A nation of Know-Nothings

An excellent editorial in the New York Times on the failure of the Republican party to stand up to the nut jobs in its ranks, as McCain did in 2008:

Having shed much of his dignity, core convictions and reputation for straight talk, Senator John McCain won his primary on Tuesday against the flat-earth wing of his party. Now McCain can go search for his lost character, which was last on display late in his 2008 campaign for president.

Remember the moment: a woman with matted hair and a shaky voice rose to express her doubts about Barack Obama. “I have read about him,” she said, “and he’s not — he’s an Arab.”

McCain was quick to knock down the lie. “No, ma’am,” he said, “he’s a decent family man, a citizen.”

That ill-informed woman — her head stuffed with fabrications that could be disproved by a pre-schooler — now makes up a representative third or more of the Republican party. It’s not just that 47 percent of Republicans believe the lie that Obama is a Muslim, or that 27 percent in the party doubt that the president of the United States is a citizen. But fully half of them believe falsely that the big bailout of banks and insurance companies under TARP was enacted by Obama, and not by President Bush.

There were some, prior to the 2008 election, who might have been worried that some of the more wacky left conspiracy wingnuttery might infect the Presidency. It hasn’t.

However, were we really ready for the level of deliberate ignorance that the Republican base would fall into? Bush now appears to have been a sane aberration. For example, with regard to the non-mosque controversy near ground zero, what would Bush have done? Tim Montgomerie in The Times (paywall) gives us a clue.

There is no heroic attempt to bring people of different world views together. There has been no equivalent of the visit that Mr Bush made to the Islamic Centre of Washington immediately after 9/11. The US Right, in particular, has largely jettisoned the outreach to mainstream Islam that characterised the Bush years. Mike Gerson, the chief White House speechwriter when Bush was President, has warned that the current debate risks deepening rather than defusing a clash of civilisations. “A mosque that rejects radicalism,” he wrote, “is not a symbol of the enemy’s victory; it is a prerequisite for our own.”