Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Torture? OK. Obama-Chavez handshake? Horrors!


By PAT MURPHY

Why the far-right fringe of the Republican Party's political figures and their followers are behaving so weirdly can be ascribed to only one of two probable explanations. They either are running out of ways to belittle President Obama without expressing their real loathing—he's black—or they're in dire need of anger management and psychiatric counseling.

Along with John McCain and Sarah Palin, they tried to pin "socialist" on Obama during the presidential campaign. That didn't stick. Most don't know the definition of "socialist." Now, they're slamming Obama as "fascist," as in Italy's World War II axis dictator Benito Mussolini or Spain's longtime tyrant Francisco Franco, even though most can't define "fascist" either.

Some of last week's "tea baggers" also compared him to Hitler and accused him (falsely) of planning a law to seize their guns.

But now the far right is really heading over the edge.

Members of the U.S. Senate and the GOP's one-man brain trust, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, are aghast that President Obama smiled and shook hands and accepted a gift book from Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez at the hemispheric meeting in Trinidad-Tobago. As Sen. John Ensign of Nevada sees it, U.S. presidents demean themselves and their country when they show such courtesy and are "irresponsible." (Have such critics forgotten those memorable photos of conservative anti-communist President Reagan smiling and vigorously shaking the hand of Cold War Soviet Russia's Mikhail Gorbachev on their first meeting?)

Meanwhile, as horror after horror about torture policies of the Bush administration unfold, not a single critic of Obama's handshake with Chavez has publicly shown any remorse, nausea or anger about the CIA's waterboarding one terrorist suspect 183 times in one month—at least six times per day.

Extremist Republicans seem to have developed such a strong cultural intoxication for meanness, smearing and thuggish White House behavior that anything resembling civil conduct, patience and far-sighted mature diplomacy is regarded as weakness.

Do GOP extremists really believe their tactics constitute the clarion call that most Americans will follow? Even some in the 26 to 30 percent that consider themselves the Republican "base" are bound to find such inane language and behavior offensive, infantile and pointless.

One other thing. It's no coincidence that the screeching critics of Obama have yet to come up with any better idea to solve the nation's crises other than unanimous "No!" votes in Congress.




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