Operation Alienation


Republicans clearly are not satisfied. Despite the fact that they have been driven from power and condemned to suffer the indignities of a shrunken minority, they apparently have an abiding desire to sink even lower. Accordingly, and with renewed determination to alienate a greater number of Americans, this week they boldly took the following steps:

1. They have signaled their distaste for helping the jobless citizens in eight states. GOP governors in Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas don't want to take the billions in federal stimulus money that would be targeted to the people (especially in the GOP-dominated South) who have been hammered most by the recession. To receive this money, these governors would have to expand the jobless benefit eligibility rules. They don't want to. It's doubtful that all those newly laid-off marketing assistants and data specialists are so eager to strike a blow against big government. They'd probably prefer to get that money and spend it on badly needed necessities; indeed, Mark Zandi, the former McCain campaign economic adviser, has said that, for every buck invested in jobless benefits aid, $1.64 in economic activity is generated. But Republicans seem more focused on deepening their downward trajectory. Ticking off the newly jobless is a cinch way to do that.

2. They tapped Bobby Jindal to deliver the party's rebuttal to President Obama. Much has already been said about the sorry performance of the GOP's great minority hope; any citizens who expected to hear fresh policy alternatives must have been aghast, assuming that they bothered to watch. It should be noted, however, that Jindal did his best to fulfill the party's apparent desire to deepen its plight. At one point he declared, "Today in Washington, some are promising that government will rescue us from the economic storms raging all around us. Those of us who lived through Hurricane Katrina, we have our doubts." Now there was a persuasive strategy - reminding Americans of President Bush's signature domestic failure, the episode that helped convince voters that the GOP regime was not fit to run the government. For Jindal, bringing up Katrina was the equivalent of tying his shoelaces together and taking a step.

3. At a time when the polls indicate strong majority support for activist government, and for the priorities in the stimulus plan, the Republicans have rightly calculated that they can alienate more people if they stand in the middle of the road and yell stop. This enlightened strategy was boldly articulated yesterday in Bill Kristol's monthly Washington Post column; as the conservative commentator sees it, Republicans need to "find reasons to obstruct and delay." That should aid the GOP's determined march to the margins. After all, it did the trick for the party during the 1930s.

4. And if all else fails to drive more people away, there's always that durable old standby: sordid invective. Indeed, there was a smorgasbord of that stuff yesterday in Washington, at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. John Bolton, the ex-Bush ambassador to the U.N., suggested to the CPAC audience that the Iranians might opt to nuke an American city, and then came his punch line: "Pick one at random. Chicago." Whereupon his listeners, mindful of Obama's home city, erupted in cheering and applause. At another point, conservative activist Cliff Kincaid suggested that Obama is a communist, and that got the audience chuckling. But when Kincaid subsequently assailed Obama as an illegitimate president, by invoking the old canard that Obama was "not born in the United States"...well, much giddy bedlam ensued. It was a brilliant masterstroke; what better way to turn off the electorate than to dredge up a nutcase accusation that most Americans rightly view as phony?

There are surely tens of millions of voters whom the Republicans have yet to alienate, but, as evidenced this week, the project appears to be all systems go. CPAC will hear tomorrow from its closing speaker, Rush Limbaugh. That should help the project immensely.

And there's arguably no better way for CPAC to signal the paucity of thought on the right, and thus alienate more voters, than to free up some time at the podium for...Joe the Plumber. Which is what happened yesterday, I kid you not. Need we say more?