'When Will They Take a Stand Against Their Own Crazies?'

By James Fallows

Later today I will have more on the outrageous pepper-spray episode in New York over the weekend, which the NYPD spokesman has now labelled "appropriate." The davids camera craft site has more video of that and related episodes, including a number of stills of the person who appears to be the abusive cop. (And here is one of several additional videos of the spraying, the audio of which appears to show that the young women are saying only "Why are you doing this?" etc just before they are blasted.)

For the moment, back to crowd decorum at GOP debates, most recently the booing of an American soldier in Iraq who revealed that he was gay. From a reader who was one of Mitt Romney's constituents in his time as governor:

>>If you can stand another letter on the topic, I think the booing encapsulates what the Republican party we could once vote for now represents to moderate independents like myself:

   - A few people loudly proclaim repugnant (or in other cases nonsensical) things.
   - Everyone around them lets it stand rather than challenge them.
   - Nine candidates on stage, with microphones, all stand silent while a soldier serving in Iraq is booed.

I remember John McCain seizing the microphone
from one of the Socialist/Muslim/Communist/Kenyan ladies and insisting his opponent was a good American, just one with whom he disagreed. I remember a man outside a Palin rally going up to someone selling objectionable merchandise and speaking up, while the rest of the crowd did the 'look away embarrassed' thing by the sellers, because to see a few promoting lies and hatred while the rest of them stood there reflected poorly on all of them.

Those moments are missing from the current round of GOP candidates, and they won't have my vote until they're willing to take a stand against their own crazies. As others have written to you, this was the perfect opportunity for a candidate to seize the high ground, make a stand that risked being booed, and establish their credibility as a leader willing to make the right stand. Every one of them chose otherwise.

Romney's actual record in office is that of a competent executive who can work with people from all walks to get things done. He ran from that record last time, claiming to oppose most of what he once stood for, and this time seems determined to say whatever it takes to get the Tea Partiers to embrace him. Usually the voter's conundrum between 'do I judge what he does in office or what he says campaigning' goes the other way....<<

"Taking a stand against their own crazies" defines precisely what the Republican field has declined to do, with one and a half exceptions. The full exception was Jon Hunstman's daring early Tweet saying that he believes in evolution (that this counts as "daring" should give us pause). Mitt Romney gets half credit for declining to say that Obama was a "socialist" in the most recent debate. (And, of course, Gary Johnson criticized the soldier-booers immediately after the debate.)

Actually, there is another very big exception -- ironically, it is the one now causing Rick Perry terrible troubles with "the base." That was his admirable argument in the latest debate that you had to "have a heart" when thinking about the plight of the children of immigrants, even illegal ones. I don't think he meant it as "taking a stand against the crazies," but objectively that's what he's done. Plus, it was the record he had to defend -- which he bravely chose to do, rather than running away from it as Mitt Romney has with his Massachusetts health-care plan. So my hat is off to him on this on.

One of the earliest political histories I remember reading was on why it took Dwight Eisenhower so long to condemn Joe McCarthy and his destructive, bullying "investigations" during the Red Scare years. I can't now be sure just where I read it, but I remember the mounting sense among Eisenhower's admirers that he was shaming himself by not taking a stand (and indeed for campaigning with McCarthy during the 1952 election). Ike finally turned on McCarthy late in 1953, after McCarthy began attacking the patriotism of Army officers and challenged Ike's own Secretary of the Army. The situation now is different now in many ways, but as the reader suggests the basic dynamic is the same. The hateful side of a party is showing itself, and the party's leaders are either pretending they don't notice or else are actively pandering to the haters.

More shortly.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/09/when-will-they-take-a-stand-against-their-own-crazies/245623/