Having been raised in a family of pro-business Republicans in Massachusetts, I sometimes wonder what it would take to restore the GOP to its earlier status as a reasonable and responsible political organization like it, more or less, was during the days of Dwight Eisenhower.
Back then, the Republican Party was skeptical of too much government but recognized government's vital role in building a strong nation. Eisenhower and Republicans of his time would have understood President Barack Obama's comment about the importance of publicly financed roads, bridges and other infrastructure in helping business succeed.
Those Republicans wouldn't have ripped the "you didn't build that" line out of context, attached the "that" to the wrong antecedent -- the building of individual businesses -- and then made the distortion the centerpiece of a national convention.
Unlike Eisenhower's GOP, today's breed of Republican displays a willful know-nothing-ism, a determination to wallow in a swamp of anti-intellectualism and made-up facts. In my youth, the Republicans were considered the more reasonable ones.
These troubling Republican trends have gotten worse over several decades but only recently has this reality penetrated the consciousness of the Washington Establishment, finally prompting two committed centrists, Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, to detect the reality.
Earlier this year, they penned a Washington Post Outlook article entitled "Let's just say it: the Republicans are the problem":
"In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.
"The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."
At the top, Republican leaders -- from Ayn Rand ideologues to neoconservative warmongers -- believe in elitist concepts like "perception management," i.e., using lies and propaganda to manipulate the rank-and-file. Among the rank-and-file, there's almost a pride in being manipulated.
So, despite all evidence, high percentages of Republicans believe that Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya, that Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. Instead of anger over being misled, today's adherents to GOP orthodoxy react to the truth by hugging the lies more tightly.
If this were the behavior of some fringe group on the Right or the Left, it might not matter much. But the Republican Party is part of the governing structure of the United States, the world's most powerful nation with a bristling arsenal of nuclear weapons and a vast array of other exotic weapons.
Bolstered by an extraordinary propaganda system -- reaching from newspapers, magazines and books to radio, TV and well-funded Internet sites -- the Republicans have shown they can win elections, especially in times of fear and anger, and cause great harm from starting unnecessary wars to tanking the global economy.
George W. Bush, one recent example of Republican arrogant ignorance, took the United States from an era of general peace, prosperity and, yes, budget surpluses to a desperate time of war, financial collapse and trillion-dollar deficits. Bush's ineptitude is still being felt by millions of jobless Americans and a struggling world economy.
Yet, the Republicans and their impressive propaganda machine have convinced large numbers of Americans that what is needed is a bigger dose of George W. Bush in the person of Mitt Romney, who, despite his mincing steps contrasted to Bush's swagger, represents Bush's policies on steroids, i.e., more tax cuts, more global belligerence.
Romney is trusting that the combination of true-believers and the truly confused will get him over the hump, and some polls show that he remains within range of reaching his goal, the White House. But what would happen if he gets his "50.1 percent"?
Misdiagnosing the Problem
Though Romney sees his experience as a venture capitalist as his top qualification to be President, he misdiagnoses the biggest problem facing the U.S. economy, a lack of consumer demand. That resulted from the middle class suffering three-plus decades of decline, mostly under GOP tax-and-trade policies favoring the rich and the outsourcers.