The sight of major conservative commentators ranging from Bill O’Reilly to Ann Coulter and top Republican officials Like Michael Steele directly attacking the “Birther” narrative — that Obama was actually born in Kenya and is thus ineligible to be president — marks an extraordinary moment in recent political history. For the first time leading conservatives and Republicans are explicitly attacking a widespread grass-roots extremist narrative.
In the past, this has always been absolutely unacceptable. Among movement conservatives there is even a specific slogan that explicitly rejects ever splitting the conservative movement with attacks on extremist views – “There are no enemies on the right.”
Just consider the following:
• In the Clinton years, videotapes, pamphlets and books by conservative publishers accused Clinton not only of infidelity and theft, but of murdering his business partner and smuggling drugs for the Colombian cartels. Democrats were accused of planning a UN invasion of the U.S. and mass roundups of patriotic Americans. Neither the leading conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh nor the Republican political leaders like Newt Gingrich ever publically challenged any of these clinically delusional accusations.
• During the 2004 elections leading conservatives and the Republican Party not only refused to disavow the patently dishonest “swift boat” attacks on the military service and military records of candidate John Kerry and Georgia senator Max Cleland, but tacitly endorsed them.
• During the 2008 campaign, slanders against Obama – as being a “Muslim”, “terrorist sympathizer” or even the “anti-Christ” were widely circulated in a parallel underground internet based campaign. These slanders became so virulent that John McCain himself was finally moved to deny them during one memorable campaign rally. Sarah Palin, however, immediately picked up the gauntlet and, in her rallies, continued encouraging the expression of “tin-foil hat” views.
• After the election, the “Muslim” and “terrorist” accusations faded into the background as they were replaced by swirling charges of impending “socialism”, “communism” , “fascism” or all three at the same time — culminating in the Teabag protests on April 15th.
Why then, with this consistent history of allowing extreme right-wing myths to go unchallenged have major conservative commentators and top Republicans suddenly begun to challenge the “Birther” narrative? What’s so special about this particular view?
The answer — speaking metaphorically — is that the creature the official conservative/Republican movement has nurtured all these years has broken out of the laboratory and is beginning to ravish the countryside.
The first indication of a serious problem was the catcalls and booing of Republican politicians during the teabag protests. But the issue suddenly became critical in recent weeks as opinion polls began to suggest that support for Obama’s health care plan was starting to decline among moderate voters. This raised the possibility that Republicans might have a chance to derail Obama’s key initiative, inflicting a major political setback on his entire agenda.
To have a chance to achieve this major objective, Republicans now desperately want to avoid being identified with the birth certificate issue because the notion is overwhelmingly rejected by moderates. In fact, to most moderates, any Republican politician who flirts with this notion looks like an irresponsible panderer to irrational extremists – hardly someone to be trusted with reforming health care.
Hence the sudden desperation in official conservative and Republican circles to drive the creature they have created back into the lab where it can be restrained. The problem, however — as every horror movie since the classic 1931 version of Frankenstein depicts — is that the creature never actually does get recaptured. With the uncontrollable nature of the internet and the desperate struggle for ratings among conservative TV commentators, there are now simply too many independent forces providing support for “tin-foil-hat” extremist views for either the Republican Party or the official conservative commentators to regain control.
All one has to do is remember the movies. The lab-coated mad scientist who creates the creature always ends up getting thrown off the windmill, blown up in the laboratory explosion or gobbled up by the flesh-eating zombies he was in the process of creating as his personal army. Republicans are starting to feel an uncomfortable resemblance to those movie characters these days when they come face to face with their “tin-foil-hat” conservative constituents.
Hey, I wonder if George Romero is available to take a meeting…….