In 1281 medieval Japan was spared a Mongolian invasion thanks to a massive typhoon that swept across Kyushu Island, thereby destroying the invading fleet and drowning the Mongolian warriors. The storm was deemed a divine wind or kamikaze, sent by the gods to save the Japanese. In the waning days of the Second World War, Imperial Japan would invoke the legacy of the 1281 typhoon in an attempt to forestall defeat in the Pacific by crashing wave upon wave of kamikazes into allied invasion fleets as they made their way toward the Japanese home islands. Today an ideologically challenged G.O.P. is failing in its effort to forestall the current administration’s recovery plan. Many commentators on the right have chosen to meet the new political reality with waves of virtual kamikaze attacks through all manner of media. The recent New York Post comic portraying a monkey shot by two policemen and insinuating that the monkey is Barack Obama is the latest, and most tasteless, example of the Right’s desperation.
Lead by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Phyllis Schlafly and even the venerable Tony Blankley and Pat Buchanan, the public has been bombarded with dire warnings about “the end of America as we know it.” Readers of Town Hall have been treated to a RED ALERT, which warns: “Economic Collapse is Imminent”. Meanwhile, the conservative website Newsmax is soliciting money for the defeat of the three Republican Senators that supported the stimulus, portraying them as “traitors”. While I am all in favor of intelligent political arguments aimed at maintaining some semblance of fiscal sanity and reigning in wasteful government growth, we are at a time and place that requires a course change in our political economy and drastic remedial actions aimed at economic fundamentals. The reiteration of conservative theories for theory’s sake just doesn’t cut it now. Neither does a partisan reinterpretation of the New Deal do much to guide us out of the current economic abyss into which we have stumbled. Conservatives are wont to say that it was World War II that ended the Depression and not the New Deal; in doing so they fail to point out that spending for armaments as well as for public works are one in the same as both are public spending. Consumers don’t purchase bridges nor do they buy aircraft carriers only governments purchase those kinds of products. Maniacal attacks and fear mongering about “collectivism”, “economic crapshoots” and “savior based economics” do absolutely nothing to get us out of our current predicament and appear only to be aimed at undermining the present administration for political ends. Conservative columnist Lorie Byrd’s recent piece entitled “Obama Voters’ Remorse” appeared on a day when polling averages showed Obama with a 65 percent approval rating, a Congressional Republican approval rating of 34 percent and Democrats on Capitol Hill garnering an approval rating of 48 percent. The day before, while conservative commentators railed against the stimulus package, 80 percent of those polled by Gallup said that passing the stimulus package was either important or very important. Linda Chavez in a piece entitled: “The Audacity of Hope” would claim: “Indeed, investors have been noticeably bearish since the election.” trying to blame Obama for the current dissatisfaction between Main Street and Wall Street. While the Dow has lost 1327 points since Election Day, it lost 4317 points between May 2008 and November 11th. Can we really blame the current administration for our dissatisfaction with Wall Street or is Ms. Chavez just playing games with facts in an effort to undermine Barack Obama for political reasons?
There is a curious trichotomy on the right today. First and foremost, there is something disingenuous in the GOP’s newfound conservative fiscal ethos. For the first six years of the last administration the national debt doubled with George Bush amassing more debt than the previous forty two presidents combined and Dick Cheney claiming: “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.” The very Republicans who opposed the stimulus package were more than eager to spend public money during most of the Bush presidency. That said, in spite of their opposition to the Obama recovery plan, Republicans on Capitol Hill know that given the current situation, increased government involvement in the economy is inevitable. Let us not forget that it was House Republicans that insisted on a partial socialization of banking in the autumn of 2008. Is the newfound Republican devotion to fiscal responsibility real or merely a political ploy affected to procure the support of the party faithful? Meanwhile, outside of the Beltway there is considerable support for the Obama recovery plan among Republican Governors. But like the suicide pilots of 1945, many conservative commentators seem unwilling to admit that political change is upon us and instead have chosen to incessantly–if not at times recklessly and dishonestly–attack Barack Obama at a time of deepening national crisis. While many of these attacks are cloaked in the garment of “true patriotism” this conservative media assault may very well have the net affect of further undermining the GOP’s appeal among moderate voters without which the party cannot hope to return to power. To quote political commentator Steve McMahon: “The Republican leadership is stuck between Rush Limbaugh and the American people who want an end to partisan bickering.” In the past, when Republicans have suffered an election defeat when running a pragmatic candidate, they have chosen to turn to ideological purists in the next election cycle. That may be a formula for defeat in 2010, but the G.O.P. may be driven in that direction anyway thanks to a base that is riled up by a conservative media that seems more interested in undermining a popular president for imagined political advantage. Many conservative commentators are now beholden to a misguided belief that conservative dogmatic purity and ideological zealotry are ends in their own right. While the “true believers” may feel tremendous satisfaction in their ideological purity, just as kamikaze pilots did sixty-four years ago, their chances of driving a wedge between the greater body politic and the Obama Administration are less than a sure strategy for victory and may very well derail the Republican Party when voters head to the polls in 2010.
Steven J. Gulitti
New York City
February 22, 2009