There seems to be a race underway in the nation where elected conservative Republicans seek to dive deeper into absurdity in an attempt to be nuttier than the previous one.
In Wisconsin, we were offered more outlandish buffoonery from Senator Ron Johnson who stated in a town hall meeting he had an idea about combatting COVID.
“Standard gargle, mouthwash, has been proven to kill the coronavirus. If you get it, you may reduce viral replication. Why not try all these things?” (For the record this is not actual science and rebuked by medical professionals.)
Kentucky Republican Congressman Thomas Massie posed his family in front of a decorated tree with all hefting military-type assault weapons for a Christmas greeting, shortly after the Oxford High School gun massacre.
Meanwhile, Tom McMillin, a Republican from Oakland Township, proposed in a social media post that mandatory school attendance be removed in Michigan. He is a member of the Michigan State Board of Education!
I recall during my years as Door County Democratic Chairperson talking with a wide array of people at events such as the annual fair or when campaigning door-to-door for local candidates. At times, I encountered some of the most unbelievable sets of views and ideas that could be imagined. So what is being reported, all too often, in our newspapers and online is not new. Right-wing lunacy has long-been part of our political narrative.
What is so troubling now, however, is that instead of the tin-foil hatted folks being aberrations in the party they now are the base of the GOP. But that is not how I first came to know conservatives.
In my teenage years, I started watching Firing Line with William F. Buckley. He was a conservative with a vocabulary that reached out through the television set and made me sit up and pay attention. In my rural upbringing reasoned approaches to the world seemed utterly sound to me. Then I graduated from high school, left home, and encountered the world.
My first job was working in radio broadcasting in Door County. With a red streak that then ran very deep, the local politics was not for a faint-hearted liberal Democrat. I found, however, that the vast majority on the other side of the aisle were logical and reasoned with varying points and perspectives about the issues of the day.
The conspiracy-laden John Birch Society and the truly unhinged Posse Comitatus crowd were in the county, and not ashamed to spill their views when answering their front door during an election year. Tigerton Dells was then a topic in Wisconsin and those headlines concerning the Posse seemed to embolden that segment of the electorate. I was soon most aware that enlightenment liberalism was not spread evenly across our state.
But that element was a narrow sliver of the whole. Today, however, the under-educated within the GOP revel in their status and expect the rest of us to meet them at that level. Republican officeholders encourage the ridiculous ideas and notions so as to retain power, rather than seeking to better inform and lift up the voters.
There have always been times of great transition and uncertainty in the nation where politicians have used fear to spin a message and gain office. Today class divisions and market revolutions, continuing demand for power and rights among groups from Blacks to transgenders, along with a shifting electorate that is more brown and diverse provide the combustible elements for current conservative pols.
But what is most dismaying is the low level that conservative Republicans will dive into when playing to their base. Such tactics are dangerous to a democracy that does rely on educated citizens to make sound decisions about the path forward for a nation.
John Adams wrote the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780. Though he penned that public education should be at the heart of that state’s understanding of government, it is easy to see how elected officeholders can, and should, also be teachers and ones who impart facts to the citizenry. He wrote that “wisdom and knowledge . . . diffused generally among the body of the people [are] necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties.”
I wish conservative Republicans would ponder the role they need to play when speaking to their base of support.
And so it goes.