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The MIAs of the GOP

Posted: Friday, October 17, 2008

Liberals haven't had so much fun in decades. Aside from the dwindling size of our 401(k)s, life is treating us well. True, we're heading into a major recession. But that's OK: That just presents us with new opportunities to Do Good. And while we wait for President Obama to bring us New Deal 2.0, we'll also get a few giggles out of watching the Bush administration preside over the nationalization of the nation's financial sector. (Tip: Practice saying "social democracy." Also, practice saying "Told ya so!" with compassion.)

Maybe most fun of all, we're getting to watch a steady procession of rats leaving the sinking GOP ship.

One by one, the nation's more reputable conservatives have been edging away from the Republican presidential ticket. It started with John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate. Thinking conservatives - as of a couple of months ago, there were still a few left - were distinctly underwhelmed. In The New York Times, David Brooks chastised McCain for "throw(ing) away standards of experience and prudence" by picking Palin. In The Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer said Palin was "not ready" for prime time. David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter and fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, complained that Palin had "thoroughly - and probably irretrievably - proven that she is not up to the job." In The National Review, conservative columnist Kathleen Parker said Palin was "clearly out of her league" and urged her to "bow out."

For liberals initially alarmed by McCain's brief post-convention poll bounce, this was fun. And as conservative disdain spread to the whole GOP ticket, the fun got even funner.

In The Washington Post, George Will slammed McCain for his "fact-free slander," "substitution of vehemence for coherence" and "boiling moralism." On MSNBC, former Reagan speechwriter and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan admitted that she's not sure who she'll be voting for this November: "Ahh. Umm. I'm thinking it through."

Then - more fun - some conservatives began to actually endorse Barack Obama. Wick Allison, a former publisher of the National Review, wrote that today's brand of conservatism "has produced financial mismanagement, the waste of human lives, the loss of moral authority, and the wreckage of our economy that McCain now threatens to make worse. ... Obama is almost the ideal candidate for this moment in American history."

Christopher Hitchens, who has spent the last five years deriding the Democratic position on Iraq as that of "the surrender faction," endorsed Obama too, concluding "the Republican Party has invited not just defeat but discredit this year, and ... both its nominees for the highest offices in the land should be decisively repudiated."

Whee! Incredibly, the fun continued. Christopher Buckley, National Review columnist and son of conservative icon William F. Buckley, also endorsed Obama: "Obama has in him ... the potential to be a good, perhaps even great leader. ... And so, for the first time ... I'll be pulling the Democratic lever in November." For his pains, Buckley received hundreds of vituperative e-mails from former admirers on the right. Effectively, he said Tuesday, he's been "fatwaed by the conservative movement." He resigned from The National Review.

But enjoyable as it's been to watch conservatives flee from the GOP, something about all this leaves me feeling a little down. Because as the more respectable, literate conservatives distance themselves from the GOP, increasingly, the only ones left on the right are paranoid, rage-driven, xenophobic nuts. Bitter? You betcha! Twisted, too!

Even for a liberal, it's painful to watch. Once, the GOP proudly claimed to be the "party of ideas." They weren't generally good ideas, it's true - but they were ideas - eloquently defended by men and women who believed it was their duty to study history, philosophy, science, economics and international relations and to do the intellectual heavy lifting needed to try to persuade smart people with different views to come around to their way of thinking. That was the GOP nurtured by conservative intellectuals such as William Buckley. Buckley was many things liberals didn't admire, but he wasn't ignorant, savage or stupid by choice.

But today, as the last few sober grown-ups leave the party, the visible face of the GOP increasingly looks like that of the people who shout "kill him!" when Obama's name comes up, who speak of black men they don't like as "uppity" or as "boys," who think you can't trust a Muslim or an Arab, who think talking about "Barack Hussein Osama" is witty and (I'm talking to you, Sarah Palin and John McCain) who claim Obama "pals around with terrorists."

This isn't really that funny anymore.

• Rosa Brooks is a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. This column was written for the Los Angeles Times.



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