The Republican Party Faces Its Base

And is frightened of its own monster.

The Birthers—people who fervently believe, despite evidence of his birth in Hawaii, that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya and is ergo ineligible for the American presidency—have seen some big names join their cause recently: Rush Limbaugh claimed this week that Obama "has yet to have to prove that he's a citizen," while Lou Dobbs hinted that the president is "undocumented."

What started out as a fringe movement is being transmitted into the conservative mainstream, and that's going to be decidedly inconvenient for GOP legislators. As Marc Ambinder points out: "Republicans have to be extra careful. If they give credence to the birthers, they're (not only advancing ignorance but also) betraying the narrowness of their base. If they dismiss this growing movement, they might drive birthers to find more extreme candidates, which will fragment a Republican political coalition." Oof.

Below is video/transcript of Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) at a townhall meeting earlier this month, in which one of the questioners completely derails the entire thing with birther conspiracies and demands the entire room pledge allegiance to the flag. Castle is utterly flummoxed; it's a good indication of how completely divorced traditional Republicans actually are from the increasing lunacy of their base.

Castle: —okay, this lady in red has had her hand up for some time.

Female Questioner: Congressman Castle, I wanna know—I have a birth certificate here [holds up paper protected in Ziploc baggie and tiny American flag], from the United States of America saying I am an American citizen, with a seal on it, signed by a doctor, with a hospital administrator's name, my parents, my date of birth, the time, the date—I want to go back to January 20th and I wanna know: Why are you people ignoring his birth certificate?! [audience erupts in cheers and applause] He is not an American citizen! He is a citizen of Kenya! I am here with my father's [inaudible] fought in World War II, when the greatest generation in Pacific Theater! In the country! And I don't want this flag to change! I WANT MY COUNTRY BACK! [cheers and applause]

Castle: Well, I've only one comment [inaudible]— If you're referring to the president there, he is a citizen of the United States of America. [audience shouts and boos] —[inaudible] a citizen of the United States. [shouts and boos]

[clip edit]

Female Questioner [shouting off-mike]: —that died for this country in 1776 'til the present time. I think we should all stand up and give a pledge of allegiance to that wonderful flag [crowd cheers] for all those people who sacrificed their lives! For our freedom! Everybody stand up! [waves arms]

[clip edit]

Castle: All right, we'll do this. [half the crowd is already murmuring the Pledge of Allegiance] You want me to lead it? [inaudible]

Group: —allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America, and to the Republic! For which it stands! One nation! UNDER GOD! Indivisible! With liberty! And justice! FOR ALL! [applause]

Castle: Thank you. Now, getting back to healthcare, we're running out of time…
On the general subject, Paul Campos recommends this 1964 essay by Richard Hofstadter on "The Paranoid Style in American Politics."

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