Joe Klein's Wrong: Republicans Aren't A Party Of Nihilists

5247141Joe Klein, who wrote a compelling essay in Time, on the current travails of the Republican Party, must have been in a righteous fury when he sat down to compose his piece. Klein's anger is unmistakable as he lays out a chronology of foolish posing and blatant hypocrisy by the Republican Party's intellectual and political leadership, especially when it comes to trying to undermine the administration's health-reform legislation.

"Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who has authored end-of-life counseling provisions and told the Washington Post that comparing such counseling to euthanasia was nuts — but then quickly retreated when he realized that he had sided with the reality-based community against his Rush Limbaugh-led party. Mitt Romney, the Republican front-runner for President according to most polls, actually created a universal-health-care plan in Massachusetts that looks very much like the proposed Obamacare, but he spends much of his time trying to fudge the similarities and was AWOL on the "death panels." Why are these men so reluctant to be rational in public?"

That's a tough indictment. But since when did purposely provocative or otherwise silly statements pose barriers to higher office? From Helen Chenoweth-she of black helicopter fame to Michelle Bachmann's "we have gangster government" quip - there's a long tradition of districts reelecting legislators who repeatedly offer goofy pronouncements. The same goes for Democrats. Oh, where's all-time Coop fave' James (Beam Me Up Traficant) when you need him? Actually, he's in prison, though his projected release date is September 2.)

So it is that Klein nails Isakson and Romney for acting like abject weasels. I'm shocked, shocked, to learn that national political leaders actually have backbones made of Jell-O. Come on, now. To his credit, Klein correctly notes a longer historical narrative and recalls that Eisenhower "tiptoed around Joe McCarthy." In fact, during the 1952 presidential campaign, Ike refused to say a single word of rebuke though McCarthy grossly smeared George Marshall, one of the nation's greatest statesmen. Not exactly a profile in political courage but it worked out politically as Republicans dominated for the next eight years.

What with Dick Cheney working on a tell-all about life with (a suddenly reclusive) George Bush, the Republican Party has been dealing with a lingering leadership void.

In the absence of any latter-day Cincinnatus types - let alone Charlton Hestons - we're supposed to believe that the party is now run by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and "a tight, white, extremist bubble" destined to make "creative public policy impossible." I'll be the first to acknowledge that the images of the town hall screaming matches transmitted via YouTube are grim. But there is the image and then there is the reality. Might health care reform be the ticket? Might be. It's got every political boogeyman the Republicans trot out come election time: big government, big spending and big bureaucracy.

And it is possible to oppose the Obama health care plan without being labeled a knuckle dragger. I wouldn't hyperventilate about the folks who show up at town hall meetings to rant about Nazi-like hijacking of public policy. Klein suggests that they represent the real face of the party. That's giving the professional provocateurs on talk radio and cable television too much credit. The vocal minority have had their say but what about the silent majority? So far, they've been drowned out of the Republican conversation.

Rather than a party of nihilists, the Republicans seem to be a party adrift in need of firm leader. Remember what the pundits were saying about the Republicans after the Goldwater debacle in 1964? Yet only four years later, Nixon was in the White House and a Republican majority was taking shape.

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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.