the aisle, much less reach across it.
How could they? They’ve sold their supporters on the idea that Democratic legislation is the first step to totalitarian dictatorship. Over the past week, Sen. Lindsey Graham threatened not to work with Democrats on immigration reform if they pushed through the healthcare bill. Sen. John McCain went one step further and promised “no cooperation for the rest of the year.”
Over-the-top rhetoric also means the Republican Party will move even more right in the coming years. Politicians who betray a hint of moderation will face Tea Party challengers as formerly local races become national battles to purge the party of any but the most conservative.
David Frum, former speechwriter for George W. Bush, sees disaster for the GOP in this strategy. Immediately after the vote on Sunday night, he declared it the Republican Waterloo. But even Mr. Frum can’t figure out a solution to the Republicans’ extremism problem. Until someone does, the GOP and its supporters will be reduced to railing against an apocalypse that never comes.
The ironic thing is I actually believe in an apocalypse. But when you jump from belief in an apocalypse, to believe that this is the apocalypse, you abandon all sense of reasonability or of cooperative effort in the very real and practical task of governing our country.
I blame Andrew Wymer for getting my all fired up about this in the first place. For those of you who know him see his facebook post from two days ago (read: it's good).