11/23/2010 10:19 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Conservatives and the Power of Overly Positive Thinking

There is a line in Woody Allen's comedy, Bananas, when the victorious revolutionary dictator gives his first speech after seizing the country. Each new proclamation gets loonier than the last, until finally he orders that "Underwear will be worn on the outside" and "All children under 16 years old are now... 16 years old." At this point, one of his soldiers turns to another and whispers, "The power has driven him mad."

Bananas is all I can think of when I see the similarly giddy reaction from conservatives after the mid-term elections. The power has driven them mad -- and what makes it more bizarre is that they didn't even take power. They certainly won big and took control of the House, but Democrats retained control of the Senate and of course hold the White House.

So, although Democrats hold two of these three wings, the mere fact of doing better is -- to conservatives -- apparently the moral equivalent of having power. And it has driven them mad.

(Actually, it's even stranger: a Pew poll shows that less than half the country even knows that the GOP took control of the House! And yet Republicans, in their crazed hubris think the nation gave them a mandate.)

False mandates appear to be standard operating procedure for the Republican Party. When George W. Bush won re-election in 2004 by the smallest margin by a sitting-president during war in the history of the United States, he also haughtily declared a mandate, adding that he had just gained "political capital" which he "intended to use." Ignoring that what the vote showed was a seriously-divided country, he governed in such an irresponsible manner that he crashed the economy and left office with an approval rating of 22%.

It's what happen when you operate under self-delusion.

It's what happens when the power drives you mad.

At least George W. Bush did have power, though. What today's conservatives have is gall.

It's not that conservatives are making conservative pronouncements -- that would be understandable. It's that they're swaggering around with a reckless bravado as if this wasn't a government or even a country made up of diverse, divided views, but personal property, a sandbox that they own and can tear apart at will, just because it's theirs, they want to, and the rest of the nation and reality be damned.

It's that the power has driven them mad.


In the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression, we have the GOP coming out against extending unemployment benefits. Before Christmas.

Members of the GOP proclaim that they'll vote against raising the debt ceiling, which would effectively bankrupt the United States of America.

New Speaker of the House John Boehner has moved to shut down the Congressional Ethics Office.

Grover Norquist, influential head of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform, has suggested that shutting down the government would be good for the GOP.

Republicans are holding off tax breaks for all Americans so that the wealthiest 2% of Americans can get their taxes lowered for income over $250,000. And add $700 billion to the budget deficit which Republicans say they want to eliminate.

Roger Ailes, head of the "fair and balanced" Fox News has called the President of the United States a far left "socialist," described NPR executives as "of course Nazis," and declared that Jon Stewart was "crazy."

John Roberts, conservative Justice of the non-political Supreme Court, said he doesn't plan to attend President Obama's next State of the Union Address. And conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia just referred to the Address as "a juvenile spectacle." Neither expressed the same attitudes when Republican George Bush was president.

We have Sarah Palin, the former half-term governor, defeated when a vice-presidential candidate against Barack Obama, and who currently is viewed favorably by only 22% of Americans, saying that she believes she could beat the president in 2012.

Within weeks of being defeated in the Senate race for Connecticut, Linda McMahon has hinted that she believes she is popular enough to run again for the same office in 2012.

Joe Miller, who when running for the U.S. Senate in Alaska wanted the government out of pretty much everything in our lives, has asked that very government's judicial branch to invalidate the victory of his opponent.

Just two days after the election, Texas Governor Rick Perry proposed that states be allowed to opt out of Social Security.

The power has driven them mad.

Actually, it's worse: the erroneous belief that they have power has driven them mad.

Republicans did very well in the mid-term elections. Americans still prefer Democratic rule. When Americans voted for Barack Obama, when they voted for whoever their senators are -- regardless of party -- they knew it was for the full term. That's how elections work. And so Democrats control the White House and Senate.

Self-delusion is no way to operate. It only crushes you in the end.

But even if Republicans controlled all three wings, hubris is no way to govern. Slamming the door on the destitute -- at Christmas. Bankrupting the nation. Removing the watchdog for, of all things, ethics. Shutting down the government. Politicizing blind justice.

This isn't what America is about. This isn't what Democracy about. And this most assuredly isn't what the mid-term elections were about.

The power has driven them mad.