Scott Brown’s victory in the special Senate election in Massachusetts demonstrated that 2010 could be a very good year for Republicans electorally. But, Alabama Senator Richard Shelby’s recent Senate shenanigans and the undercurrents of birtherism at the Tea Party convention in Nashville last weekend demonstrate how Republicans can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory should they follow the wrong path.
Last week, Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama placed a blanket hold on each and every one of President Obama’s nominees currently before the Senate for confirmation because the Alabama Senator sought to raise attention to the lack of support for key pork barrel projects in his state. The Shelby Stick-Up could have potentially ended up being the Republican version of the Louisiana Purchase and Cornhusker Kickback that have recently helped sink the Democratic brand. Fortunately for Republicans, Shelby decided to release his holds on most of Obama's nominees after only a few days, thus preventing public outrage from fomenting.
Nonetheless, Shelby’s unprincipled obstructionism is instructive on how Republicans should not act if they wish to regain power.
"I guess if you needed one example of what’s wrong with this town, it might be that one senator can hold up 70 qualified individuals to make government work better because he didn’t get his earmarks," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, echoing a line of attack against Republicans that Shelby’s actions opened up.
Regardless of the fact that Shelby lifted most of his holds, Republicans in the Senate must speak up and denounce the Alabama Senator’s political maneuver lest the entire party suffer because of the actions of one disgraceful Senator.
But it isn’t just Richard Shelby’s shenanigans that endanger the Republican brand going into November. The birtherism that raised its ugly head at last weekend’s Tea Party convention in Nashville is also potentially disastrous.
At its essence, the Tea Party movement represents a grassroots uprising against growing government control and unsustainable spending in Washington. This is an important message and the Tea Party movement deserves much praise for bringing it to the forefront of the national debate.
But if this righteous rage becomes tied to insane conspiracy theories like the birther conspiracy that suggests President Obama was really born in Kenya and is therefore ineligible to be president, then the important fiscal message of the Tea Partiers will be too easily marginalized. And though the Tea Party movement does not promote itself as an appendage of the Republican Party, the movement is nevertheless associated with it. So if the Tea Party movement comes to be seen as a welcome home for birthers, the Republican Party will be implicated. This can only be bad for the GOP going into November’s midterm elections.
To be sure, there are cranks in every political party and it was inevitable that some cranks would attach themselves to the Tea Party movement. But by giving Joseph Farah, a key promoter of the birther conspiracy, a prime speaking spot at the Tea Party convention in Nashville, the Tea Party movement, at least symbolically, gave legitimacy to lunacy.
Farah and his online magazine WorldNetDaily.com have been promoting birtherism from the very beginning of the conspiracy. But instead of coming right out and saying that he believes Obama was born in Kenya and is therefore an illegitimate president, Farah insidiously frames his birtherism as merely a legitimate question the president has yet to answer: Where is Obama’s birth certificate?
“You don’t even understand the fundamental tenets of what journalism is about, Andrew. It’s not about proving things. It’s about asking questions and seeking truth,” Farah reportedly said to Breitbart.com’s Andrew Breitbart in a confrontation between the two men after Farah’s speech.
The proof that Obama was born in this country is overwhelming to anyone who can read. Farah is either a fool or propounds birtherism intentionally to paint Obama as an illegitimate foreigner even though he knows the conspiracy is without merit. Either way, it is wrong and corrosive to the conservative movement. By providing a birther like Farah a platform, the Tea Party convention may have been an agent in its own delegitimization—and tainted the conservative revolution it seeks to promote in 2010.
At the moment, 2010 still looks like it will be a Republican year. There is even an outside shot that Republicans could take back one or both Houses of Congress in the upcoming midterm elections. But the coming 2010 Republican wave is not inevitable. It can still be halted. The Shelby Stick-Up and the birtherism of the Tea Party convention in their separate ways provide a blueprint for Republicans on how to fail spectacularly this fall.
We can only hope that Republicans will avoid this calamity by focusing on the very meaningful policy differences between their party and their Democratic opponents. Backing unprincipled obstructionism and promoting loony conspiracy theories will only lead to disaster.
Jamie is a columnist for The North Star National. He can be reached through his blog,JamieWeinstein.com.