It isn't just that partisanship has taken a toll on decent political discourse and poisoned the well of ideas, although that is certainly the case. It is more basically an assault on our system in the name of constitutional authenticity and traditional values - - a setup by political hucksters who mix false virtue with religious zealotry and jingoistic platitudes.
The aftermath of November's elections should serve as a warning that change isn't just about putting a fresh crop of legislators into Congress and thinking something beneficial has occurred. New faces and old ideas aren't a recipe for good government nor are they curative for what ails either the economy or the American psyche. We are faced with a dangerous trend that isn't just about idealistic dream merchants but is rather a parade of propagandists whose ignorance and narrow-minded certitude muddies the intellectual waters. Mindless drivel drives a media market that wants to appear even-handed in its approach to issues - - any fool with an opinion is given an opportunity to speak with seeming authority despite threadbare credentials and irritatingly biased views.
Over the weekend another Republican love fest, hosted by Iowa's Steve King, a "Conservative Principles Conference" could more accurately have been called a bash the Democratic Party and most especially President Obama event. Whenever these folks get together the agenda releases more vitriol than positive remedies for the nation's problems. More time is spent making snide remarks about the president than on creating a transformative agenda for the future of the country.
People like Michele Bachmann hold that conservative views on fiscal responsibility are inextricably intertwined with their social values. Oddly, members of the hard right and the Tea Party wax eloquent about freedom and liberty, but preach a brand of absolutism that dictates to others a belief system that would define one's level of goodness. And what can one say about Newt Gingrich that would add anything to the debate about Republican leadership? Yet there he was pontificating as if his moral heft and previous bluster as House Speaker actually served as qualifications for a White House run.
In terms of moral rectitude and governing style Governor Haley Barbour's image is something less than dazzling except in the rough and tumble of Republican political posturing. After Katrina wreaked its savagery on the people of Louisiana and Mississippi funds were allocated for much-needed housing in the Governor's state. However, he successfully negotiated waivers that shifted housing funds to projects he preferred - - portside casinos. Arguably casinos would help rebuild the Mississippi economy, but people who lost homes and property during the hurricane were left high and not so dry.
John Bolton, inexplicably W's Ambassador to the United Nations, added his acerbic observations on the state of the union, national security and the president, couched in the overriding trappings of "American Exceptionalism." Anyone in public life who doesn't subscribe to that concept just doesn't cut it in Bolton's view. And he rebukes those who would cut defense spending except in cases of waste and fraud. But he would funnel any savings achieved in prosecuting offenses back into the budget. We have a budget deficit but a much more serious deficit when it comes to leaders who forsake diplomacy for never-ending saber rattling and an over-funded military industrial complex.
There were the inevitable criticisms of the president's handling of the Libyan crisis, a subject that reverberates in the halls of Congress and in editorials around the country. Consider for a moment, however, the behavior of George Herbert Walker Bush after he ousted Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. In that form of democratic harangue in which partisans like Bush so often engage, President Bush encouraged Iraqis to rise up and confront Hussein but offered no military assistance. As a result Shiites and Kurds were slaughtered as Hussein reasserted his power. Perhaps the Bush White House should have assumed some blame for failing to support a democratic quest it had advocated in Iraq. How should the American people assess the two divergent foreign policy methodologies?
But at the conference there was no wavering in the arrogant positions conservative speakers assumed and, it would appear, a similar intransigence will prevail in Congress as legislators struggle with the monumental task of dealing with our economic and national security problems. President Obama is often criticized for what some describe as a failure to lead, but nothing could be cause for greater dismay than the kinds of leaders the right wing puts forward.