While I was languishing in the airport yesterday, beacon of vigilance Ben Fowlkes sent me the most recent Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll of registered Republicans. It is disturbing. It starts off okay, with a healthy number of respondents expressing their intention to vote in the 2010 congressional election and their reluctance to settle on a candidate for president in 2012. It’s disappointing to see Sarah Palin in the lead—and terrifying to see Dick Cheney in third—but three years ahead of the actual election, name recognition is pretty much all there is. Things start to get a little crazy with question three, in which 39% of Republicans opine that President Obama should be impeached. Exactly what crime he has committed goes unspecified, but perhaps respondents were rushing to get to the next question, in which nearly two-thirds of those polled agree that the president is a socialist. Thus begins a series of money shots, in a barrage of insanity that leaves the reader crouched numbly on the floor like a Japanese girl on the internet. If this poll is to be believed, 73% of Republicans think homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to be schoolteachers. Seventy-seven percent want the Biblical account of creation from Genesis to be taught in public schools. Thirty-one percent want to outlaw contraception. And fully 23% of Republicans believe that their state should secede from the United States of America.
First of all, I would like to point out that 19% responded to that question with “not sure,” which makes no sense to me. Without making any presumptions about your own personal opinion as to whether your state should withdraw from our federal union and operate as a sovereign nation, I bet you didn’t have to think very long about it. The sheer absurdity of the statement that one in four registered Republicans supports secession brings me to my second point: This thing can’t be true, right?
If you told me at a party that nearly a third of registered Republicans want to make condoms illegal and three quarters of them think the Bible should be part of public high school science curricula, I would gently remind you that the Huffington Post is not a traditional news source. That’s the kind of grotesque caricature of the other side’s views that actively impedes political discourse. I assume, though, that the Daily Kos and Research 2000 did not just make up this poll. If we accept that 2003 self-identified Republicans across the United States really did say these things to telephone pollsters, and we also accept that a quarter of the GOP is not seriously plotting secession, then we have to ask ourselves why they’re talking this way.
The rough and ready answer, of course, is that polls are r-tarded. Like any phone poll, this one only contacted respondents on land lines, thus removing from the sample people who only have cell phones—the overwhelming majority of whom are young, urban professionals who are less likely to think birth control pills are a form of abortion. (Thirty-four percent say yes to that one.) Then there is the perennial problem that many of the people who respond to public opinion polls don’t actually vote, which is frankly a pretty good problem to have, since it amounts to dumb people voluntarily removing themselves from our system of government. Finally, there’s the belligerence factor. After you ask me the question, “Do you believe that Barack Obama is a racist who hates white people?” there’s a good chance I’m going to start saying crazy shit just because I feel you’re not taking me seriously anyway. Never underestimate the demographic power of the wiseass.
Still, it seems like Research 2000 is a company that A) was founded at a time when the year 2000 seemed really far away and B) does this kind of thing professionally, so that maybe they’ve taken some precautions to minimize the kind of problems described above. If that’s the case, then another explanation saves us from having to spend the afternoon making multiple, small purchases of ammunition from different stores in order to resist the coming theocracy. The current trend in the GOP—if calls for ideological purity tests and the rise of strict constructionism are any indication—is toward a borderline insane preoccupation with keeping it real. American Republicans are like kids at a summer Bible camp; they came in staring at their Game Boys and have left speaking in tongues, all in a frantic attempt to seem more Into It than the kid next to them. (In this analogy, the first day of camp is the 2008 election, the last day is last week’s RNC meeting in Hawaii, and Bible camp is Bible camp.)
This conservativer-than-thou attitude is the natural product of the GOP’s role as an opposition party. Ever since the Republican leadership’s decision to confine its role in American governance to voting against stuff and making pronouncements, the race has been on—among politicians to position themselves for the next two elections, and among constituents to cast themselves as old-fashioned ideological patriots. Neither group has much incentive to avoid insane rhetoric, since party leadership doesn’t have to worry about constructing any policy and the base doesn’t have to pick any candidates. Why not say that you think the Fed is unconstitutional and the Bible should be the nation’s only science textbook?
Here’s why not: we do still have a country to run. America needs a sensible conservative voting bloc, not a bunch of fat Ohioans grandstanding in tri-cornered hats. If the last two weeks have shown us anything, it’s that the Democratic Party is not willing to govern alone. The country is at a moment of crisis, not just economically, morally and internationally, but in its fundamental approach to making decisions. We’re dangerously close to confusing government with politics, as the last year’s vicious wrestling to get nothing done indicates. If we want to actually improve our lives through the choices we make, we need to stop treating out political discourse like punk rock—an opportunity to freak out the squares and show our friends how hardcore we are. Do I believe that nearly 25% of Republicans want to secede from the Union? Not really. It’s sad that they woulds say they do, though.