Conservatives' Network Moment

There is a special circle of hell reserved for self-hating intellectuals, bright minds who have opted to poison the well of political discourse in this country rather than engage in the sort of vigorous national debate that would in a better world serve as the awesome engine of American democracy. Say what you will about the Democratic party, but where liberals have in large part chosen to fight the more difficult -- and often unsuccessful -- battle of 'let's put my idea on the table alongside your idea and let the country decide which is better,' the Republican party's preferred strategy of late has been to light the table on fire and hope that the Democrats' idea isn't shiny enough to be found amongst the ashes.

There are good and honorable conservative thinkers, many of whom I am proud to call my friends, and this complaint is not addressed to them. The sad truth is that their party has been commandeered by those who would rather dumb their fellow citizens down than take part in an honest discussion about what policies best serve the American people. In their desperate race toward the lowest common denominator, these pundits and politicos have distorted, distracted, and lied to Americans who trust them, and the results are not good -- not just for the GOP, but for the entire country and the very idea of (small 'd') democratic integrity. Last week, Daily Kos/Research 2000 polled 2,003 self-identified Republicans nationwide. To borrow a line from Nabokov, "look at this tangle of thorns."

Do you, dear reader, "believe Barack Obama is a racist who hates White people?" If you answered 'yes' or 'not sure,' then you would fit right in among the 64 percent of Republicans who feel the same way. You would also fit right in in David Duke's living room. I wonder what it is that President Obama has done to make a supermajority of Republicans feel this way. I wonder if it has nothing to do with the President at all, and everything to do with Glenn Beck announcing to millions of television viewers that Obama has "a deep seated hatred for white people" on Fox & Friends last July. As has been well-documented by the rational world at large, Beck is the poster child -- and I do mean child -- for those who would rather torpedo the most important debates facing our nation than join in them.

Perhaps hating white people is the high crime or misdemeanor you might cite if you are one of the 68 percent of respondents who answered 'yes' or 'not sure' to the question "Should Barack Obama be impeached, or not?" If impeachment doesn't work out, no matter -- since only 42 percent of Republicans are sure that the President was born in the United States, the other 58 percent are presumably already prepared to declare the Obama administration null and void. 79 percent answered 'yes' or 'not sure' to the question "Do you think Barack Obama is a socialist?" while 57 percent answered likewise when asked "Do you believe Barack Obama wants the terrorists to win?" Read that again. 57 percent of Republicans either think that, or aren't sure if, President Obama wants the terrorists to win. What in the world makes ordinary Americans so suspicious of the President of the United States that they honestly believe that he's rooting for the bad guys in the case of America v. the Terrorists? The answer is sad and simple: every single day and every single night, someone who knows better looks into the camera and lies to them.

I am led to believe that the people who propagate these claims hate their country, that they truly loathe Americans. To go on television and question the President's ideas is a noble and worthwhile endeavor; to go on television and question the President's citizenship or attitude toward America is the act of an irredeemable coward. For the Sean Hannitys and Glenn Becks of the world, there are short-term gains -- it makes for great television, and every time you convince another American to become outraged, you hinder the administration's agenda a little bit more. But in the longer term there is a catastrophe coming. What the poll shows is that these demonstrably false beliefs have wormed their way into the Republican mainstream, where they are being left to ferment into a dangerous paranoia. The most shocking statistic of all? Only 58 percent of Republicans answered 'no' when asked if they believe that their state should secede from the Union. Is secession a Republican value? Of course not -- but it is what happens when smart conservatives spend all of their time and energy convincing their fellow Americans to hate liberals rather than convincing them of the merits of conservative principles. Every little insinuation, every cry of 'socialism' from a politician who knows it isn't true, every invocation of taxes that in reality haven't gone up, every little bit raises the temperature that much more, and pretty soon their blood is boiling.

This past Thursday, Beck, who likes to think of himself as a sort of latter-day Howard Beale, went on his radio show and said this of the President: "He chose to use his name, Barack, for a reason. To identify, not with America -- you don't take the name Barack to identify with America. You take the name Barack to identify with what? Your heritage? The heritage, maybe, of your father in Kenya, who is a radical? Really? Searching for something to give him any kind of meaning, just as he was searching later in life for religion." Unbelievably racist? Of course it is. But the problem isn't that Glenn Beck is a racist -- it's that he wants to make you one. He wants you to talk about first names and middle names so that you're not talking about the best plan to create more jobs for Americans. He wants you to trade in your reasonable conservative notions for panic and a pitchfork.

How can we hope to succeed as a country when this is the voice whispering into the ears of much of the Republican Party? Where are the adults? Who will fight for true conservative values once half of our citizens have been taught to hate first and ask questions later? Democracy requires unpolluted discourse the way circulation requires unclogged arteries, and unless those actors who control the national political diet stop feeding us a steady stream of gristle we are headed for certain cardiac arrest. The time has come for smart conservatives to stand up to the peddlers of ignorance and say, "I'm rational as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"