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Robert J. Elisberg Headshot

The Republican Lunatic Theory of the Week

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I'm trying to figure out which lunatic fringe group the Republican Party is going to glom onto next.

We started with the tea baggers, and now the birthers. Both have worked themselves into tiny lathers, but at least they got themselves air time, and that's all that matters. It's the fringe-political equivalent of the chowderheads who stand behind reporters and jump up-and-down, just to be on TV, no matter how ridiculous they look.

They even don't mind having Really Bad Names, though admittedly gravitas is of little concern. I keep waiting to see the protest marches, with their picket signs as they chant:

"We are the birthers, the mighty mighty birthers..."

And we've also had the Sotomayorers, riled up over a statement that, when read in full context, makes perfect sense. Reading statements in full context is not on the job description for fringe groups, of course -- but then, in fairness, neither is reading of any kind.

And now, as that fizzles out, we have the stupiders ready to take their place. (These are the people panicked over the president using the word "stupid" to describe something stupid). They are making a gallant effort for inclusion in the vaunted Republican base.

I think they have a good chance. The Republican Party seems to be so desperate for members these days, with party identification plummeting to 23% according to Pew Research (down a quarter in only the past five years), that they appear to be willing to take just about anybody.

The next frenzied group du jour embraced by the once-proud GOP is the deathers, who call radio shows in horrified alarm that the United States government is going to force old people to die. Okay, I know the GOP is working hard to get people to believe this, but honestly -- how utterly insane to you have to be to actually believe it? And no, that's not a rhetorical question. When last week a woman asked the President of the United States to his face whether the new health care bill would require doctors telling the elderly how "to decide how they wish to die" -- if she had asked that 40 years earlier, she would have been asked, "Are you on acid?"

Time was when the lunatic fringe was the protected domain of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. But that time has long since passed. Now, all Democrats have actual and serious concerns to deal with. This comes with thanks to George Bush and the Republican Party screwing up the country. For Republicans though, they've been left out on a limb with a mere two paltry concerns to frazzle them: 1) getting back in power, and 2) accepting that a black man is president.

And no, I'm not saying every Republican concerned about Barack Obama is concerned because he's black. You can figure out whatever percentage you're comfortable with.

But at least when Democrats ranted against George Bush, they had the decency to come up with real, substantive reasons. Lying a nation into war. Destroying the U.S economy. Ignoring a city that got wiped off the map. Disregarding a memo that Osama bin Laden would attack with airplanes. Stuff like that.

With the Republican Party these days, they're flailing so desperately in thin air that they're limited to birth certificates, calling something "stupid," misinterpreted statements, unraised taxes, and the government planning to kill you.

And they work themselves into their maniacal frenzies, as the Republican Party warmly welcomes them all into their fold. Once upon a time, the GOP stood for something. Now, they are just struggling to stand. Whatever it takes to win an election, go for it. If it takes whipping people into a mindless frenzy to get a few votes -- never mind how many more you lose -- so be it. Do your best to terrify the populace into thinking that That Man is going to kill you. Call him a "racist," as Glenn Beck did. Say he "pals around with terrorists," as Sarah Palin did. Suggest that he's a Muslim radical, claim that he's a Socialist, hint that he's not an American. Anything, anything, anything. So long as it can terrify the terrifiable.

God forbid anyone takes sick action. And so, after the Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter and Lou Dobbs of the world whip up the fear, they run off declaiming any responsibility. It's not their fault when a gunman shot up a Knoxville church so that he could kill liberals "who are ruining the country" -- and police found Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder by far right-wing Michael Savage, Let Freedom Ring by Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly's The O'Reilly Factor. It's not their fault, after a white supremacist shoots up the Holocaust Museum in Washington, yet not before Glenn Beck spews his lies that Adolf Hitler was a left-winger.

It's not their fault. And Ann Coulter was just joking about killing liberal Supreme Court Justice John Stevens and killing Democrat congressman John Murtha. Or when CBS golf commentator David Feherty kids about putting a bullet in Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Osama bin Laden. Or when Republican state nominee Catherine Crabill anticipates that we may "have to resort to the bullet box." And the ever-demagoguing Michele Bachman declares to Mr. Hannity, "We're at the point, Sean, of revolution."

It's not their fault. None of them, as they whip the whippable, the scared, the malleable into believing their lunatic fringe, crackpot theories and spin like whirling dervishes.

In Billy Wilder's brilliant 1951 film, Ace in the Hole, a slick, cynical newspaperman stumbles on a nothing story of a man trapped in a well -- and by manipulating the media with the help of the local government, turns it into a supposedly-important national mania with crazed believers camping out, as carnival rides are brought in for the amusement of the empty-minded populace.

The film is nearly 60 year old. But the Republican Party has turned fiction into present-day reality.

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