How GOP Demogogues Came to Eat Their Own.
dem·a·gogue (n) - a political leader who gains power by appealing to people's emotions, instincts, and prejudices in a way that is considered manipulative and dangerous.The past two weeks Tim Russert has invited Republican leaders of the House and Senate to discuss their very different versions of immigration reform. What emerged was a fascinating example of demagoguery in action. We have seen it ad nauseum over the past six years, but until immigration, we haven't seen the GOP demagogue an issue against ... the GOP. And once the partisan dynamic is removed, it becomes all the more obvious.
(v) - to elicit people's emotional and prejudicial biases on an issue
Here's how the two houses approached the issue. The Senate made a good faith effort to come up with workable law, and in the process produced a bill that depends on compromise from both sides. Which in fact it received in the Senate, passing 62-36, with Dems almost unanimous in support, and the GOP split down the middle. Liberals might be frustrated that it ghettoizes immigrants in a perpetual "guest worker" limbo, and conservatives, particularly bigotted ones, feel that it is too generous to "those people." But it's a real and serious problem, and that means compromise.
The House, meanwhile, demagogued the issue, creating not policy but an appeal to the worst instincts of their constituents. The House bill has zero chance of becoming law, but serves as a useful political tool for House members who all face re-election this year. They won't be punished for hard talk, but they just might if they brought home a bill the rabble, whom they've spent 12 years whipping into a froth, dislike.
Demagoguery, by its nature, is a tapestry of spin and manipulation, and can't stand up to simple logical explorations. For six years, demogogues have actually been able to push through legislation that can't stand up to simple logical exploration--tax cuts, Medicare "reform," and so on--but eventually that political ploy runs aground on the shoals of reality. The split we're seeing in the Republican Party right now is happening because the more far-sighted senators are realizing that they'd better do some governing pretty damn quick or they'll be out of power while House members are content to keep on demagoguing. It's the perfect storm created by the hyper-gerrymandered House districts that will protect most of the Republican demagogues.
(Closer to home, just as it appears a Republican may finally become governor of Oregon, his moderate candidacy is jeopardized by the entry of a far-right demogogue who can't tolerate his soft-on-abortion stance. Such candidacies have torpedoed at least two Republicans in the last 20 years.)
If you wish to listen to the broadcasts, I've discovered that iTunes has a free podcast you can download. (You don't have to have an iPod--you can listen online--and iTunes subscriptions are free.) The transcripts are here (May 21) and here (May 28). Since this post is already running a bit long, I'll include one passage from an interview in the comments as a way of illustrating demagoguery in action.