Right-Wing Extremism Coming to a Voting Booth Near You
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Not long ago, a passing familiarity with Bible verses, a flair for rhetoric and hunger for a following could be enough to land someone in a small-town pulpit. Today, it seems, they are the right stuff for a top-tier Republican candidacy, perhaps even for president.
This defining downward, and rightward, of conservative leadership is one lesson to be taken from recent right-wing spectacles in Washington, D.C. These range from last weekend's Values Voters Summit, convened by the political arm of the Family Research Council; the "strategy and briefing conference" hosted by Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition just after Labor Day; and the August rally on the National Mall called by Fox News Channel host and Mormon convert Glenn Beck.
It was Beck's rally that kicked off the get-out-the-vote phase of the 2010 congressional midterm elections with a revival aimed at the GOP base. He immediately faced questions from the New York Times about his interest in the Oval Office.
"Not a chance," said the grandiloquent new darling of the hard right, with a nod to rally co-star Sarah Palin. Beck may surpass Palin in onscreen exposure and a knack for mimicking the language and cadence of scripture, but he is her understudy in another skill-set now prized for Republican candidates: scapegoating.
Election Time: Intolerance Is In Season
Attacks and innuendo against immigrants and religious minorities, including the Christian faith of President Obama himself, have joined traditional diatribes against gay people in the GOP script for getting votes this year. They echo in the rally cries for Republicans now vying to take over Congress and storm statehouses. The added power of redrawing election districts to their long-term benefit hangs in the balance.
Leading the ranks of the gatecrashers are those responsible for the very unemployment crisis they like to blame on Democrats while on the campaign trail. Multimillionaire Republican Carly Fiorina, for example, sent more than 9,000 U.S. jobs overseas prior to her ouster as Hewlett-Packard CEO and her current Senate bid in California.
To the right of Fiorina, who has called for overturning Roe v. Wade, are Senate candidates Sharron Angle in Nevada and Rand Paul in Kentucky who assail landmark laws against discrimination, such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act. A series of other GOP candidates, from Florida's Marco Rubio to Alaska's Joe Miller, espouse the extreme goals of fringe ideologues, such as ending Social Security.
They raise the stakes in this election. It's about far more than who kvells and who concedes on Election Night, November 2. It's about the direction of the country and whether the intolerant far-right will gain the upper hand.
Beck, despite his own status as a religious minority, prepped for his August 28 rally by playing on anti-Muslim prejudice in denouncing a mosque and community center planned for lower Manhattan. His bid to wave the bloody shirt of 9-11 victimhood foundered in the face of Beck's own confessions, revealed by Cenk Uygur on MSNBC, that "It took me about a year to start hating the 9-11 victims' families."
Palin's intolerance, by contrast, is more focused and more expert at playing on emotion for political advantage. She said via Twitter that plans for the community center so close to Ground Zero "stabs hearts," including her own. Perhaps assuming that the state of Alaska has matched her own drift downward and rightward, she sought to locate herself "in the heartland." And she mistakenly called on "peaceful Muslims" to "refudiate" (sic) the facility.
Palin isn't the only conservative dressing up appeals to intolerance in a wardrobe of new words. Riding her coattails are a host of characters exploiting hard times, the power vacuum among Republicans, and a scarcity of reporters and editors well-versed in both religion and politics. The absence of scrutiny and silence by fellow Republicans eager for electoral gain are allowing the opportunists to remake themselves as standard-bearers for the right.