Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Right-wingers at sea both literally and figuratively, says Richard Cohen


"Nothing good happens when Republicans leave land."
-- Richard Cohen, in his WaPo column "Republicans adrift"

by Ken

This observation by columnist Cohen is prompted by a pair of right-wing ocean voyages: the famous one in 2008 when loony tunes gathered by The Weekly Standard headed north to Alaska and made a shocking discovery, and one just this past November, organzied by National Review, when the cruise ship Nieuw Amsterdam chugged out of Fort Lauderdale carrying a shipload of crazies who no doubt booked passage thinking they would be celebrating the Great Triumph over the Devil Obama but instead cruised the Caribbean licking their wounds.

Cohen draws on a report by New York magazine's Joe Hagan who went along as a paying customer and then wrote about it. "To his considerable credit," says Cohen, "Hagan abstained from shooting these particular fish in their barrel and instead portrayed them as dismayed and somewhat disoriented refugees from an America that used to be."

There were, it seems startling revelations -- at least startling to this crowd. Revelations like this one from a Romney economic aviser, Kevin Hassett: "Minorities came out like crazy. White people didn’t get to the polls. There are far more African-Americans voting than they expected." {Yes, this is apparently a direct quote. Cohen notes, "Who 'they' might be is not exactly clear.") Or there was this prescription from GOP pollster Scott Rasmussen ("who thought better of Romney chances than did the voters"), with regard to those weird minority voters who came out of nowhere: "You show them that you really care. You talk to them as grown-ups on a range of issues." There ya go, old white guys! Easy-peasy!
A menacing sense of foreboding permeates Hagan's article. The passengers both fear and hate Barack Obama. To them, he is the nightmare president -- allegedly alien in outlook, morality and economic approach. An economic cataclysm is imminent, and the nation has wandered into an icky swamp of immorality. "I'm afraid," a passenger told Hagan. "Write that. We're scared to death."

I chortle not. I was once a National Review subscriber, although never a conservative. In its infancy and for years afterward, the magazine was bursting with ideas. The writing was often fresh and engaging -- Joan Didion, John Gregory Dunne and Garry Wills were contributors -- and liberalism, to which I also subscribed, was already showing signs of intellectual exhaustion.

Now, though, it is conservatism that is both intellectually exhausted and nearly indefensible. It is the movement of the ideologically ossified, of gun zealots and homophobes, of the immigrant-phobic and the adamantly selfish. It insists that government must be small (an impossibility!), education must be local (a stupidity) and that debt, no matter what the reason, is immoral and reckless. The movement has lost its reliable monster. Godless communists have been replaced by the church ladies of Planned Parenthood. History giggles.

Nothing good happens when Republicans leave land. In 2008, Jane Mayer of the New Yorker wrote about the voyage of the M.S. Oosterdam, which chugged up the Alaska coast carrying a tour group from the Weekly Standard. At Juneau, conservative notables, including Fox News commentator Fred Barnes, lunched with the governor, Sarah Palin -- and, as men often do on shore leave, swooned. Her remarkable qualities -- "how smart Palin was," according to Barnes -- and her considerable beauty left most of them a bit addled. A buzz went up. The zeitgeist was alerted. In due course, she was John McCain's running mate. Only the voters saved us from a debacle.

The National Review cruise encountered no such star of tomorrow. Instead, the emphasis was on yesterday. These passengers were people who had -- and maybe still have -- a sense of possession about America. It was once theirs. It once looked like them and acted like them and thought like them. No more. In more ways than one, they were out to sea.

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