I’ve been focusing lately on the extremist, ideological legislation offered up by some state Republicans in Oklahoma this year.
It’s a cornucopia of crazy that overflows with paranoia and cultural divisiveness, but, meanwhile, the national GOP leadership seems to have recognized there’s a problem with Republican extremism and wants to rebrand, especially given the party’s dismal showing in the 2012 presidential election.
Basing a political platform on the demonization of one man—President Barack Obama—and ignoring obvious demographic and cultural change has an electoral price. Yes, ultra-conservative legislatures, like the one here in Oklahoma, have a mandate developed through fear mongering, but passing senseless, ideological bills on the state level only further isolates the GOP from any chance for national success.
State Rep. Sally Kern, infamous for her mean-spirited, conservative views attacking gay people, can win lopsided votes for her bills in Oklahoma, but, and this is an understatement, she doesn’t play well to a national audience.
The GOP can pass all the crazy bills it wants in places like Oklahoma or Kansas or Texas, but the feds are still going to be making the call on many important issues, especially in poorer, fed-dependent southern states. Democrats are going to control that in the conceivable future.
Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, supposedly recognizes the Democratic triumph on the national level. The RNC just recently issued a report about conservative rebranding that includes the need for the GOP to support immigration reform. The growing Hispanic voter population is growing, and it is clearly rejecting Republican xenophobia.
It’s also clear that younger voters are far more accepting of gay rights than older voters, especially in the GOP, and that Republicans are losing voters because of the party’s bigoted, official positions on same-sex marriage. The RNC report notes this conundrum. Are the Republicans serious about changing?
But let’s return to Oklahoma politics. No one symbolizes the so-called “old” GOP more than U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe on many issues, and one of them is gay rights. Inhofe once claimed proudly on the Senate floor, for example, that there was never a “homosexual relationship in the recorded history of our family.”
Inhofe made the national news recently over his non-comments about Ohio’s U.S. Sen. Ron Portman, a conservative Republican who recently said he now supports same-sex marriage. Portman’s son is gay.
When Inhofe, 78, and running for reelection in 2014, heard the news, according to a radio show host, he seemed to have a “stunned look on his face” and said he was “surprised.”
Determining a “look” of a face, of course, can be ambiguous and arbitrary, but given the state GOP craziness, Republican national rebranding and the changing cultural paradigms, such as the growing acceptance of gay rights and the growing ranks of minority voters, the visual symbolism is just too difficult for me to pass up.
There’s the stunned face of Inhofe, and there’s the world marching on without him and the old GOP.
Protests against American embassies in the Middle East continue in apparent response to a “film” that espouses anti-Islamic views, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has politicized the issue with distorted information.
Does Romney believe his election bid supersedes the safety of American diplomats? The protests in Libya, for example, led to the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Protests have occurred in Egypt and Yemen, and the situation in other Middle East countries is undoubtedly precarious.
Romney’s response to the deaths was to point out a tweet from the embassy in Cairo that essentially condemned the film and then tie that tweet to President Barack Obama. But the tweet wasn’t approved by the White House, and it hardly constitutes an example of an apology or a gesture of sympathy with the Libyan attackers as Romney and his camp seemingly argued. The tweet actually came before the Libyan attack.
As Andrew Sullivan, who outlines the tweet’s history and Romney’s response, argues:
These people [the Romney camp] are simply unfit for the responsibility of running the United States. The knee-jerk judgments, based on ideology not reality; the inability to back down when you have said something obviously wrong; and the attempt to argue that the president of the US actually sympathized with those who murdered his own ambassador in Benghazi: these are disqualifying instincts for someone hoping to be the president of the US. Disqualifying.
Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, another Republican, also used the deaths to try to score political points against President Barack Obama even as events unfolded and facts remained murky. His comments were irresponsible and knee jerk, too.
According to Inhofe, Obama is to blame for the attacks because of a “policy of appeasement”:
Sadly, America has suffered as a result of President Obama’s failure to lead and his failed foreign policy of appeasement and apology. The world must know beyond doubt that America will not allow these types of attacks on our people. Obama’s failed leadership is in direct contrast with Ambassador Stevens' brave leadership and effort to protect Americans at the consulate.
The appeasement trope is a standard and fictional GOP talking point this election year, which is bad enough, but trying to score political points as the safety of Americans abroad remained in immediate jeopardy—as in right this moment—is reprehensible. There will be time enough later for political hyperbole. Right now, the U.S. needs to secure its embassies and find out more about the so-called film titled Innocence of Muslims, an anti-Muslim screed that depicts the Prophet Muhammad in unflattering terms. U.S. officials have also said the attacks in Libya may have been planned well in advanced and may have nothing to do with the film.
