The GOP Freak Show

Conservative radio talk-show host John Batchelor says the whack jobs disrupting health-care town halls confirm the Republican Party has become a cruise ship to the seventh grade.

08.07.09 9:07 AM ET

The sad-eyed Townhall Turfers now follow the saucer-eyed Birthers and the cranky Tea-Baggers as the latest political fad that the weakling Republicans not only cannot get away from but also cannot get enough of, like chocolate sauce on anything. The phenomenon of surly, verbose, sweaty voters crowding into overlit public rooms to hear out the numbing conclusions of a member of Congress on health-care reforms in all the 57 varieties has taken over talk radio and talk TV and swept through blogs like swine flu’s mutation. The suspicion of many gifted sleuths, working in favor of the Obama administration, that these are not grass roots citizens but rather hirelings and toadies, the astro-turf-eaters of Homo Pachydermata, stampeding to the whip hand of secret Blofelds of the GOP, has suddenly become a White House approved narrative endorsed by the colorful Robert Gibbs, who judged, “The Astro Turf nature of grassroots lobbying” are “manufactured anger.”

The Turfers are freakish, passionate, half-baked, dignified, defiant, rude, anarchistic, but they are not Republicans.

Would this were the whole story. Would that the Republicans were capable of such a vast right-wing conspiracy to rally and deploy growling scene-stealers with signage that is indifferent to paradox, “Stop Obama,” “Stop Socialism,” “Stop Fascism.” Those who have discovered these shadowy links of the nonsensically named “Conservatives for Patient Rights” to the infamous Swift Boaters’ latest awkward fantasy, “Tea Party Patriots Health Care Reform Committee,” serve less to enliven their suspicions than they do to prop up the spirits of the deracinated Republicans. Over the last week, the Democratic blogosphere has given more credit to a party that doesn’t much exist than it has enjoyed since Karl Rove left the field of battle with his Slytherin wand. Skipping its yoga class, the DNC has air-dropped a shrieking memo accusing the Republicans of Mordor of “inciting angry mobs of a small number of rabid right wing extremists funded by K Street lobbyists… interested in ‘breaking the president.’” Democrats are imagining a Republicanism that is ambulatory, omnipotent like the fabled days of the Brooks Brothers Brigade storming Dade County in the stolen election of 2000.

None of this feared Republican virility is any more real than the charge that the GOP manufactured the Turfers. That is the true misery of the matter. The Turfers are freakish, passionate, half-baked, dignified, defiant, rude, anarchistic, but they are not Republicans. They are not even much of a mob, and references to the classic American uprisings from Shays Rebellion to the Wide-Awake Brigades at the birth of Republicans over the Kansas-Nebraska Act are distorting and tendentious. Studying the videos from Texas, Wisconsin, New York, what you can see and hear is frustration, fear, voyeurism, a sugar-high yearning for local TV sound bites and YouTube burlesque. If this is all you ask for in a mob, what are circus clowns for?

And what does the Republican Party provide the generally despairing and alienated American citizens who come out to the town halls? It answers shouts for help with teasing and cooing, the behavior of groupies with the language of quitters. Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner wrapped his teenaged threat of rowdyism over health care inside a flimsy, clichéd metaphor of summer, “I think it’s safe to say that, over the August recess, as more Americans learn more about their plan, they’re likely to have a very, very hot summer.”

Republican Party chief Michael Steele used the passive aggressive rhetoric of denial to aggrandize the reports of brouhahas at town halls, “We’re not encouraging people to be angry to the point of being mean, or nasty, or brutish. There is legitimacy to the protest. How people protest—I have no control over that.” Following up on his cheapskate mischief-making, Steele air-drops an RNC fund-raising screed that accuses the DNC of lies and by the way, concludes Steele admiringly, the Turfers are only using the DNC’s “standard playbooks of name calling and outright lies to stifle debate.”

With Boehner and Steele cheering like gamblers at a cockfight, with the tempestuous DNC joining in the food fight with both hands, the shabby, timid GOP is left exposed to the predations of the demagogues of talk. The usual cynics are outperforming in fear-mongering and self-promotion. Limbaugh swerved all over the road to combine the Turfers with his imagination of the younger chief executive, “Obama is the guy who taught people how to show up at events like this over and over again and rip ‘em apart and tear ‘em down, disrupt ‘em, and make sure they don’t happen again.” Lou Dobbs is toothless in comparison to the Limbaugh bite, but Dobbs can gush like Bruno, “I love it when the audience of this broadcast is engaged and making their voices heard. And you’re getting louder by the day. It’s an amazing thing to watch.”

If the Republican Party existed except as a club of groupies and roadies for the rabble-rousers on radio and cable, it would rouse itself from its narcotized self-satisfaction of second best and give a speech that the Turfers, Birthers Tea-Baggers and all the other amateurs of dissent must sit down and listen to the reason of statesmanship or else leave the halls of Congress. The GOP would tell the snipers that this is a somber, modest political party, not a cruise ship to the seventh grade. Somewhere in the outline of this speech, this make-believe worthwhile Republican Party would include the language of liberty and restraint. And then this never to be given speech by a non-existent leader to the never again to be dignified Republicans would build to a quiet conclusion that very much resembles Edmund Burke. "But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint.”

John Batchelor is radio host of the John Batchelor Show in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles.