Everett Dirksen is one of my heroes. The Senate Republican leader from 1959 to 1969, he pushed strongly for Vietnam escalation and took conservative stands that I'd have strongly disagreed with on economic issues. But he joined Lyndon Johnson in going to the mat to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights bills, and for that I admire him immensely.
Today's Republicans are far from Everett Dirksen, and that's a shame. Beyond political differences with Obama and the Democrats, they've been making war on reality itself, which should be a major issue of the campaign's final days. Consider these examples:
- The myth of Obama as secret foreign-born Muslim: If 45 percent of Republicans think Obama wasn't born in this country and 57 percent think he's a secret Muslim, there's a reason. It's not just that Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have been spouting crazy lies, but that the overwhelming majority of Republican leaders have been silent, so as not to damp the fervor of those outraged at Obama's mere presence in the White House. Yes, a few have bluntly said it's nonsense, like Hawaii's Republican Governor Linda Lingle, South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham, and Colorado Senate candidate Ken Buck. But most have responded with a wink and nod, saying Obama's the legitimate president or that he's a Christian "as far as I know," or in Senator James Inhof's words that the birthers "have a point." They've refused to publicly challenge a belief that fuels so much grassroots Republican energy.
On the side of the skeptics you have a handful of scientists funded by Exxon, the coal companies, the Koch Brothers and other corporate sponsors who want to maintain business as usual. They claim the jury's still out, and do this in a year when a fifth of Pakistan was flooded, when Russians fled Moscow because runaway forest fires made the air impossible to breathe, and when much of the US suffered both record temperature levels and extreme weather events like massive floods, tornadoes and ice storms. But Rossi sided with the pseudo-scientists, as has practically every other Republican Senate candidate on an issue that should cross political lines. Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, Roy Blunt, Marco Rubio, Linda McMahon, Pat Toomey, Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, Carly Fiorina, Christine O'Donnell, Joe Miller and Rossi -- every one of them has questioned the reality of the crisis and therefore the need to act. Even some who once took strong stands, like John McCain, have muted their voices to appease their hard right base. While European conservative parties lambaste their more left opponents for not doing enough, the Republicans remain in denial on the ultimate issue of our lifetime.
This denial has been going on for a while. Remember the Bush administration's contempt for "the reality based community." But if there's an antidote to this assault on reality and to the paid lies that fuel it, it's citizen participation. If enough of us knock on doors, make phone calls, talk to coworkers and neighbors, and otherwise reach out beyond the core converted (or at least get sympathetic voters to the polls), there's a chance that this denial of reality will backfire, and that the Everett Dirksens of the Republican Party will regain the upper hand. If we're silent, we allow reality itself to become hostage to delusion, and our country and planet to pay the price.
Paul Loeb is the author of the wholly updated new edition of Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in Challenging Times (St Martin's Press, April 2010), and The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, which the History Channel and the American Book Association named the #3 political book of 2004. See www.paulloeb.org.