OCALA, Fla., June 6, 2014 — Over the last several years, both of America’s major political parties have become radicalized.
The ascent of politicians such as Howard Dean and Ted Cruz has come at the cost of moderate voices like Blanche Lincoln and Mike Castle. Our government is now in a lurch with little hope on the horizon.
Nonetheless, since at least the start of the 21st century, extremism has been more pronounced in the Republican Party. Activist Democrats are catching up, to be sure, but many modern-day GOPers set the standard.
Why has the Republican brand been co-opted by zealots who voice their disdain for the GOP? Why is it that these people — who dub themselves “conservatives” — are the first to call others RINOs; meaning “Republican in name only”? Considering that many would leave the GOP in a heartbeat for a far-right alternative, do they have any authority to judge?
Although various Tea Party organizations, antiabortion groups, fundamentalist Christian collectives, and all-around miscreants make the most noise, are they really the soul of the Republican Party?
If they were, then why is so much time wasted deriding “RINOs”? Why are centrist Republicans targeted for defeat in primaries? Why hasn’t a hard-right GOPer been able to secure his or her Party’s presidential nomination since, well, ever?
Before anyone makes a snide remark, Barry Goldwater was a libertarian who supported gay equality and abortion rights. Ronald Reagan opposed sexual orientation-based discrimination and signed sweeping abortion rights legislation as California’s governor.
He also supported leftish immigration policy and ultimately decided not to abolish the U.S. Department of Education. Some rock-ribbed conservative he was.
Mikey Weinstein is a registered Republican who served in the Reagan Administration. A former military prosecutor, he now heads the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. This is a legal advocacy group which defends military personnel from religious discrimination brought about mostly by fundamentalist Christians.
Weinstein’s work has resulted in widespread condemnation from the Religious Right. Its members have devoted an immense amount of energy to deriding Weinstein and the MRFF. He has become an unfortunate celebrity; a boogeyman at which fears of a secular America are directed.
The passionate fear and hatred which he is subject to highlights the mindset of many rightist activists who have tried to remake the GOP in their own image.
“This is not the Republican Party that I remember being in when I was in the White House,” Weinstein explained to me last year. “This is not the Republican Party of Barry Goldwater or Jacob Javits or Abraham Lincoln. This is some sort of perverted nightmare that has been distorted by the Tea Party and these people are just bigoted, racist scumbags.
“So, what I do is I consider the source. If they don’t like me, I’ve often said they can take a number, pack a picnic lunch, and stand line. We’re not going to stop doing what we’re doing.”
One might say that the frustration which drives extreme rightists must be alleviated so that the GOP can carry on. The same could be said for radical leftists in the Democratic Party. This is not the case; a certain segment of the population has always been hate-prone, but thankfully ignored.
As of late, it has become more difficult to pretend that radicals don’t exist, however.
During 2008, Elizabeth Cohen of CNN wrote that “(i)n a study published last year in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the researchers found that liberals and conservatives processed information differently. Specifically, they found differences in activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, an area of the brain that processes conflicting information.
“David Amodio, an assistant professor of psychology at New York University, and lead author of the study, says these results suggest that liberals and conservatives have some basic brain differences — and those differences are influenced by our genetic makeup.”
Modern science has established that both genes and environmental factors play a role in our decision-making. So, in times of great right-leaning success, lefties naturally become aggravated and translate this into hardline public policy measures which support their ideology.
During an era of left-leaning governance, righties do the exact same.
A jumble of special interest groups, new demographic trends, a growingly secular society, and more have emboldened the left. That, in turn, has served as an impetus for rightist extremism.
All of this provides America with a spectacular display of nature and nurture joining forces in pursuit of power. Politics simply provide an arena for the competition to take place.
Therefore, while Republican radicalism is undeniably horrid, it is symptomatic of a much larger problem. That problem, for its endless nuances, is quite simple: Our country is so divided that it struggles to stand.
How these divisions may be bridged is any rational mind’s guess.