Christine O'Donnell and the 'crackpot gap'
Many Americans are cynical about government, but they like dangerously out-of-touch politicians even less.
After the victories of many of the insurgent primary candidates she’s sponsored, Sarah Palin is off to Iowa today (Friday) for a high-profile series of political events. Is it possible she’s looking to make a run in 2012? Do birds fly?Skip to next paragraph
Robert is chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Clinton. Time Magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including “The Work of Nations,” his latest best-seller “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future," and a new e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.
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Republicans are being fueled by a so-called “enthusiasm gap” but their biggest worry leading up to the midterms should be the “crackpot gap.”
In Delaware, Palin-endorsed tea partier Christine O’Donnell is so far right she’s called “delusional” by Delaware’s GOP leader. In Kentucky, Palin-favored Rand Paul says the Civil Rights Act of 1964 shouldn’t apply to businesses. In Colorado, tea partier Ken Buck talks of getting rid of the 17th amendment, which provides for the direct election of senators. In Nevada, Palin-favored Sharon Angle has called for “2nd Amendment remedies” if Congress doesn’t change hands.
Many Americans these days don’t like Congress and are cynical about government. The lousy economy has made almost all incumbents targets of the public’s anger and anxiety.
But if there’s one thing Americans like even less it’s people pretending to be legitimate politicians whose views are so far removed from those of ordinary Americans that they pose a danger to our system of governance.
In the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, a third of undecided voters had a negative view of the tea party movement. 13 percent of those who said they prefer Republicans to win control of Congress this fall also reported a negative view of the tea-partiers.
The latest CBS poll shows that 40 percent of voters viewed Sarah Palin negatively in August; today, 46 percent do.
When Newt Gingrich, who has all but declared his candidacy for president in 2012, says President Obama exhibits “Kenyan anti-colonial” behavior, and that allowing an Islamic center near New York’s Ground Zero is tantamount to permitting Nazi’s near the Holocost Museum, he doesn’t sound like an ordinary American. He sounds like a hate-mongering crackpot.
We’re not dealing with “extremism in defense of liberty,” as Barry Goldwater put it in 1964 (and even then, a large majority of Americans decided against him). We’re dealing with extremism that defies the principles undergirding our Constitution.
Some Democrats think all this is wonderful because it boosts the odds of Democratic wins, not only in the midterms but also in 2012 when the Republicans put up Palin, Gingrich, or someone equally bizarre. Even voters who are are unenthusiastic about Democrats will be motivated to turn out if they fear that crackpots will otherwise take over our government.
I’m not as sanguine about what’s happening. Political discourse in America is important. What candidates say can legitimize hateful or divisive views that would otherwise never see the light of day.
We’re in the midst of an ongoing economic emergency that requires clear thinking, intense work, and practical ideas. It also requires that we join together rather than be pushed apart. The loonies who are taking over the GOP pose a real and present danger.
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