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Shock poll: Why do so many Republicans think Obama is a socialist, a Muslim, or even the anti-Christ?

A new poll shows that a quarter of Republicans think Obama may be the anti-Christ. Apocalyptic right-wing rhetoric is going mainstream, as Republican lawmakers stoke the flames of epithet-hurlers and conspiracy theorists.

By Nicole Hemmer / March 25, 2010

North Manchester, Ind.

Healthcare reform supporters who tuned in to the Glenn Beck Show the morning after Sunday’s vote for a dose of schadenfreude were sorely disappointed. For months Mr. Beck, a conservative radio talk-show host, had bewailed the fate of the nation should the healthcare bill pass into law. He warned it would be “the nail in the coffin of our country.”

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Yet not 12 hours after the bill’s passage in the House, Beck appeared on air in a chipper mood. Chin up, he told his listeners. If we elect conservative Republicans willing to repeal the bill, the country can be saved.

In other words, no need for panic: The apocalypse has been postponed until November 2010.

Entertaining as it is to watch the goalposts move, the right’s end-of-life-as-we-know-it language has real consequences. It has eliminated opportunities for political compromise and threatens to reduce the Republican Party to a hodgepodge of epithet-hurlers and conspiracy theorists.

Apocalyptic rhetoric has a long history in American politics. The New Republic recently compiled the dire predictions that accompanied progressive legislation like Social Security (“It will go a long way toward destroying American initiative and courage”) and the minimum wage (“a step in the direction of Communism, bolshevism, fascism, and Nazism”).

Catastrophic predictions also occur on the left, of course. When progressive Theodore Roosevelt ran for president in 1912, he rallied his followers by bellowing, “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!” More recently, Naomi Wolf penned “The End of America,” arguing that America under the Bush administration was well on its way to dissolving into a fascist dictatorship.

But it is in today’s GOP that the election cycle and the end times have become one and the same, that extreme rhetoric has infected the party stem to stern.

Lawmakers have led this charge, making them more troubling than the protesters who (flung racist and homophobic words at Democratic legislators as they marched to vote Sunday. These elected officials in good standing with the Republican Party can’t be explained away as a few bad apples. From Rep. Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” in the middle of President Obama’s first State of the Union to Rep. Randy Neugebauer’s “Baby killer!” chucked at Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak during Mr. Stupak’s speech supporting healthcare reform, Republican officeholders are behaving badly and encouraging their supporters to do the same.

At least 10 House Democrats have reported death threats or security concerns at their offices in recent days.