The ability of the Republican Party to sabotage its polls and electoral prospects by clinging to narratives built on the hysterical voices shrieking nonsense through conservative minds like Santa Ana winds blasting across the vast desert wastelands of California will never cease to amaze.
Think back to the 2012 presidential campaign. In a campaign speech in July of that year, President Obama made the following statement:
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business—you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
To anyone with two functional brain cells to rub together, Obama’s meaning was clear. Despite what go-it-alone, self-made conservative he-men like to say about their successes being the product of nothing but their own Herculean efforts, the reality is often the opposite. It takes nothing away from an individual’s hard work to acknowledge that a flourishing business or career or family rises on the work done by others to build a society’s foundations in order that future generations might thrive.
To conservatives, this meant that Obama was an anticolonial Kenyan socialist who hated the free market capitalism that makes America great. Six weeks after the president made those comments, the Republicans build their entire national convention around refuting their own phantom interpretation of Obama’s comments. Conservative figures spent four days belittling the president’s remarks from the dais of Tampa’s convention center, which ironically had been built not with private funds by a real-estate mogul, but with tax money contributed by millions of Florida taxpayers.
Someone ask President Romney how that went over.
Fast forward almost exactly three years, to Republicans on the verge of leading a government shutdown over another fact-free assertion: That Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of healthcare for the underprivileged in America, is selling off the organs of aborted fetuses for scrap.
The controversy started in July when activists for anti-abortion group the Center for Medical Progress began releasing undercover videos they claimed showed Planned Parenthood executives colluding to sell tissue harvested from aborted fetuses to research labs for huge profits. PP countered by pointing out that fetal tissue donation is perfectly legal, and that the only money the organization handles is reimbursement for the cost of shipping tissue from clinics to research labs, a practice allowed by law.
Subsequent investigations by at least five states of their Planned Parenthood clinics found no violations of the handling of fetal tissue. An analysis of both the videotapes and the raw footage released by the Center for Medical Progress indicated that, despite claims to the contrary, the allegedly unedited source tapes had in fact been edited, with no indication of what might have been taken out. Not one witness has stepped forward to corroborate the tales of the tapes, which is hard to believe if the disgusting butchery described had actually occurred. Otherwise, one has to believe that the thousands of workers at PP and tissue research facilities across the country are all in on this get-rich scheme despite its stomach-churning nature.
In short, the whole controversy is garbage.
This has not stopped Republicans. First they subjected Planned Parenthood to the “kangaroo court” of Congressional hearings that mostly provided House members the opportunity to grandstand. Any evidence or testimony that might contradict the narrative that PP is an organization of psychopaths getting rich by selling off baby parts as if they were stripping a fleet of ’59 Thunderbirds was not allowed anywhere near the hearing room, lest it inject a dose of reality into the proceedings.
The hearings went on in conjunction with talk of shutting down the government at the end of September if Republican leaders try to pass a short-term funding bill that includes money for Planned Parenthood. The organization gets about $500 million a year from the feds. Conservatives in Congress and their allies in the right-wing media want that number to go to zero or they will…hold their breath until they turn blue, I guess?
The extreme right wing, led by figures like Ted Cruz, is spoiling for this fight, convinced despite all evidence, both present and historical, that the Democrats and President Obama will be blamed if federal agencies are shuttered and more World War II veterans can’t get into the memorial on the Washington Mall. Those polling numbers that show otherwise? Lies. Other polls that indicate a majority of the American people don’t want to see Planned Parenthood stripped of its funding? That just means the lamestream media hasn’t really reported this story. You know, the story that has been reported in every major media organ for two months now.
Here we come back to one of the most singularly frustrating aspects of governance in the Obama era. It’s one thing to disagree on the role of government in our society – we’ve been doing that since Publius was writing the Federalist Papers. But how can our country function when one half of the ruling political class bases its strategies and policies on nothing but the phantom voices in their heads?
The answer is, we can’t. If we’re lucky, the candidacy of Donald Trump will cause a Republican Party split big enough to reconfigure the GOP into something resembling a functional organism, purged of the fanatical elements and composed of people who understand that no disagreement is worth turning off all the lights.
If we’re not that lucky, we’ll keep limping along like a dying carnival where half the rides aren’t working. But like the 2016 primary campaign, it will at least be a hell of a show.