Carl Paladino, New York’s GOP candidate for governor, did something surprising for a Republican politician Sunday; he went after gays.
Seriously, this has to be one of the least shocking news items of the past year. He’s a conservative, he’s Catholic, and he’s a Republican. What’s a guy to do?
Of course, the guy is known to be a bit of a loose cannon. He’s another one of those “family values” guys (what Republican isn’t?) who has been accused of sending sexually explicit emails (a liberal plot, of course) and who mobster-like threatened a reporter with an “I’ll take you out” (and presumably not on a date). This too comes as no surprise when we survey 2010’s Republican offerings; they’re a breathtakingly unfit bunch for public office.
And these people just seem to fall over each other trying to say polarizing things. Carl Paladino is no exception, and a recent CNN story suggests this is exactly what he was trying to be on Sunday with his remarks on gays. At his meeting that day with Hasidic Jewish leaders he said, “I don’t want them [children] to be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option.”
John P. Avlon, author of “Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America,” points out that Paladino’s “comments about gays were not a gaffe. They were scripted.”
I don’t think that comes as a terrible surprise either. As Avlon points out, this is “just the latest example of the politics of incitement — rhetorical bomb-throwing designed to polarize.” After all, in America polarizing is print; I mean, you get popular real fast when you act like an idiot. Palin knows it, Bachman knows it, Angle and a slew of others know it.
That’s why they are falling over each other to be controversial. It also sells well to the base.
The rest of America is another matter. Christine O’Donnell trails her opponent by a good margin and doesn’t look likely to get herself out of her homelessness, tax, and debt problems, and Angle, who is running against an unpopular Democrat somehow manages to run neck and neck with him as she rants about Muslims and Sharia law in cities that don’t have it. It would be a surprise if Palin ever got elected to anything again, having once quit in the middle of her term as governor.
Paladino is using tried and true Republican tactics. Avlon points out that his “gay gambit worked, to some extent — the next morning he was on every national network morning news program explaining his comments and, amazingly, playing the victim card.”
Yeah, victim. We hear a lot of that too, from Republicans. Christianity under attack, bullies the victims of the mean old victims they push into suicide and so forth and so on.
Of course, Michael Caputo, Paladino’s campaign manager, was quick to point out that “Carl Paladino’s position on this is exactly equivalent to the Catholic Church,” and suggested that “if Andrew Cuomo [who attended New York City’s gay pride parade with his daughters] has a problem with the Catholic Church’s position on abortion and homosexuality, he needs to take it up with his parish priest.”
That will play well to conservative Jews and Catholics, and Evangelicals as well, no doubt. Of course, Paladino “apologized” and the Hasidic Jews dropped him. You would think that the entire political campaign came down to those two issues to hear Republicans talk about them: abortion and homosexuality.
Ann Coulter told Bill O’Reilly on Tuesday that Paladino was just playing to his audience:
“He’s speaking to Hasidim.. It’s like going to Chicago. You say ‘Go Cubs.'”
Avlon says there is more to it than that, that Paladino’s tactics are simple: “Cultivate a wedge issue that would divide working-class white Democrats from the liberal party establishment. The culture wars were inflamed, and conservatives became ascendant as a check on the far-left “bogeyman.”
We’ll see soon how that works out for them. Personally, you’d think that the economy and wars (both sent to the tank by the Republicans, along with the environment) would be bigger issues and attract more attention but the Republicans don’t really seem interested in addressing let alone resolving standing issues of their own creation. They just want to get elected so they can drive the car into the ditch again.
You have to admire their single-mindedness. And how good they are at it, of course – driving the car into the ditch, I mean. I have no doubt they will wreck as thoroughly as they did the last time.
Avlon’s conclusions are inescapable:
The problem is that the politics of incitement are the new normal. Political leaders used to give talking points to talk-radio hosts — now talk-radio show hosts give talking points to political leaders. The result is a race to the bottom, a de-incentivizing of decency. Our political debates get hijacked by the most extreme among us, and the American electorate as a whole is held hostage.
As I said, we will see how such a deluge of negativity and nihilism plays out. Barack Obama campaigned on a promise of hope and change. The Tea Party claims it wants change as well but it’s unclear exactly how they intend to run the country once they’ve finished demolishing the government and the Constitution. Hate and intolerance incite the base but it’s a turn off for moderates and independents and the effect it has on liberals and progressives should be obvious.
Polarizing politics do what they are designed to do: set US apart from THEM, and if it’s done right it’s made clear who the “good guys” are and who are the “bad guys.” We see this in the endless claims about liberals and progressives being traitors, soft on terrorists, morally corrupt, anti-God and anti-American. The problem with polarizing politics is that they are exclusive, not inclusive, and the GOP tent has gotten very small indeed with their drive for ideological purity. It’s not clear that there will be enough of them to run the government, even the smaller government they claim they want, when they’ve finished destroying it and assuming anything survives that can be recognized as the United States of America.
The dust will settle in a few days, and hopefully what will emerge will be the tombstone of polarizing politics. They didn’t work in 2008 and they likely won’t achieve what it’s hoped they’ll achieve in 2010. You have to wonder how desperate or ignorant of history a politician would have to be to run them out again in 2012, but then it is the Republicans we are talking about here. They’re still trying to convince America that 9/11 happened on Obama’s watch and that he somehow ruined the economy during Bush’s presidency.