Conservative Republicans (probably a redundant term since there seem to be no other kind of Republicans anymore) have tried relentlessly but in vain to find something to criticize about President Barack Obama that would have staying power. It almost seems they are competing to see who could find the most ridiculous issue to accuse him of that would actually stick.
First, as a candidate, he was criticized for not wearing an American flag lapel pin. How, they asked, hands wringing in anguish, could someone who sought to become the president of the United States not wear an American flag lapel pin? What kind of traitor was he?
When that was accepted for the nonsense it was, a new line was tried. Although he has attended Christian churches since his youth, it was suggested that he was, horror of horrors, a Muslim. After all, his middle name is Hussein. That must mean he is Muslim which, for reasons that were never explained, would have been enough to disqualify him from the presidency, at least in the eyes of those singing that particular song.
Unfortunately for the hapless conservatives, this accusation didn’t hold much water either. So, they thought, perhaps they could say he was born in Kenya, not the United States, as he claimed. That one didn’t stick either. Then, it was whispered that perhaps the voters didn’t really know enough about him, suggesting all kinds of nefarious schemes he would hatch as president. Ho-hum. Then came the now-discarded accusation that he is a socialist.
In the mean time, apparently unbeknownst to these conservatives, two wars were raging, the economy was imploding, U.S. homeowners were losing their homes in record numbers and tens of millions of citizens were without healthcare. The education system was failing, the infrastructure collapsing, and international relations were in tatters.
But while the conservatives were busy avoiding the very real problems facing the nation and the world, the voters, for once, seemed to be paying attention, and elected Mr. Obama president. Since his inauguration he has worked, not exactly tirelessly, but at least somewhat effectively, to undo the damage of eight years of conservative Republican rule.
Yet the conservatives are still seeking something – anything – to bring down his popularity. And now one might say that they are finally scrapping the bottom of the mustard jar.
Yes, Mr. Obama had the audacity to order Dijon mustard on his hamburger. One supposes he didn’t order a side of ‘Freedom Fries’ with his burger, since that may have been sufficient to cancel out the Dijon sin. One also supposes he did not request arugula on it, (harking back to another, earlier failed attempt to paint him with the brush of elitism) or in addition to what is now being called Dijongate, we would have Arugulagate and, if one can excuse the pun, that would be quite a mouthful.
What does this say about the U.S. conservative movement? It appears that it has had its heyday, and like the once-popular party guest whose jokes eventually wear thin as much as he keeps telling them, he simply stays too long, not realizing that all the other guests have left and the hosts are yawning in a corner. During the ‘Reagan Revolution’ the conservative movement ran the show, financing anti-government terrorists in Nicaragua and generally, as infamously proclaimed in Mr. Reagan’s campaign advertisements, ‘bringing America back’, apparently to the Dark Ages. Mr. Reagan’s vice president eked out a single term to succeed him, but was defeated for a second term by President Bill Clinton. His eight years of relative peace and prosperity culminated in the election of his vice president, Al Gore, but the Supreme Court stepped in and appointed a second Mr. Bush, thus giving the conservative movement a second lease on life. Mr. Bush embraced that new lease on conservative life fully, about the neck, sufficient to throttle it and bring it to its gasping state today.
So where does that leave the struggling Republican Party? With discarded lapel pins, dried up arugula and now, if not egg on their collective face, at least a generous amount of mustard, none of which the nation seems to be in any dire need of. But when one has run out of ideas, and when those one had in the past seemed to have been implemented with the most dismal results (bankrupting the country; starting two unnecessary and unwinnable wars, to name just two), perhaps looking back at these cherished relics offers some comfort. It is pointless to think that these arch conservatives will attempt to look for some reasonable solutions, since there does not seem to be much recognition that society has not remained stuck in 1980, when they were able to run roughshod over the poor and middle class; the first decade of the new millennium, it turns out, was an unfortunate anomaly, not a resurgence of their tired values.
And so they persist, hoping against all hope (not to mention mounting evidence) that some trivial, worthless, meaningless non-issue will turn the public against its new and popular president, causing his removal from office and sending him straight to the Guantanamo torture chamber he seeks to close. Then the conservatives, led most likely by their shining star, Rush Limbaugh, can once again take the White House and put the Constitution back into the shredder from which Mr. Obama retrieved it, painstakingly taping it back together.
Occasionally they pull something out of their discredited closet that is more serious that mustard, but from which U.S. citizens and the rest of the world recoil. Former vice-president Dick Cheney makes the rounds of talk shows proclaiming the benefits of torturing political prisoners, a practice he and his former boss approved for eight years. Missouri Senator Kit Bond warns darkly that closing the U.S. torture chamber at Guantanamo threatens U.S. security.
Why, they might ask themselves, does no one seem to be paying attention? Could it be that eight years of running roughshod over human rights, domestically and internationally, has taken its toll? Is it possible that U.S. citizens have finally seen through the scare tactics of red alerts, Muslim-bashing and a terrorist under every bed?
It seems that this may be the case. While one underestimates the gullibility and limited attention span of the U.S. voter at one’s peril, it appears that some line has finally be crossed, and said voter would rather have an intelligent, thoughtful president than one he or she would be comfortable having a beer with.
One could pity the poor Republicans, but they have done too much damage to warrant any sympathy. When one shoots oneself in the foot with one’s own gun (probably unregistered and unlicensed), onlookers only shake their heads in disbelief at the stupidity of such action. When one continues doing it, onlookers simply walk away.
But we must let them carry on; they will eat their freedom fries and foretell the doom and destruction of the world while the rest of us try a little Dijon on our burgers. The only thing we have to mourn is the apparent demise of the two-party system, brought about by the not-too-tragic suicide of the GOP.
We can all wait with bated breath for the next nonsense to erupt from the mouths of the Dick Cheneys, Rush Limbaughs and Sarah Palins of the world. (Let us not forget Governor Palin, she who has pushed her teenage, unmarried daughter to tell the world the glories of sexual abstinence even as she carts around her own baby; does anyone but this writer notice any irony in this bizarre situation?). But as they go about seeking something with which to discredit the president, he and others will make a far greater attempt to govern within the bonds of that old and neglected document, the Constitution, than was done for the past eight years. And the world can rest a little easier, knowing that Mr. Bush is gone, replaced by Mr. Obama.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.