A couple of weeks ago Frank Rich in the New York Times, like many progressive commentators and activists across the country, worried that President Obama had punked us by caving in to Republican demands. The real story behind the debate over health care reform however is the systematic punking of America by the Republican party. Reduced to a political minority, its economic ideas of individual greed and its politics of division discredited, the GOP is trying to take the country down with it.
The Republican politics of deception and destruction of course have long roots. A party that pretends to be the party of fiscal conservatism gives us the worst recessions and huge deficits. A party that pretends to be the party of national security plays fast and loose with terror alerts for political gain and wages war on false pretexts. A party that pretends to be the party of patriotism and "America first" cripples the founding values and ideas of the American republic and Constitution. A party that pretends to be the party of family values and public decency condones hate speech and practices moral and religious hypocrisy as a high political art form. A party that pretends to be the party of Joe the Plumber blindly caters to the fat cats even at the cost of the common good. Not surprisingly, the Republican response to health care reform is a political theatre of gun toting nut jobs and manufactured canards about death panels.
It is about time that President Obama learns the lessons of the first years of Lincoln's presidency after whom he has modeled his own. Desperate to keep the country together, Lincoln appeased and appealed to border state slaveholders still in the Union and northern conservatives to accept gradual, compensated emancipation of the slaves. He even gave in to demands that freed slaves be colonized out of the country, an idea he flirted with through much of his political career. But radical Republicans and abolitionists, black and white, held Lincoln's feet to the fire, condemning attempts to compromise with those who sympathized with secessionists and who would never willingly give up their slaves. Lincoln became the Great Emancipator when he finally stopped trying to seek middle ground with slaveholders and came to abolitionist ground. Therein lay his greatness.
And the Republicans should remember an old political aphorism, you can fool some of the people some of the time but not all the people all the time. Like southern slaveholders, they would rather destroy the country than give up on their bankrupt political ideology which defies all reason and facts. And like the slaveholders' suicidal rebellion, their political fight is on the wrong side of history. Such men cannot be compromised with, they must be defeated.