Monday, November 29, 2010

Beyond Redemption

It’s hard for a lot of people to remember a time when there were Republicans who were considered moderate and open to working with people who didn’t march in lockstep with the far-right agenda, but there actually were members of the House and Senate who did just that. Most of them, though, have either retired or been marginalized. So it’s a little poignant to hear one speak nowadays, especially when it’s someone like former Sen. John Danforth, Republican of Missouri, when he’s talking about the ones he left behind and the danger they face from within their own party.

“If Dick Lugar,” said John C. Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri, “having served five terms in the U.S. Senate and being the most respected person in the Senate and the leading authority on foreign policy, is seriously challenged by anybody in the Republican Party, we have gone so far overboard that we are beyond redemption.”

Mr. Danforth is considered an authority on redemption; before he was elected to the Senate, he was — and remains — a priest in the Episcopal Church.

Mr. Danforth’s concern has real implications. Mr. Lugar is defending the Obama administration’s attempt to ratify the New Start treaty with Russia, and it is running into opposition from the Republicans based on nothing other than the fact that the GOP does not want to hand the president any sort of accomplishment. The leader of the opposition to the treaty in the Senate is Jon Kyl of Arizona, who so far has been able to come up with no clear reason to oppose it on any other grounds. The new treaty has the support of conservatives ranging from Pat Buchanan to Henry Kissinger, but Mr. Kyl is adamant.

It’s obvious that Mr. Kyl and the Senate leadership have decided that it is in their best interest to oppose the Obama administration on everything, regardless of the logic or the benefit to the country. It’s not just the New Start treaty, either. On a variety of issues that at one point had their support — or at least a lack of organized opposition — the Republicans have either turned around completely or invented new reasons to block their passage: the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, warrantless wiretapping, the closing of Gitmo, the Bush tax cuts, cap and trade, Wall Street reform, TARP, and any number of other issues, they were for them before they were against them. They’re doing it because they can, and also, perhaps, because they are afraid of being held hostage by the fringe elements of their party. After all, Mr. Kyl saw that several of his colleagues in the House were defeated in primaries, including Robert Bennett of Utah, as was John McCain. So they’re putting their own political interests and futures first.

It also proves one certainty we learned in the War on Terror: when a prisoner is threatened with torture — in this case by the Tea Party, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin — they will say and do anything to avoid it.