Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Let's All Go to the Stoning

David Corn's interview with outgoing Representative Bob Inglis (R-South Carolina)—outgoing as in lost his primary to a wingnuttier-than-thou teabagger candidate—has been making the rounds; it's well worth a read. Inglis seems genuinely frightened by the behavior he's seeing both from Tea Partiers and from the Republican establishment.

Inglis found that ideological extremism is not only the realm of the tea party; it also has infected the official circles of his Republican Party. In early 2009, he attended a meeting of the GOP's Greenville County executive committee. At the time, Republicans were feeling discouraged. Obama was in the White House; the Democrats had enlarged their majorities in the House and Senate. The GOP seemed to be in tatters. But Inglis had what he considered good news. He put up a slide he had first seen at a GOP retreat. It was based on exit polling conducted during the November 2008 election. The slide, according to Inglis, showed that when American voters were asked to place themselves on an ideological spectrum—1 being liberal, 10 being conservative—the average ended up at about 5.6. The voters placed House Republicans at about 6.5 and House Democrats at about 4.3. Inglis told his fellow Republicans, "This is great news," explaining it meant that the GOP was still closer to the American public than the Democrats. The key, he said, was for the party to keep to the right, without driving off the road.

Inglis was met, he says with "stony" faces: "There's a short story by Shirley Jackson, 'The Lottery.'" The tale describes a town where the residents stone a neighbor who is chosen randomly. "That's what the crowd looked like. I got home that night and said to my wife, 'You can't believe how they looked back at me.' It was really frightening." The next speaker, he recalls, said, "'On Bob's ideological spectrum up there, I'm a 10,' and the crowd went wild. That was what I was dealing with."

Jeez, for all my pessimism about American politics, even I hadn't gotten around to thinking in Shirley Jackson terms. Until now. Thanks, man.


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