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2008 Election Reveals What the G.O.P. Has Become

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The presidential campaign is far from over. In spite of the polls that suggest the winds of change are at the back of Barack Obama, the only poll that matters will be the one conducted on November 4.

But there is a sense of desperation emanating from segments of the Republican Party that is bordering on the pathetic.

Can someone remind me when conservatism was granted sole authority to determine who loves this country and who is un-American?

I am using the terms conservative and Republican as interchangeable. The brand of conservatism that views the 18th century political theorist Edmund Burke as its patriarch has gone the way of the Rockefeller Republican.

It has been replaced by something that calls itself conservative but is vacuous of much intellectual insight, offering a mean-spirited populism whose primary goal is to win elections with divisive politics.

By controlling the White House and Congress for six of the past eight years, contemporary conservatism has proven beyond any doubt its inability to govern. Without much of a record to run on, with two weeks left before Election Day, Republicans have opted to blitz the hamlets of America with McCarthy-like tactics.

It began with the sinister assertion by vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin that Obama is "palling around with terrorists" and that he is not someone who views America as Palin and her supporters see it.

I marvel as to how someone like Minnesota Representative, Michele Bachmann can actually be a member of Congress. Last week, she called for the media to conduct a "penetrating exposé" to find out if liberals are pro-American or anti-American.

Bachmann is concerned Barack Obama might have anti-American views.

To support her claims, she cites the late labor organizer Saul Alinsky as one of Obama's teachers in the Chicago area. Alinsky died in 1972, when Obama was 11.

Then there was North Carolina Representative Robin Hayes who also said last week, "There are Americans and there are liberals." He adds, "Liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God."

Florida Senator Mel Martinez compared Obama's economic policies to those of Communist Cuba during an Orlando rally

"Where I come from, where I was raised, they tried wealth redistribution," Martinez said. "We don't need that here, that's called Socialism, Communism, not Americanism."

These feeble attempts to conflate liberal, anti-American, and communism are the Republicans final hope to return to power. Can someone offer another reason to trust Republicans/conservatives? Fiscal discipline? Foreign policy? Integrity?

This low road populism appeals to humankind's worst impulses. It is unhinged political desperation of the most reckless nature. It assumes that there is a monolithic aspect to being an American that liberals, Obama in particular, do not ascribe.

Joe the plumber has been lifted up as the standard bearer for the conservative cause while the Republican policies have contributed more to Joe's economic pain than those of any liberal.

When it comes to love of country, in spite of their bombastic and erroneous claims to the contrary, conservatives cannot tout anything remotely similar to the liberal, nonviolent Civil Rights Movement that based the morality of its cause on the ideals of Jefferson and Madison.

Republican/conservatives are indeed becoming the party of the small town that appeals to one's preconceived fears rather than their hopes.

On September 10, 2001, George Bush had the lowest approval rating of any president after seven months in office. He had passed his tax cuts and "No Child Left Behind."

There wasn't much left. Besides, no president who won the election, as did Bush in 2000, without winning the popular vote had not been reelected. But 9/11 put the nation on the path of fear that allowed Republicans to hold on the White House, and by extension Congress, longer than history would suggest.

I would make the argument that post 9/11 fear was the primary reason Bush defeated John Kerry in 2004.

But as that fear subsides, the president is almost irrelevant, leaving Republicans to limp along carrying their divisive message to the few places where it still might have an attentive audience.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at or visit his website