Yesterday rocker Ted Nugent announced that he would attend President Obama's State of the Union speech -- and then hold a press conference afterward to comment.
Nugent will attend at the invitation of Republican Congressman Steve Stockman of Texas. But the message he sends is toxic for the Republican Party.
Ted Nugent is a board member of the NRA -- and an avid spokesman for the right of every American to buy, carry and use military style weapons. Graciously, he will arrive at the capitol without military style weapons. He told the New York Times he would "go in at least 20 pounds lighter than I normally walk," ... "I will be going in sans the hardware store on my belt. I live a well-armed life, and I've got to demilitarize before I go."
He will be attending the State of the Union speech along with 100 relatives of the victims of gun violence invited mainly by Democratic Members of Congress and sponsored by Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Among them will be former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who was almost killed in a gun attack in Tucson.
The contrast could not be starker. During last year's Presidential campaign Nugent said:
"If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year."
In 2007 he said:
"I think that Barack Hussein Obama should be put in jail. It is clear that Barack Hussein Obama is a communist. Mao Tse Tung lives and his name is Barack Hussein Obama. This country should be ashamed. I wanna throw up," he said, adding "Obama, he's a piece of s**t. I told him to suck on my machine gun."
As for his view of women:
"Obama, he's a piece of shit. I told him to suck on my machine gun. Hey Hillary," he continued. "You might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch."
"What's a feminist anyways? A fat pig who doesn't get it often enough?"
In a 1994 Rolling Stone interview Nugent said:
"You probably can't use the term `toxic c**t' in your magazine, but that's what she is. Her very existence insults the spirit of individualism in this country. This bitch is nothing but a two-bit whore for Fidel Castro."
On Asians and "foreigners" in general:
"...Yeah they love me (in Japan) -- they're still assholes. These people they don't know what life is. I don't have a following, they need me; they don't like me they need me... Foreigners are a******s; foreigners are scum; I don't like 'em; I don't want 'em in this country; I don't want 'em selling me doughnuts; I don't want 'em pumping my gas; I don't want 'em downwind of my life-OK? So anyhow, and I'm dead serious..."
And then there are his comments on race:
"My being there (South Africa) isn't going to affect any political structure. Besides, apartheid isn't that cut-and-dry. All men are not created equal."
"I use the word n****r a lot because I hang around with a lot of n****rs, and they use the word n****r, and I tend to use words that communicate," he said.
Let's just say that Ted Nugent is not the face of the new Republican Party "brand" that many Republican leaders have been trying so desperately to project since their November election disaster.
Nugent presents the same problem for Republicans as Todd Aiken did when he explained how the female body shut down pregnancies that resulted from "legitimate rape." Even though many Republicans don't entirely agree with people like Nugent and Aiken, their comments are toxic for the Republican Party brand. They drive away women, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, young people.
And when it comes to the issue of gun violence, who would you rather have as your spokesperson, Gabby Giffords or Ted Nugent? Which of these two do you think would poll more favorably among the vast majority of Americans?
Nugent's mouth is like a machine gun that riddles his own troops with friendly fire. The problem is that it is very hard for the Republican establishment to stop people like Nugent and Aiken. In fact tonight, we will be treated not only to the traditional Republican response to the State of the Union address -- but two additional Republican responses: one by Tea Party Senator Rand Paul and the other by ultra-extremist Ted Nugent.
From Nugent's point of view, it makes perfect sense to grandstand at the State of the Union and to go around making violent, outrageous statements. It drives his popularity and visibility among the narrow strata of the population that share his point of view -- his fan base.
Recently the NRA posted a video that criticized the President for having tougher security for his children than ordinary people have for their kid's schools. Most people thought the commercial was over the top -- that bringing the President's children into the political debate was out-of-bounds -- and was ineffective in moving persuadable voters.
But that wasn't the point. The video was not intended to persuade. It was intended as red meat for NRA supporters. It was intended to recruit members, raise money and mobilize the NRA's base.
And that is the Republican problem -- with the gun violence issue and so many others.
Tea Party activists have every incentive to stoke the anger of their base, make outrageous statements, and mount primary challenges that drive the Party out of the country's mainstream -- even though those actions simultaneously weaken the attractiveness of Republican Party candidates in general elections. And worse yet for the Republicans, those actions destroy their chances of attracting young people who will determine the Party's future.
In the near term, people like Ted Nugent are dangerous to a Democratic society. Ted Nugent is a hateful, demagogic figure that builds his own career by belittling and attacking others. In hard times, his scapegoating and racism can find a following.
But every time Nugent opens his mouth he also helps to create lifelong Progressives who would never dream of being associated with the hatred he espouses -- or with the political party that countenances him.
The Republican establishment funded and fueled the revival of the Tea Party after Barack Obama was elected. They did everything they could to legitimate otherwise fringe points of view. Now they are paying the price.
What is it they say about riding the tiger? The odds are good that you might be consumed by it. Or in the case of Nugent perhaps the better analogy would be a mountain lion. Nugent was once quoted saying:
"Vegetarians are cool. All I eat are vegetarians -- except for the occasional mountain lion steak."
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.