Column No. 114 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - July 13, 2006
In this column we take a bit of a breather from giving advice to the Democratic Party. (I think that we shall return to that theme next week.) We turn instead to talking about the Republican Party, its public face, and what it truly stands for. (Actually, there are some lessons for the Democrats to learn here, but they are indirect ones.) For the relationship between the two is about to change. Among people like most of the readers of TPJ, what it does truly stand for has been well known for quite some time: corporatism; the expansion of authoritarian government vs. Constitutionally guaranteed individual rights; an aggressive, militaristic foreign policy; the rapid expansion of globalization and the export of US capital seeking ever-higher profits; the shrinking to the maximum extent possible of those functions of government that support the broad national interest; and most recently using the national government to further the interests of the Christian Right by subsidy and the use of the criminal law. However, until very recently to the extent possible the Republican Party has kept as much of their true agenda as possible in the shadows.
Now comes the latest book from the Far Right icon, Ann Coulter: Godless: The Church of Liberalism. In typical Coulter style, it is filled with rage. In fact a discussion of Ann Coulter's rage became all the rage on the Left when the book came out a couple of months ago. Even Hillary Clinton (hardly on the Left of anything) went after her for the remarks she made about those 9/11 widows who have become strong critics of the Georgites on a variety of fronts. Prominent is a group colloquially called the "Jersey girls." Its original objective was to push the Bush White House to create a commission to investigate the government's failures before the 9/11 attacks. This was a commission the Georgites absolutely did not want (wonder why not?) They fought hard to prevent its creation. Since the issuance of the Commission’s Report that left so many questions unanswered, the Jersey Girls have continued on as Bush critics. In her latest effort, Coulter accuses the women of being "self-obsessed" and acting "as if the terrorist attacks happened only to them." "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much," she wrote (as if she had done some massive study of bereaved wives, looking at their relative levels of enjoyment on becoming widows)
Much of the focus on Coulter's latest outburst has been on her rage and unadulterated nastiness in regard of the 9/11 widows who have been and continue to be outspoken opponents of Georgite policies. Whether she really thinks these things or just says them so as to sell more books is beside the point. She prominently puts them out there and many people focus on them. However, to my mind both the remarks and the predictable outrage against them serve a purpose for Coulter well beyond selling books. They distract from the book's central message, which is of central importance to Coulter and her ilk within the Republican Party, people like Mary Matalin (you know, the wife of "Democratic" pundit and sometime political consultant James Carville) who defended Coulter without qualification on NBC's "Imus in the Morning" on June 10, 2006. It is that central message which is of the most import to her followers at the core of the Republican Party’s electoral base and to which we should be paying the most attention.
Let us recall, as the media critic Eric Alterman noted in talking with Sam Seder sitting on for Al Franken on July 3, 2006, Karl Rove has openly said that what mobilizes his base is anger. (Mobilizing fear he uses broadly, but it is anger that resonates with his base’s base issues.) Nevertheless, until now the Republican Party has done a good job of keeping its anger mobilization off to the side, to the degree possible. Ann Coulter represents the coming public, open face of the Republican Party, folks. Make no mistake about it. The public Republican face will be contorted into anger, into rage, into fear, for all to plainly see. No more Mr. Nice Guy or Ms. Nice Gal. Mark my words.
What a sea-change there has been in the Republican Party over the past 50 years. On Nov. 8, 1954, Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said: "Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."
Unfortunately that small number of (not-so) stupid people not only took over the Republican Party but they drove the whole political landscape in the United States well to the Right. Teddy Roosevelt was the greatest Republican President other than Lincoln (who was not a Republican even in the TR mold). The Trust Buster railed against "the malefactors of great wealth;" made environmental conservation a major focus of his Presidency; was the first President to invite an African-American leader, Booker T. Washington, to meet with him in the White House; put national health insurance onto his Bull Moose Party platform when he ran for President as an independent in 1912. He would actually have a very hard time getting the Democratic nomination for President today; that is if the DLC had anything to say about it.
Beginning with Goldwater, Eisenhower's "oil millionaires" moved in to the center of the party, and married right-wing politics to their cause, with great electoral success: Nixon and the racist "Southern Strategy" in 1968, Reagan and the bows to both racism and the Christian Right in 1980, this Bush's total embrace of the Christian Right in 2000. But still, outwardly the Republican Party has managed to look somehow "normal," in the American tradition, and certainly gentlemanly and ladylike for the most part, although George W. and Dick C. have been starting to wear the veneer off that one. But now comes Coulter.
In a previous book, Coulter labeled all "liberals" and other non-supporters of Georgite policy as "traitors." The penalty for treason is death. Now liberals are "godless." For the "goddish" of the Coulter variety, as I previously said in this space, one deals with the “godless” by force. If Coulter has her way, the "traitorous" and "godless" "liberals" (as she defines them) would be going perhaps to the camps, going perhaps before the firing squads, perhaps becoming the targets of Death Squads (as advocated by the video game “Left Behind: Eternal Forces,” developed from Tim LaHaye’s best-selling “Left Behind” series, coming to a store near you this October just in time for Christmas), perhaps burning to death at the stake, which is what militant Christian Churches of a variety of stripes did to such persons who didn’t express their “goddishness” in quite the right way over a period of hundreds of years into the 17th century.
In this context it is interesting to note that what drives her is a version of what she thinks "Christianity" is. (In the book’s cover photo, presumably indicating her connection with Christianity, Coulter wears a black halter top with a gold cross on her chest, the staff pointing directly at her cleavage.) As she has said, "Although my Christianity is somewhat more explicit in this book, Christianity fuels everything I write." Whatever else it is or is not, Coulter's version of Christianity is surely militant. As for foreign policy, remember when about the Muslim world she said: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity" (although given her version of Christianity one wonders why anyone would want to convert)? As for domestic policy and how her version of "Christianity" informs it, just consider the following quote: "The ethic of conservation is the explicit abnegation of man's dominion over the Earth. The lower species are here for our use. God said so: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply, and rape the planet -- it's yours. That's our job: drilling, mining and stripping. Sweaters are the anti-Biblical view. Big gas-guzzling cars with phones and CD players and wet bars -- that's the Biblical view."
The face of Ann Coulter: In no more than a few years, perhaps by 2008, all of the Republican veneer will be gone, with Coulterian rage, total intolerance of difference, rampant corporatism at center stage, and demonization of any opposition at the center of the message. The message will clearly be backed up by policy. And force, it is clear, is to be used against any and all opposition. At least the target will be clear and clearly out in the open. It remains to be seen whether the leadership of the Democratic Party will be able to bring themselves to fire at it.