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The Republicans Are Like Frat Boys in 'Animal House'

Reckless, anarchic and strident, the American right is living in a parallel world where fear and rage drive out the facts.
 
 
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In the classic teen movie Animal House there comes a moment when the ne'er-do-well students of the Delta fraternity finally realise their pranks have gone too far. Faced with expulsion from university, the most violent, antisocial drunkard of the group, Bluto Blutarsky (John Belushi), gives one last rousing, rambling speech to his crestfallen comrades. "Nothing is over until we decide it is," he yells. "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell, no!"

The other students look on confused. Bluto leads a charge but nobody follows. However, they soon fall in line after the fraternity's leader, the far more respectable, presentable, all-round-cad, Otter (Tim Matheson), backs Bluto's call to arms against the university authorities. "Bluto's right," he says. "Psychotic, but absolutely right. We gotta take these bastards … I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part."

The Republican party, in particular, and American conservatism in general, have taken to operating in a similar manner to the Delta fraternity – increasingly reckless, anarchic and strident. Faced with defeat they respond with desperation. Only where the Deltas were motivated by ribaldry, conservatives are driven by rage.

On the one hand there are the Blutos – characterised by their contempt for even the most basic facts. Their assertions are often not only verifiably false but patently ridiculous. The very people who claim that Obama is a Muslim were the ones who fumed about his relationship with Reverend Jeremiah Wright, his pastor in Chicago. Muslims don't have pastors. Last year the Investor's Business Daily claimed that if the renowned scientist Stephen Hawking were British he would be dead: Hawking is British and alive.

These falsehoods are not limited to the fringes. A recent Harris poll reveals that a majority of Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim and a socialist who "wants to turn over the sovereignty of the United States to a one-world government". A Daily Kos poll in January showed that about two-thirds of Republicans either believe or are not sure that Obama is "a racist who hates white people", and more than half believe or are not sure that he was not born in the US and that he wants the terrorists to win.

So long as these people breathe the ever more fetid air of their own ecosystem – oxygen provided by Fox News – then these contradictions are of little concern or consequence to them. Cognitive dissonance is not the exception but the rule. But there is menace in this madness. A few weeks ago, shortly before the passing of the healthcare vote, conservative blogger Solomon Forell tweeted: "We'll surely get over a bullet 2 Barack Obama's head!" He added: "The Next American with a Clear Shot should drop Obama like a bad habit. 4get Blacks or his claim to be Black. Turn on Barack Obama." Last week a man was detained for issuing death threats to Democratic senator Patty Murray. Speaking in Phoenix on a Tea Party tour, Joe the Plumber, recently spelt out his plan for dealing with illegal immigration: "Put a fence in and start shooting."

So much for the Blutos. Far from reining them in, the Republican leadership increasingly reflects their excesses. Absent any legislative agenda or coherent ideological approach, they have spent the last two years crafting "a really futile and stupid gesture … on somebody's part" that Otter would be proud of. Small government is a legitimate philosophical and political position. But in the hands of people who voted to bloat the deficit and unleash a huge state-grab of civil liberties, it is shorn of credibility. It isn't government they don't like; it's Democrats in government.

 
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