Some can’t tell the difference


Rarely does Sen. Lindsey Graham (R- SC) offer a political opinion with which I agree, but in a Nov. 5 interview with Politico, he couldn’t be more on target. “If I hear anybody say it was because Romney wasn’t conservative enough, I’m going to go nuts,” he said. “We’re not losing 95 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough.”

The Senator better plug his ears. In a desperate attempt to equate their sadly misplaced hyper-conservatism with Ronald the Great iconography, Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, told supporters Tuesday night: “We wanted a fighter like Ronald Reagan who boldly championed America’s founding principles. What we got was a weak moderate candidate handpicked by the Beltway elites and country-club establishment wing of the Republican Party. The presidential loss is unequivocally on them.”

In a recent CNN interview with Soledad O’Brien, retiring Ohio Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette characterized the Tea Party explanation succinctly: “There’s a one-word phrase we use in Ohio for that: Crap.”

Maybe Martin didn’t watch the marathon of Republican debates. There were plenty of suitably right-wing candidates, each willing to hoist high the banner of neo-totalitarian groupthink. Unfortunately for the party, the candidates were all allowed to speak.

Articulate and contemplative types like former Utah Gov. John Huntsman were clearly too uppity and city-fied to have appeal out in the provinces. Perhaps that’s where so much of the virulent anti-intellectualism emanates.

The cast of likely contenders was each more bumbling and unstudied than the next. Only by promoting an agenda opposed to a lot of hard thinking — in the thin guise of religious piety — could that kind of empty suit seem palatable.

To be clear, it’s not as if Republican politics, or even zealously conservative politics is bereft of intellectuals, competent policy-makers or able leaders. It’s just that they never seem to get out much. More often than not, they’re relegated to some administration advisory post or set apart as proxy rock-throwers.

As to the incessant adoration of Reagan, please, just let it go. There’s nothing more pathetic than an aging starlet clawing desperately at beauty that once was. It’s all too reminiscent of the Norma Desmond line from Sunset Boulevard: “They took the idols and smashed them, the Fairbankses, the Gilberts, the Valentinos! And who’ve we got now? Some nobodies!”

To be clear, I’m only slightly more comfortable agreeing with MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, but his election post-mortem bears thought. “I get elected four times in four landslides, and I did it by going after aggressively any extremist on either side that came after me,” he said. “Most of the time I was attacking extremists on my own side more than the other side.”

Whatever his fleas, Scarborough’s logic reveals an important point about American society: Everybody thinks they’re the middle class. Everybody likes to think that their views represent the “one true center” of American patriotic values. Even if we have to embrace fringe kooks to do it, we convince ourselves that wherever we’re standing, we’re pretty close to the average position. It’s as if we’re all waiting for the ghost of Norman Rockwell to come paint our Sunday dinner.

Therein lies the great paradox. There is no room in American politics for a true moderate. Go ask former President Jimmy Carter. Here we have a decent, smart, approachable man — a man married to the same woman for more than half a century; he served honorably in the Navy; was schooled as an engineer; built a successful farm; raised decent kids; builds houses for poor people; writes wonderful books; managed to win the Nobel Peace Prize and still regularly teaches Sunday school in a little Plains, Georgia church — yet, he got turned out like a leper at a kissin’ party. So, if you have to gin up idols…

The main difference between Reagan and Carter? Carter is a hero. Reagan was just good at looking and sounding like one. It’s time the Republican party learned the difference.

• • •

Matthew Pate, a Pine Bluff native who holds a doctoral degree in criminal justice, is a senior research fellow with the Violence Research Group at the University at Albany. He may be contacted via pate.matthew@gmail.com