You hire an Obama impersonator. He makes a few jokes about the president, his race, his wife’s race, and the interracial relationship of his parents. You laugh.
And then he flips the script. He tells jokes about Republicans. You boo him and escort him off stage.
This is the ability to dish it, but the inability to take it. This is the state of the Republican Party. This is desperation.
Before last week’s Republican Leadership Conference (RLC), where the Obama impersonator incident took place, there was the New Hampshire debate (a scramble for each candidate to distance himself or herself most from Obama). And before the debate, there was the birth certificate debacle, the eponymous re-naming of the health care bill from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to “Obamacare,” and the racist caricatures of Obama at Tea Party rallies.
The problem with desperation, particularly in our politics, is that not only is it a bedfellow of distraction but it also squashes dissenting opinions and ideas.
One recent example is Newt Gingrich. On Sunday, May 15 on Meet the Press, Gingrich dissented. Referring to Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wisc.) Medicare plan in his budget proposal, Gingrich stated the plan was “radical.” Further, he insisted: “I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering … I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.” In hours, the desperation machine was on the attack. Ryan and other Republican leaders were the first to issue their concerns. And then later in Dubuque, Iowa, a concerned conservative citizen confronted Gingrich, accusing him of being “an embarrassment to our party.” Gingrich’s apology was swift, and after a return from a Greek cruise and the loss of his senior campaign staff, he learned to keep his dissent to himself, tow the party line and return to the blind, unquestioning Obama-bashing of his youth.
Perhaps desperate politics is particular to presidential primaries, especially when it is a primary ramping up for a general election against an incumbent president. The 2004 Democratic primary was run in a heavily anti-Bush state of mind. Obama continued this narrative, to some extent, in the 2008 election campaign; yet at this point, voters were less attuned to anti-Bush invectives and more eager to hear pro-future solutions that went beyond rhetoric, which Obama provided and has fought for as president.
While desperation may be endemic to the political situation of the GOP, it is a losing mentality in the long run. The re-taking of the House of Representatives is just one example of the limits of such politics. Republicans in the House, though in control, have made few moderate proposals. They have shown an unwillingness to incorporate liberal ideas and opinions into their policymaking and most compromise in the past two years has been one-sided, as my PolicyMic colleague Edward Williams has noted.
Desperation is no good, from a political perspective or from a comedic one. The Obama impersonator at the RLC is just the most recent example. Republicans should take a page from the president’s playbook: If you’re going to crack jokes, make them in a timely and self-deprecating way (as Obama did at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner). The same goes for politics. Republicans should focus on timely matters (the economy, not Obama’s race or anti-American beliefs) and be willing to be self-deprecating by compromising just a little bit.
Desperation may win elections, but it doesn’t run countries.
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