The embarrassing fall of Todd Akin should induce Republicans to confront their own responsibility for the low quality of politicians they are inflicting on us (and themselves). Having developed an extremist culture that encourages figures such as Akin to seek legislative office, GOP leaders should hardly be surprised when idiotic and reprehensible remarks spill from the mouths of their candidates. (Candidates who insist, by the way, that English should be our official language when their own diction is often incomprehensible.)
Yet those same leaders insist they were shocked – yes, shocked and appalled – by Akin’s “legitimate rape” utterance, as if other Republican figures don’t blurt bizarre, nonsensical, and dumb comments as regularly as cows pass gas. Memories dim from cycle to cycle, but how can they forget Christine O’Donnell, the Tea Party queen whose defeat of an intelligent moderate Republican legislator sparked celebrations among “conservatives” across the country?
She had accused “American scientific companies” of cross-breeding animals with humans to produce “mice with fully functioning human brains,” and warned that co-educational colleges would lead to “orgy rooms.” Regarding evolution, she said the scientific theory is “a myth,” asking “Why aren’t monkeys still evolving into humans?” But her shaky grip on reality didn’t matter because she eagerly adopted the party line on economic and social issues.
O’Donnell was colorful but hardly unique. Across the country in Nevada, Sharron Angle became the party’s standard-bearer against Senator Harry Reid, proceeding to disqualify herself with calls for armed insurrection and ugly, racially charged remarks to Hispanic students. In Kentucky, Rand Paul easily won a Senate seat, whereupon he let the nation know that the Supreme Court doesn’t decide the constitutionality of laws in this country. Evidently he thinks that he does.
Cretinism of the same caliber can be found in news archives under the names of candidates failed and elected, from Carl Paladino in New York and Ken Buck in Colorado to Ron Johnson in Wisconsin and — topping any such list – Michele Bachmann in Minnesota, who once suggested that Democratic presidencies coincided with swine flu outbreaks because they had occurred under Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama. (Actually, the 1976 epidemic occurred under Gerald Ford, a Republican, but Bachmann is almost always confused about dates, places, and history.)
Dim politicians of all stripes have always been with us as an unfortunate byproduct of democracy. In that vein, it must be noted that there are plenty of bright conservatives and some not-so-bright liberals, too. But have there ever been so many nominated nimrods, so concentrated within a single major party, and so enthusiastically encouraged in their ambition by powerful people who should know better?
The most famous and damning example, of course, is Sarah Palin, the blindingly ignorant vice-presidential nominee in 2008, brought to the brink of executive power by neoconservative leader William Kristol and the seasoned campaign veterans advising John McCain, notably Steve Schmidt. We are meant to assume that the Palin episode was a freakish accident
We are meant to assume that the Palin episode was a freakish accident, but the irresponsibility of Ivy-educated right-wing intellectuals like Kristol and sophisticated operatives like Schmidt in promoting her was symptomatic of a broader ailment. Major financial and media powers, including the Club for Growth, the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, Rush Limbaugh, the National Review and a host of other forces within the GOP have aggressively supported candidates whose extremist views only emphasize their feeble intellect and lack of basic knowledge. For the party of the right, no standards need be imposed on those who are supposed to write laws, negotiate budgets, and oversee executive and judicial authorities. Like in the old Soviet Union, anybody who parrots the party line will do.
Don’t expect the Akin incident – or last year’s gong-show presidential primary — to provoke introspection among the top operatives and financiers of the right. Their style of politics is a daily insult to their country, but they will continue to believe that pandering to stupid is the shortest path to power.