In the witty 1966 classic cult film King of Hearts, a British soldier shows up in a French village run by lunatics after they’d escaped from the local insane asylum as the German Army retreated. Given the number of electoral victories by crazies in the mid-term elections, President Barack Obama might learn more from watching this movie than listening to all the talking heads in Washington.
Obama has responded to what he calls an electoral “shellacking” with a firm offer to find common ground with the GOP. But is that even feasible with a party whose leadership is so hell-bent on destroying his presidency, and whose rising stars increasingly appear divorced from reality?
“No is not the answer. It has to be yes,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said about the Republicans’ two-year-old “Party of No” strategy. “Not our yes, but a combined yes, something we work out, a consensus yes. The time for politics is over.”
There was tactical genius behind the Republican victory, rooted in outright lies, distortion, and the co-option of widespread, irrational, and racist hatred for Obama. Right-wingers swayed rational voters by systematically misrepresenting Obama’s policies (death panels, government takeover) and reducing everything into simplistic bumper sticker slogans like “End Obamacare” and “Stop Socialism.”
John Boehner (R-OH), the lawmaker expected to become the next House Speaker, and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky played to their base by repeating canards intended to weaken Obama even as they offered syrupy homage to cooperation.
“The American people were concerned about the government takeover of health care,” Boehner said at his post-election press conference.”The American people watched the government running banks, insurance companies, car companies,” McConnell said. Before the election, McConnell had laid out the true Republican agenda: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
Of course, the government didn’t take over the banks, insurance companies, and car companies. It propped up teetering industries, with minimal interference in day-to-day operations. It’s now making a profit for all us taxpayers as those loans are repaid in full. The financial industry must deal with new regulations to protect consumers. The government didn’t take over any private financial institutions.
The post-election rhetoric shows how the Republicans and predisposed media outlets such as Fox News continue to fine-tune the propaganda machine. As the votes were counted election night, Fox’s Megyn Kelly said that “the vast majority of Americans don’t want” Obama’s agenda, such as health care. Does Kelly even watch her own network? Earlier, Fox showed 48 percent of voters told pollsters that opposition to health care legislation influenced them to vote pro-Republican, while the rest said they either favored the new health care law or wish it had gone further.
All evening long, Fox commentators hailed what they called the “repudiation of the Obama agenda.” Monica Crowley labeled the vote “wholesale rejection” of Obama’s presidency even though his most recent popularity ratings are barely below 50 percent.
The Obama-hating rhetoric is non-stop: he’s “the Antichrist,” “a Muslim,” a “socialist,” a “fascist,” a “communist,” “anti-American,” and even “racist.”
This mendacity has leeched into the national debate. Respected pollsters have found that across the nation, 57 percent of Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim, 58 percent doubt whether Obama was born in the United States, and 63 percent call him a “socialist.” Only 32 percent oppose his impeachment.
The Republicans’ newfound House majority will grant power and influence to those who gush the most egregious lies against Obama, including Michele “prom queen” Bachmann and Joe “You Lie!” Wilson.
Now that they have conquered the House of Representatives, will Republican leaders be able—or even try—to control the kooks who disrupted town hall meetings and hurled racial epithets at black members of Congress, and those who call Obama a terrorist or a thug? Until Republican leaders repudiate those crazies, they can and should be tied together. And they’ll make it that much harder to find common ground with Obama.
John Wright is the author of the upcoming book, The Obama Haters: Behind the Right-Wing Campaign of Lies, Innuendo and Racism (Potomac Books).