I want to spend my last post of this week focusing once again on GOP extremism here in Oklahoma and how it continues to prevent rational discussion of issues important to both Republicans and Democrats.
I know it’s the third post in a row on this topic, and it might be a stale issue for some progressives here, but I can’t stress enough how discouraged I’ve become with the current political Oklahoma scene. It’s telling that even The Oklahoman editorial board, the ultra-conservative machine that keeps going and going, has come out against state GOP overreach here and here.
I fear that conservatives here will do much damage to the state before there’s a power shift, and, yes, eventually there will be a power shift, but those of us living here during this era will suffer a price, whether through lack of educational opportunities, shoddy infrastructure, poor medical access or neglect of many other practical, quality-of-life issues.
At the root of the conservative rage in Oklahoma seems to be the fictional, hate-filled mythology of President Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American president. It’s generated constantly by the right-wing media, which includes Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and even The Oklahoman to some extent.
Obama does represent a changing country, one that’s slowly—far too slowly for me—becoming more diverse and open-minded. I recognize how change can be difficult. I get it. On the other hand, Obama has reached out to conservatives over and over again, and he has frustrated liberals and his party over and over again for his tendency to compromise. I’m in this group of liberals so Republican extremism here, such as the Obamacare nullification effort or the gun-obsession paranoia or the Agenda 21 nonsense, seems completely divorced from reality to me.
I wrote about the ”Obama effect” on Oklahoma back in October, 2009 in which I outlined how extreme conservative personal animosity against the president would dictate the state’s future political development, making it even more conservative and extreme. I was exactly right, which is not such a great achievement because it was so utterly predictable. The obsessed fixation on one person, elected by clear majorities for two terms, has distorted the political debate here and isolated the state from national trends as Republicans have grown their local legislative and executive power.
Is it racist? I’ve always contended that racism has played a part in the Obama hysteria here and elsewhere, but I’ve always conceded that many Republicans are genuinely fighting for a certain “vision” or, really, a primordial political urge to take the country back to a romanticized past that, in reality, I think they probably wouldn’t much like if it could even happen. I’ve also conceded many state Republicans, who are otherwise lifestyle liberal, simply like the winner-takes-all mentality of the market or, in broader terms, capitalism. They don’t spend too much time on the broader, global ramifications. What I can’t accept, however, is the proselytizing of right-wing religious folks in the legislature, who are dishonest about their intentions and hide behind disingenuous bills, such as the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimation Act or the anti-evolution bills proposed year after year.
But let’s return to Obama. It would be difficult to find a leading Republican politician more representative of misplaced Obama anger than Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who is 78 and plans to run for reelection in 2014. Inhofe relentlessly criticizes the president with sweeping generalizations. According to The Hill, Inhofe told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham what he thought about Obama’s recent outreach to Republicans for compromise:
This is the same guy [Obama] that is ... over-regulating all of our businesses, he has a war on fossil fuels, he is keeping us from being energy independent, he is defunding the military.”
So he's destroying this country, but yes he's charming.
Destroying the country? From one of our state’s United States Senators to the Oklahoma Legislature, it’s Obama-hate all the time, and it’s going to cost us. After all, Obama is only in the first year of his second term. Where does all this anger lead? How will it affect our quality of life as Oklahoma GOP legislators use the hate to easily pass legislation that ignores cultural reality and the state’s future?
Some national Republicans, as I’ve noted, want to rebrand and become more culturally progressive, but the Oklahoma GOP has doubled down on its Obama hate binge.
I urge leading state conservatives, including Gov. Mary Fallin, to separate their voter mandate, which I accept, from the craziness. Repair the state Capitol building, fund education, fix the roads, try to deal with the state’s mediocre medical outcomes, among just a few of many practical issues. By all means, push income tax reduction and worker’s compensation agendas, which I will no doubt oppose, but, please, think about what Oklahoma will be like in five, 10 or even 20 years when all this extremism will be but a blip in time.
Obama won’t be president then, and the hangover of hate could be brutal for us all, Republicans and Democrats alike.
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?