As I write this, it’s still unknown exactly who made and financed the film in the U.S. or why it was made in the first place. Can it even be considered a film in the traditional sense? Was it made to incite protests? A trailer of the film, which is extremely amateurish and crude, has been circulating on the Internet in recent weeks.
Obviously, the national media is covering the film’s fallout, and the pundits are weighing it, but I have two points to make about Inhofe’s statement, which will probably go unnoticed in the national media.
Inhofe’s statement is obvious political hyperbole and exaggeration, and, of course, he has the right to make it. It also didn’t distort basic facts like Romney’s statement did. This is the difference between crass political rhetoric and actual documented lying. However, Inhofe’s reaction should be criticized for taking a hardline stance when American lives are in immediate jeopardy. Could the expression of such a stance add fuel to the protests? The U.S. should secure its embassies, remove personnel if it has to, and then Inhofe can play politics, though it’s pretty clear where former President George W. Bush’s aggressive war policies have led us. Inhofe could have easily waited a couple of days before turning tragedy into a political opportunity.
Inhofe is not known for holding moderate views. He has made the point that all terrorists are Muslims (see the above video) and he has claimed global warming is a hoax. Extremism begets extremism. It’s only the perspective that matters to the individual. Obviously, Inhofe has never stormed an embassy in a religious rage, but his divisive rhetoric creates intolerance and perpetuates indefinite conflict. Some Americans get a visceral kick out of this, but after years of two military occupations (or wars if you must) surely it’s time for a different approach. Does Inhofe want us to invade Libya, even though its government has harshly condemned the killings? Does he even have a real point beyond opposing Obama?
An Esquire blogger has also noted that Gov. Mary Fallin's anti-federal government tirade Tuesday at the Republican National Convention ignores the state’s historical reliance on the feds.
In a post titled “On RNC Opening Night, Republicans Dare To Build A Lie,” Charles P. Pierce quotes a portion of Fallin’s speech that celebrated the state’s first oil well and then put it as bluntly as it gets.
“. . . it was perhaps the most singularly dishonest speech I have ever seen a politician give . . .,” Pierce writes.
I had posted on the same issue before Fallin’s speech on Tuesday when it leaked out she was going to extol the virtues of local oilman Harold Hamm, the wealthy CEO of Continental Resources, an energy company here. Fallin argues that Hamm embodies the Oklahoma spirit, whatever that means. We should all know Hamm’s legacy could be fleeting because it’s quite probable the Oil Age will be a small blip in the history of mankind if carbon emissions from fossil fuels don’t destroy the planet first and there actually remains a history to consider.
Pierce takes issue with this portion of Fallin’s speech:
. . . And, in 1897, eight years after the land run, a handful of adventurous pioneers risked their own money — not the federal government's money — to drill Oklahoma's first oil well, the Nellie Johnstone. By doing so, these early-day pioneers changed the future and Oklahoma forever and today Oklahoma is one of the nation's key energy producers and job creators. President Obama wants us to believe that Oklahomans owe that success to the federal government — to the Department Of Energy, to the EPA, to the IRS, or maybe even to him. Mr. President, we know better. As we say in Oklahoma, that dog won't hunt.
Note the “not the federal government’s money” aside and all those scary, terrible government agencies she mentions. Pierce’s point, and it’s a point I’ve been arguing here for years, is that Oklahoma owes its very existence to the federal government.
My god, Oklahomans wouldn't even have Oklahoma without the federal government, without the Homestead Act of 1889 or the Railroad Act — both, by the way, achievements of a Republican presidents named Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Harrison.
And, of course, that doesn’t mention all the help the state has received through the years since statehood in 1907, including a long time period when the federal government built the state's major lakes. Recent U.S. Census and Internal Revenue figures show that the state receives $1.30 back from the federal government for every $1 it pays in taxes. Like many red states, Oklahoma is a “receiver” state, essentially taking money away from “donor” states, which are most often blue states.
All this gets omitted from Fallin’s extremely selected history of Oklahoma. As I’ve written before, Oklahoma is only sustained and viable because of the federal government, and its very creation was definitely a multi-layered and multi-year federal project. The history of Oklahoma as an ongoing federal project supported by people in the East doesn’t necessarily diminish the state, but obviously the truth doesn’t fit with Republican ideology.
This doesn’t mean that Fallin or other Oklahomans should never criticize the actions of the federal government, but to completely ignore the obvious reality of our state’s history and its current reliance on the federal government is a deliberate gross distortion.
But Fallin isn’t the only Republican with a “facts” problem at the convention. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, gave a speech Wednesday night that sent fact checkers into a frenzy. Joan Walsh, editor of Salon.com, published an insightful piece titled “Paul Ryan’s brazen lies” on the issue.