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Good News Dallas
by Scott Bennett    Thu, Dec 1, 2005, 11:00 AM

Schmidt, Coulter, O’Reilly, Robertson, Falwell. DeLay, Libby, Abramoff, Scanlon. This is the emerging face of the Republican Party, one characterized by invective, arrogance, greed and nonsense. In overdrive.

Jean Schmidt, you’ll remember, is the Republican Ohio congresswoman who recently assured us that decorated war veteran John Murtha (D-PA) is a “coward” for advocating a redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq within six months. Ann Coulter, political hack-cum-commentator-and-columnist, confirmed that Schmidt was right, yet too gentle. Murtha is not only a “coward,” she said, he’s a “gutless traitor,” just like all the others who disagree with the current Administration. Not to be outdone, Bill O’Reilly weighs in and compares Murtha with Hitler apologists. Those are tough words from people who probably have never faced down a pop-gun, let alone carried a draft card.

For their part, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell frequently stumble from the mount to remind us that “God is a Republican” who is going to get us if we don’t subscribe to the commandments that Schmidt, Coulter and O’Reilly espouse. You’ll get a double hit if you’re gay. After all, you saw what happened to New Orleans , and you know what He’s going to do to that school board in Pennsylvania over the intelligent design vote.

And then there is the DeLay cabal – those who loudly and proudly use politics as a money-making venture for themselves and their friends. They believe power should always be wielded, whether warranted or not. When it is exercised it must be to achieve personal interests, damn the consequences. (I won’t mention” Duke” Cunningham here.) To them, responsibility and accountability are a noble virtues and expectations, but only when applied to others. These are the people who were pulling for Old Man Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” And they have spent their careers trying to correct the injustice inflicted on him. After all, if you can’t screw the help, who can you screw? Rules are written for other people, don’t you know? “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.” Schmidt, Coulter, O’Reilly, Falwell and Robertson don’t say much about the likes of DeLay, Libby, Abramoff and Scanlon, except to praise them occasionally.

You don’t need the many recent polls to tell you that this is the visage of the Republican Party that the people are starting to see. Conservatives aren’t what they used to be. That’s my view from across the creek. And while I can’t tell you that the Republicans are marching onto the political gallows in the next two election cycles, I can tell you they’re not marching in the other direction.

This is expected when your so-called leaders are absent in body, spirit and substance. The President, when not ensconced in Crawford, speaks mostly from Mongolia or secure military installations in the United States , successfully evading multiple questions that deserve answers, including this problematic one: “Mr. President, what exactly does ‘victory’ in Iraq mean?” The Rovian tactic (respond from afar in a secure political bunker) is wearing thin. Most people “got it” in the surreal Bush broadcast from New Orleans , post-Katrina. Others had already picked up on it in the “Mission Accomplished” production. In the meantime, Dick Cheney, weathering both political and natural disasters at the Ground Zero of Wyoming –much in the same way he personally bested the Viet Nam War with five well-placed draft deferments–slithers into the sunlight long enough to warm up, spew venom and retreat. You can almost hear him say: “You made me bite you, John Murtha. I’m sorry that I did it, but after all, I’m a snake.”

And then there’s Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, whose memorable contributions to Republican leadership–as far as the American public can see–consist of performing long-distance political-medical quackery on Terri Shiavo and, with classic schoolboy inanity, stomping underfoot like a bug a resolution recognizing the musical contributions of Bruce Springsteen. Que hombre! In the meantime, the deficit rises, the trade gap widens, college tuition increases, the health care crisis builds, the body count escalates, and Dennis Hastert gets some curl added to his hair and a hefty pay raise. The people are seeing this.

So, it surprises me that some Republicans (Rick Santorum included) are surprised about their new public face. Some are starting to wonder aloud what happened. With their best Claude Rains imitation, they’ve begun to express a collective, “I’m shocked.” But it’s only what was expected. All the road signs were there. You can’t fight a war on the cheap without expecting it to go poorly. When you keep charging, you can expect the bill. When you continuously prevaricate or evade, you can expect someone to call you on it at some point. When you view power as an end in itself, giddily dubbing your mongers with such affectionate names as “The Hammer,” you can expect people to develop heartburn, if not political road rage. And, overarching and contributing to all of this, you can expect a lack of substance from a President who brings none of his own to the job and expects none from his political allies. At least Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon knew when to call off the charade.

This new mug shot should not surprise Republicans at all. Like an instant Polaroid photo, the real image we’ve already snapped becomes fixed in a little while. Yet we are always in awe of the picture that emerges. As James Michener said, “We are never prepared for what we expect.”

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