Over the last 10 months, I have watched with wonder and great confusion as the GOP tried to find its footing in its new role as America’s minority political party. I have watched as what should have been a “debate” on health care reform quickly became a mudslinging campaign with no concern for truth or facts. And I have watched as embarrassment and outrageous scandal fell on one Republican politician after another. Yet none of these ridiculous distractions from the real issues have disturbed me as much as what has happened over the past few weeks. When President Obama announced that he would make a speech on behalf of Chicago’s run to host the 2016 Olympic Games, the GOP and critics fussed that his brief speech in Copenhagen was akin to a “cancer to America.”
This reaction, though lacking maturity and common sense, was not a particularly strange departure from politics as we know it to be. Fast-forward to the day of the International Olympic Committee’s decision, and when it is announced that Chicago has lost the bid, the right wing responds with laughter and cheers of joy. Somehow, the GOP has found itself dead center in the arena of irrational politicking we typically see only from desperate fringe groups for whom facts and reason hold no sway. We are seeing, again and again, imaginary connections drawn from what President Obama supports to what the GOP vehemently opposes. This is politics at its most divisive and most dangerous. This is politics where the facts and even the issues are irrelevant; we are supremely blinded by our partisanship.
Only days before this display of “neo-patriotism” by the GOP came the news of South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint’s self-planned visit to Honduras with the intention “to encourage the military leader of the coup and his supporters to resist.” This should seem very odd to us seeing as our government (along with most other governments of the world) refuses to recognize the coup-government as a legitimate authority. This should be especially confusing to us when we consider DeMint sits on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Less than a week after this, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to President Obama for his efforts and vision on international diplomacy. President Sarkozy of France commented that this award symbolized “America’s return to the hearts of the people of the world.” On the other hand, many Americans (most notably conservatives) reacted to the news by expressing outrage at such an “undeserved” honor. This not only shows their ignorance of the history and process by which Nobel awardees are selected, but also betrays their blindness to the realities of our global community. To see this award as granting America anything but honor and greater international power would be to entirely misunderstand both domestic and international politics.
Perhaps cheering America’s missed opportunity to host the Games, or decrying international honor and recognition for our president’s diplomatic efforts doesn’t seem all that strange when we consider that most of this is coming from the same people who believe Sarah Palin to be a serious candidate for president in 2012; yet this should strike us as at extreme odds with the Republican image we knew before the last days of the Bush era. The Republican Party served itself well by maintaining that it was the party of the American patriot. But now, the party that used to associate itself with the slogan “Country First” is increasingly finding itself avoiding its well-rehearsed role of the unwavering heroic supporter of America, and is increasingly trying to spin itself as a party that (much like the coup-government of Honduras did) needs to “take back America.” We saw it at summertime town hall meetings on health care, we saw it when Congressman Joe Wilson yelled, “You lie!” at our president, and we are continuing to see it today: Being patriotic lost its political value to the GOP when they lost the Oval Office.
The GOP now has a choice to make. They can proceed down this path by continuing their desperate attempts to undermine the legitimate authority of the Obama administration. Or they can recognize the divisive and ultimately self-defeating effects of this “neo-patriotism” and instead engage in a reasonable debate with their fellow representatives.