Written by Deborah Small, Jack & Jill Politics
Okay, I admit I’ve never been a Republican. I’ve never voted for a Republican, although my father did support John V. Lindsay when he was mayor of New York. I guess I’m just one of the millions of “brainwashed” black people Herman Cain (aka Uncle Ruckus) likes to deride. But I did have a certain grudging respect for the Republican Party – it’s ability to maintain discipline, articulate a clear message with conviction and stick with an issue – however unpopular – until it gained legitimacy in the political mainstream (e.g. school vouchers, prison privatization, HMOs, etc.). Lately that grudging respect has turned into terror.
When I look at the Republican Party today, the cartoonish cast of characters that purport to be its leaders (either as presidential candidates or legislative officials), the hateful and ignorant rhetoric that substitutes for substantive policy analysis and the slavish devotion to positions that make no sense (e.g. rejection of climate change, the so-called ‘birther’ controversy, supply-side economics) it occurs to me the GOP has morphed from a legitimate political party into something that resembles a modern day cults.
I know this argument may strike many as exaggerated and ‘over-the-top’ even among those who love bashing the GOP, but before you dismiss this idea out of hand, let me list the common characteristics shared by cult-like groups and see if you think they describe the current GOP. While there is often fierce debate about which organizations/religions/groups can be legitimately characterized as cults, there is general agreement about the common characteristics of cults:
Let’s see whether the current GOP exhibits these characteristics.
Displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leaders (whether dead or alive) and regards its belief system, ideology and practices as truth and/or the law.
It’s hard to dispute that within the GOP, Ronald Reagan has been accorded virtual demi-god status. Every major Republican leader has come and worshipped at the altar of Reagan, holding him up as the model for all would-be conservative Presidents. In many respects Reagan is for conservatives what Jesus is for fundamentalist Christians – an object of uncritical devotion tangentially related to the actual human being. Within this cosmology, Reagan single-handedly brought down the Soviet Union (effectively ending the Cold War), held the line against communist insurgents in Latin America, affirmed the role of Christian faith in the political mainstream and most importantly established the current orthodox belief that government is the enemy of the people and the only way to rein it in is to “starve the beast”. The following video produced by the Heritage Foundation in commemoration of Reagan’s centennial birthday presents Ronald Reagan as icon.
This deified version of Reagan ignores any facts (however well documented) that run counter to the narrative in the same way many fundamentalists conveniently ignore Jesus’ focus on charity, humility and generosity as the prerequisites for living a ‘Christian’ life. One of the many consequences of this revisionist view is that it’s enabled people who label themselves “conservative” to wear the Reagan mantle while embracing policies and tactics that Reagan rejected while in power.
The relationship between today’s Republicans and Ronald Reagan was nicely summarized by Jimmy Carter during an interview earlier this year with Rachel Maddow about how the GOP has elevated Reagan to virtual sainthood:
Photo from Mike Licht via flickr
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