The Poisonous Radicalization of the Republican Party

The passing of moderate Republican Mark Hatfield is a reminder of how pragmatic and reasonable the Republican Party once was.

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The death this past weekend of former Oregon Gov. and U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield, was not just the passing of a good and decent man with a strong sense of Western independence, but a realization that "this ain't your mother's Republican Party anymore!"

Of course, it hasn't been for some time. The era of Senators Hatfield and Mathias and Percy and Baker and Javits and Case and Brooke and Scott and Dirksen and so many others is long gone. The moderates and progressives were drummed out or retired long ago and were replaced with Republican conservatives beginning in the late ‘70s and ‘80s.

Even many of the hard liners who replaced were still pragmatic conservatives who often worked across the aisle. The Bennetts, Hatches, Bonds, Grahams and others are practical, serious conservatives.

But if you look at the collection of candidates for president, if you look at what just happened with the debt limit insanity on the Hill, if you examine the inner workings of the Republican caucus in the House, you begin to wonder whether Washington is governable and whether the radicalization of the Republican Party is responsible for this meltdown. Has the Republican Party become an extreme Nihilist party? [See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

Let's look at the current state of politics within the Republican Party.

The upcoming Iowa straw poll and the debate tomorrow night will further push the already extreme candidates more to the extremes . There are so many potential nominees who have not only gone hard right on the social issues but have decided that they must call for abolishing the Departments of Education, Commerce, Energy, and even the IRS. They still oppose the TARP program, which kept the world from a depression, and they are proud to reject any form of additional revenue stream by signing inane pledges that handcuff America.

The extreme agenda of cut, cut, cut without regard for the consequences is backed up by statements that even Pell education grants for needy college students are "welfare."  All the sound and fury about the debt did not create a single job or advance economic stability or growth. In fact, the failure of Speaker John Boehner and the Tea Party to agree to efforts by President Obama to reach a $4 trillion grand bargain to right the economic ship was an example of radicals' my-way-or-the-highway approach.

The American people, overwhelmingly, reject this extremism. They are fed up with the lack of progress and the extremism that has become the modern Republican Party. Their anger is across the board but it is more heavily directed towards what has become of the Republican Party—Tea  Party ideologues who lack common sense and have no desire to actually solve problems. In the campaign of 2010 the Tea Party was more or less a Rorschach test, many people saw in it what they wanted. In April 2010, the strong unfavorable was 18 percent; it has risen to around 50 percent. [See a collection of political cartoons on the Tea Party.]

The scary market volatility, the lack of public confidence in the economy, and most important, the many Americans who are suffering the disasters of unemployment and foreclosure should be front and center for Republicans. Instead, we have a "get Obama" frenzy and a pull to the extreme right that precludes progress.

Speaker Boehner, who seemed close to negotiating the grand bargain with the president, was pulled back into the extremist fold. He even said that he got "98 percent of what I wanted" on the debt deal and declared himself happy with it!  If he is happy, there aren't many Americans who are there with him.

There are few Republican leaders who recognize that what they did with this budget deal led to Americans' savings and retirements taking a severe hit, a downgrade from Standard & Poor's that will ripple for years, and a decline in confidence for businesses and consumers. [Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad.]

The old Republican Party wouldn't have done it; Ronald Reagan wouldn't have done it; even recent conservatives committed to debt reduction and cutting spending wouldn't have done it, if they had the courage to stand up to the radicals within the Party.

The time for the Republicans to rediscover their pragmatic, governing side is now. The time to reject the pledges, the ideological straitjackets, the wave of Tea Party hysteria is now. The public is demanding it and the country needs it. (And just a bit of advice from this Democrat: the overreaching and the extremism won't win you many elections either!)

  • Check out a roundup of editorial cartoons on the economy.
  • See a slide show of who's in and out for the GOP in 2012.
  • Vote now: Who won the debt ceiling standoff?