Apparently there is nothing too vile for Republican Party leaders.
Over the past weekend Montana Republicans displayed, at their state convention, an outhouse labeled the “Obama Presidential Library” and painted to look bullet-ridden. Delegates had their pictures taken standing beside the outhouse, which featured a fake birth certificate for “Barack Hussein Obama,” a nod to the birther movement. The Missoulian reports the fake birth certificate was stamped “Bull—-.” Graffiti promised, “For a Good Time call 800-Michelle (crossed out), Hillary (crossed out), and Pelosi (circled in red).”
According to Will Deschamps, state chair of the Montana Republican Party, “Some of that stuff is not [in] real good taste. We do have a president of the United States, and we have to honor that.” But then Deschamps dismissed the outhouse as a “sideshow,” adding, “it’s not something I’m going to agonize over.”
Montana Republicans, this is not a “sideshow.” This is proof, as Dana Milbank points out in The Washington Post, that our political discourse, which we once thought had gone down the toilet, instead “has gone to a place where there isn’t even plumbing.”
Nuts frequently dominate the fringes of party politics. Political leaders, those who demonstrate courage, denounce these vile elements. The silence of Republican leaders in confronting despicable statements about the president demonstrates either that they agree with those statements or that they are too frightened to denounce them.
Mr. Deschamps is not alone in his gutlessness. Most of the Republican leadership has at one time or another in the recent past demonstrated moral and political cowardice.
Mitt Romney easily shared a stage with the most prominent birther of them all, Donald Trump, just hours after the tycoon trumpeted another charge that the president was not born in the United States. Another time, the presumptive party presidential candidate refused to confront a supporter who suggested Mr. Obama should be tried for treason.
Perhaps Romney worries he might alienate the one out of every six voters who believes Mr. Obama is a Muslim. On the other hand, a courageous politician might seize the opportunity not only to denounce bigotry and ignorance but to educate the uninformed.
Not Mitt Romney, who has a history of this sort of groveling before outrageous and despicable political colloquy. Remember his reaction to Rush Limbaugh’s calling a Georgetown University law student a “slut?” ”It’s not the language I would have used,” leaving unsaid exactly what language he would have used.
Romney has plenty of company among prominent Republicans. Speaker John Boehner could only offer a tepid “inappropriate” in describing Limbaugh’s odious language. Rick Santorum, when a candidate for the GOP nomination, refused to challenge a supporter who asserted Mr. Obama is not legally president and who called him “an avowed Muslim.”
Much of this is racist, and it is shocking that today’s Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, refuses to shout it down. But then, not antagonizing the base appears the governing principle for Republicans these days.
It’s a cliche to point out that the presidency is “a bully pulpit.” But candidates and others in high political office also have a bully pulpit. An example is candidate Barack Obama’s superlative speech on race and the Reverend Jeremiah Wright four years ago.
Writing Mitt Romney’s speech condemning the loonies and the fruit cakes on the GOP right would not be hard. Getting him to give it is another matter.