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We'll Miss Him When He's Gone

The sheer awfulness of the Donald Trump campaign has overshadowed the intellectual bankruptcy and craven dishonesty of the Republican Party at large over the last decade or so, and perhaps even more. I'd argue that the tone of the modern GOP was set by Newt Gingrich and his scorched Earth approach to politics as he ascended to - and rapidly descended from - the speakership of the House in the 1990s. But at least Gingrich understood the importance of ideas, even though, despite the fact he saw himself as an intellectual, he is far more Cliff Clavin than Thomas Paine.

At least since 2008, however, and arguably before then, ideas have been anathema to the national party. Their raison d'etre has been to oppose President Obama, even when he proposes policies that they had previously embraced; the party of Lincoln now views intellectualism as something to be spurned and mocked, the province of elites who must be overthrown. And yet, in an irony-free effort to excuse themselves from what they have wrought, the likes of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have placed the blame on Obama for the nastiness and emptiness that now courses through their party's presidential campaign.

The president himself addressed this in characteristically thoughtful, yet biting, style in a recent speech, which was covered in this article in the Washington Post. Some excerpts:

“This is the guy, remember, who was sure that I was born in Kenya — who just wouldn’t let it go. And all this same Republican establishment, they weren’t saying nothing. As long as it was directed at me, they were fine with it. They thought it was a hoot, wanted to get his endorsement. And then now, suddenly, we’re shocked that there’s gambling going on in this establishment ...

What is happening in this primary is just a distillation of what’s been happening inside their party for more than a decade. I mean, the reason that many of their voters are responding is because this is what’s been fed through the messages they’ve been sending for a long time — that you just make flat assertions that don’t comport with the facts. That you just deny the evidence of science. That compromise is a betrayal. That the other side isn’t simply wrong, or we just disagree, we want to take a different approach, but the other side is destroying the country, or treasonous. I mean, that’s — look it up. That’s what they’ve been saying.

So they can’t be surprised when somebody suddenly looks and says, you know what, I can do that even better. I can make stuff up better than that. I can be more outrageous than that. I can insult people even better than that. I can be even more uncivil. I mean, conservative outlets have been feeding their base constantly the notion that everything is a disaster, that everybody else is to blame, that Obamacare is destroying the country. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not. It’s not, we disagree with this program, we think we can do it better — it’s, oh, this is a crisis!

So if you don’t care about the facts, or the evidence, or civility, in general in making your arguments, you will end up with candidates who will say just about anything and do just about anything. And when your answer to every proposal that I make, or Democrats make is no, it means that you’ve got to become more and more unreasonable because that’s the only way you can say no to some pretty reasonable stuff. And then you shouldn’t be surprised when your party ultimately has no ideas to offer at all."
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