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Amid All the Madness, the One Thing That Might Rescue the Republican Party from Political Oblivion

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Last night on American Idol, Simon and company used the newly instituted "judges save" to rescue piano man Matt from the oblivion voters had consigned him to.

John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and the rest of what passes for leadership in the Republican Party these days must be wishing there was a political equivalent.

Those pathetic, corporate lobbyist-backed tea parties clearly didn't do the trick. They were steeped in desperation. A bitter brew of misguided outrage and good-old-fashioned hate mongering.

It's what people do when the only two ideas they have -- tax cuts and deregulation -- have been given full expression for the last 8 years and failed. Miserably.

The GOP is so devoid of any actual solutions to the many crises we are facing they find themselves grasping at the vaguest hint of a talking point or, failing that, making stuff up out of thin air. So we get Rep. Spencer Bachus saying there are 17 socialists in Congress, and Michele Bachmann warning about "re-education camps for young people," and a Fox reporter "covering" a tea party saying we need to "wake up and start fighting the fascism permeating this country."

And we get Republicans frantically and feebly trying to turn a routine Department of Homeland Security report on right-wing extremists into some kind of Obama-led conspiracy against "ordinary, everyday conservatives."

Boehner, Michelle Malkin, Jonah Goldberg, Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and all the others cynically trying to exploit the report know full well that it isn't a "hit job" on conservatives but rather part of an ongoing series of threat assessments that has included editions on "Left-Wing Extremism: The Current Threat" (April 2001) and "Leftwing Extremists Likely to Increase Use of Cyber Attacks over the Coming Decade" (January 2009).

But they need something to agitate over, so we get nonsense like Malkin calling the report "a sweeping indictment of conservatives." It was exceedingly strange how quickly mainstream conservatives were willing to lump themselves in with the white supremacists and anti-government armed militias that are the real subjects of the DHS report.

When the desperation ploy of claiming that Obama is targeting conservatives failed to get any traction outside the right-wing echo chamber, the increasingly unhinged GOP messaging machine switched to Phase Two: trying to turn a potion of the report warning that "rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge" into proof that Obama is "targeting veterans."

"To characterize men and women returning home after defending our country as potential terrorists is offensive and unacceptable," fumed Boehner.

Claiming that warning about extremists targeting vets is the same as targeting vets is like claiming that the police are "targeting children" when they warn parents to be on the lookout for pedophiles.

The truth is, when it comes to "targeting veterans," Obama has targeted helping make life better for them -- as opposed to perpetuating the lip service paid to our returning soldiers for the last 8 years. George Bush loved to praise our vets' sacrifice and service, then gave us a system that produced the Walter Reed scandal. As Paul Rieckhoff pointed out on HuffPost, Obama has already moved to fulfill two of his campaign promises to vets: push for advance funding of the VA, and for an overhaul of military and VA record keeping -- "removing two of the most significant bureaucratic hurdles that keep veterans from the healthcare and benefits they have earned."

But why let the facts get in the way of a ginned up controversy?

The Republican flamethrowers have proven very adept at being able to argue whatever side of an issue allows them the chance to slam Obama.

We saw this very clearly with the recent Somali pirate standoff. For days before the final rescue, Limbaugh had been accusing Obama of not taking the problem seriously enough, bellowing that "idiots like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama think pirates and terrorists -- and this is terrorism -- are criminals, not enemies." Then, once Obama ordered the Navy to act, Limbaugh was suddenly outraged that he'd gone too far, lamenting what he described as "the killing of three black Muslim kids" who were "shot on the high seas at the order of President Obama."

It's amazing how quickly "terrorists" can become "three black Muslim kids" when there is political hay to be made.

Even Bernie Goldberg, who has accused the media of slobbering over Obama, took Sean Hannity to task the other night for "going out of [his] way to find fault with every single thing" Obama does. "If something bad happened here," Goldberg told Hannity, "and thank god it didn't, but if something bad happened here, I'll guarantee you, I'll tell you who would be leading the crusade against [Obama]: You."

Yesterday's tea parties featured a lot of misdirected rage. Blame the socialists! Blame the fascists! (Interestingly, to many protesters, "socialist" and "fascist" were interchangeable epithets. Have words lost all meaning? Perhaps a round of Remedial Poli Sci would help.) And, of course, there was a surfeit of Blame Obama -- even though he has cut taxes for just about everyone at the tea parties, except the anchors covering them for Fox (and even some of them might be getting a tax cut, depending on how much Roger Ailes is paying these days).

The one unmanufactured emotion behind the outrage was fear. And then, much beyond the tea parties -- and across the political spectrum -- there is real anger at what is seen as the unfairness of the way the bailouts are being handled.

While it's easy -- and totally called for -- to shake our heads at all the craziness that has consumed the Republican Party as of late, I think Democrats need to be careful not to turn their backs on what could become a dangerous conflagration: a grassroots populist backlash fueled by the perception -- one based on a lot of reality -- that the Obama economic team is treating Wall Street with kid gloves, and acting as if the interests of the big banks are aligned with the public interest, even though again and again we are presented with evidence of how much they diverge.

In the middle of all the manure the GOP is slinging around, this perception is the only thing Republicans might be able to turn into political gold in 2010 -- the only thing that could rescue them from the Road to Irrelevance they are racing down.


P.S. I was on Countdown last night discussing these themes with Keith. The video is embedded below.

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