I’ve gotten some friendly pushback, outside of this website, from readers who question the appropriateness of my “crazy” characterization of the Republican Party. After all, can a whole political party really be crazy? Besides, in calling people crazy, aren’t I copping out of a real effort to consider their views? Isn’t “crazy” just too simple and dismissive?
Again, just to be clear: when I talk about “the Republicans” I’m normally not talking about all people who vote Republican or even all people who think of themselves as Republicans. I’m talking about the Republican base–the people who normally vote in Republican primary elections—and the public office holders who respond to the base. That would involve something less than 20% of the US adult population, heavily concentrated in the South. Unfortunately, our political system makes it possible for such a small minority to create chaos and paralysis in our government.
Of course, that’s still a lot of people, and I will concede that applying the label “crazy” to so many people involves some rhetorical overstatement. But hey, this is a blog, not a scholarly journal. Besides, it’s not that much of an overstatement. Sure, probably only a minority of Republicans worry about the government sending them to concentration camps. But other manifestations of paranoia and–what shall we say, cognitive impairment?—are much more widespread among Republicans. An obsessive, irrational hatred and fear of President Obama is practically universal among the base. (Among Republican politicians, it is reflected in a comically knee-jerk rejection of almost anything that Obama proposes.) Only a bit less universal is the denial of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change and evolution, illustrating what Mann and Ornstein politely call the Republicans’ resistance to “conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science.”
I think I made a pretty good case in my posts of 9/24, 10/3 and 10/8, among others, that today’s Republican Party is truly unique in American history—a major party that is genuinely radical not only in its reactionary ideology, but in its routine employment of tactics that go far outside traditional ideas of legitimate partisan competition. The Republicans have made extortion and sabotage of government operations standard tools in a war against what they absurdly perceive as the Obama administration’s determination to destroy America as we know it. We need to go back to before the American Civil War to find comparable behavior by an American political party.
Of course, the most dramatic departure from the normal tactics of political opposition was the recent shutdown of the federal government and the threatened sabotage of the national and world economy. These actions—which were supported by practically all Republicans in Congress—could be characterized as inappropriate, reckless or irresponsible. But none of these pejoratives seems adequate to really conveying the full…uhm…craziness…of this behavior. We need vocabulary to express the idea that this is not normal behavior by an American political party. “Crazy” may seem over the top, but I do believe that in discussing today’s Republicans, understatement of their extremism is a far more serious and common mistake than overstatement. Of course, other terms are possible. Here is Mike Lofgren, a veteran Republican congressional staffer, who explained why he was ending his career on the Hill after nearly three decades:
The Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe…
“Apocalyptic cult,” “crazy”—not much difference there.
So, I’m strongly inclined to continue calling the Republicans “crazy,” but I’d certainly be open to alternative suggestions from readers.