Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Going way beyond the Palin

Business Times - 22 Sep 2010

Going way beyond the Palin

Is the radical right taking over the Republican Party - and making things easier for the Democrats in November?


KARL Rove, the legendary political strategist who helped George W Bush get elected president twice - he is AKA Bush's Brain - is one of the leading 'talking heads' of FOX-News where he has been bashing President Barack Obama and the Democrats, predicting huge Republican electoral gains in the coming midterm Congressional elections.

And he is regarded by Democratic activists and liberal pundits as a symbol of the efforts by conservative Republicans to dominate the American political agenda and its public discourse through a web of media outlets and front organisations - including the Tea Party movement. Mr Rove is a conservative that liberals love to hate.

So it was quite astonishing to watch him during an interview on FOX-News questioning the credentials of Christine O'Donnell, the Tea Party candidate who unexpectedly won last week's Republican Senate primary election in Delaware.

Mr Rove insisted that Ms O'Donnell - a conservative activist and a long-time campaigner in support of sexual abstinence and against masturbation and abortion - did not represent the conservative characteristics of 'rectitude and truthfulness and sincerity'.

In fact, during his attack on Ms O'Donnell, Mr Rove sounded more like a spokesman for the Democrats than a top Republican political adviser. What Ms O'Donnell was 'going to have to answer in the general election that she didn't have to answer in the primary is (questions about) her own chequered background', Mr Rove said, and listed those questions: 'Why did she mislead voters about her college education? How come it took nearly two decades to pay her college bills so she could get her college degree? How did she make a living? Why did she sue a well-known and well-thought-of conservative think tank?'

In a way, Mr Rove's attacks against Ms O'Donnell seemed to dramatise the fiery political and ideological fight raging within the Republican Party after her shocking win over the Republican establishment favourite - US Representative Mike Castle - in Delaware's Republican Senate primary. The 71-year-old Mr Castle has represented the small state of Delaware in the House of Representatives since 1993 and has also served in other capacities, including as its governor.

In the tradition of former president George HW Bush, he is a moderate Republican whose centrist views on social cultural issues - he supports a woman's right to have an abortion, for example - have helped him win the support of Democratic and independent voters in the state.

Hence it was not surprising that Mr Castle had been heavily favoured against the Democratic Senate candidate Chris Coons in the general election, with Mr Rove and other pundits predicting that the Republicans would take over control of the Senate in November.

But to do that, the Republicans would have needed to pick up 10 Senate seats, including the seat in Delaware. However, with opinion polls showing Ms O'Donnell trailing the Democrat Coons by 15-20 points, that is probably not going to happen.

Ms O'Donnell is actually an attractive and relatively young candidate who looks like a (young) clone of former Republican vice-presidential candidate and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who is probably the most popular political figure among Republican and conservative voters.

The problem is that Ms O'Donnell sounds even more extreme than Ms Palin on many policy issues, including social-cultural ones. In addition to vowing to repeal the healthcare reform plan passed by Congress and to block any cap-and-trade legislation and promoting other policy stands favoured by the Tea Partiers, Ms O'Donnell has been campaigning in support of sexual 'purity' - equating masturbation with adultery, among various things - as the head of a group called Saviour's Alliance for Lifting the Truth (SALT).

The 'Bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery', she explained, adding that 'you can't masturbate without lust'.

And it is clear that the last thing that Mr Rove and other Republican strategists have been trying to focus the attention of the voters on is the issue of masturbation . . .

The game plan they have been promoting centred on exploiting the political weaknesses of Mr Obama and the Democrats; more specifically, the perception among voters that the White House and its allies on Capitol Hill have failed to successfully deal with the economic problems of the country, and that instead of taking steps to accelerate economic growth and reduce unemployment, President Obama and his political party have been pressing for expansive and ineffective spending programmes that have raised the government deficit to the stratosphere and are threatening to bankrupt the nation.

From that perspective, the campaign mounted by the Tea Party movement has been very effective in helping to disseminate this central Republican economic message, which explains why the Republicans and their wealthy donors have been providing financial support for the Tea Partyers while FOX-News and conservative talk show hosts and bloggers have been promoting them.

But many of the Tea Partyers also have ideological baggage. The mostly middle-aged and white members of the movement tend also to embrace ultra-conservative positions on abortion, immigration, gun control, and issues relating to the separation of religion and state that are very much to the right of moderate independent voters like the ones who are going to determine the outcome of the Senate race in Delaware.

Hence the dilemma that has been facing mainstream Republican leaders. On the one hand, they have embraced the Tea Partyers and their message, hoping to exploit their energy and numbers in November. On the other hand, they are worried that the takeover of the Republican Party by these same Tea Partyers could force the party to shift into the direction of the radical political right and alienate moderate voters as well as African- American, Hispanics and young white people.

That candidates supported by the Tea Parties have defeated centrist Republicans like Mr Castle in the Republican Senate primaries in Nevada, Florida, Alaska and Kentucky highlights the political and electoral challenge facing the Republicans.

In Nevada, for example, the conventional wisdom until recently has been that Democratic Senator Harry Reid, who is also the Senate Majority Leader and who has helped Mr Obama pass his spending legislation, would lose his Senate seat.

But after the Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle was elected as the Republican Senate candidate in the state and her extreme positions on various issues were revealed (for example, opposing the right of women who had been raped to have an abortion), Mr Reid seemed to be making a dramatic comeback and has a good chance of returning to the Senate.

That probably explains why the Democrats joined the Tea Partyers in celebrating the O'Donnell victory this week.

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