Hunter Thompson (who knew weird from the inside) once wrote: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” Uncle Duke was right. For here, in the Palmetto State, with less than two weeks to go before the primary election, it is very, very weird.
I had breakfast last week with Captain Kenneth Clark, USN (ret), the conservative Republican representative from House District 96, who serves the primarily poor, rural parts of Lexington and Aiken counties. Clark is an intelligent and thoughtful conservative, from a safe Republican district, who is suddenly in a very bitter primary race. He described to me the hate mail, the threats, and the relentless attacks on him by a mysterious political action committee called Conservatives in Action. What’s he done to invoke the wrath of the “CIA?” Come out in favor of abortion? No he’s relentlessly pro-life. Endorsed gay marriage? Not this Naval Academy grad. Called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the State House Grounds? No, in spite of the fact that it’s a symbol of a failed terrorist war on the USA, he’s okay with the “history, not hate” fiction.
What Ken Clark has done is to say that, if it weren’t for the public school system, he would have never had a chance to escape the life of grinding poverty into which he had born. It was the public schools that taught him to read, to think, to dream. It was his public education that made it possible for him to become a distinguished Naval Officer, serve his country with honor and then to retire to his wife’s family farm in Swansea. For that, he has been targeted as a RINO, a Republican in Name Only, a traitor to the heritage of Ronald Reagan, the Real Republican. He’s not alone. All across the state, in a dizzying turn of political schizophrenia, Republican conservatives are being called “liberals,” and may soon be facing defeat at the polls.
On its website, CIA says “Conservatives in Action PAC is a non-profit, Political Action Committee dedicated to elect people who agree with the conservative philosophy and defeat those who consistently oppose conservative principle. We support lower taxes to expand economic opportunity, spending limits to enhance fiscal discipline in government, market-based reforms to elevate educational achievement and smaller government to ensure each of our personal freedoms. Founded in 2006, Conservatives in Action PAC aims to mobilize like-minded conservatives who believe in these principles. Our goal is to create an active, engaged, informed and politically influential group of conservative citizens who can – and will – hold our elected leaders accountable for their actions.” It features a goofy animation of a boxing match between a Reaganite Elephant and Donkey dressed like a Rhinoceros. “I am a real Republican, fighting for rights of Americans,” is the rock Ted Nugent inspired jingle that plays over the animation. It’s weird, and strangely unsettling.
It’s weird because Ronald Reagan was the RINO extraordinaire. As Joshua Green wrote in The Washington Monthly shortly before Reagan’s death, “Federal government expanded on his watch. The conservative desire to outlaw abortion was never seriously pursued. Reagan broke with the hardliners in his administration and compromised with the Soviets on arms control. His assault on entitlements never materialized; instead he saved Social Security in 1983. And he repeatedly ignored the fundamental conservative dogma that taxes should never be raised.”
Oh, yeah, that’s right. He single-handedly defeated Communism, with a single speech in Berlin. Never mind that Soviet Communism was rotten, corrupt, impossible-to-implement religio-political cult. Never mind that he had a willing partner in Mikhail Gorbachev. Never mind that the U.S.S.R. was already teetering when he came to power in 1980. Reagan brought them down, and that’s all that matters to the Real Republicans.
As Sheldon Richman, senior editor at the Cato Institute (you know, the conservative think tank) noted in 1988, “[A]fter nearly eight years of Reaganism, the clamor for more government intervention in the economy was so formidable that Reagan abandoned the free-market position and acquiesced in further crippling of the economy and our liberties. In fact, the number of free-market achievements by the administration are so few that they can be counted on one hand—with fingers left over.”
What Reagan gave the Republican party was the American version of Soviet utopia: a rotten, corrupt, impossible-to-implement religio-political cult. While he paid lip service to “conservative, Judeo-Christian values” he practiced a cynical hypocrisy in a God-shaped void that would make Jesus’ old nemesis Caiaphas blush with embarrassment.
And now, his followers are making war on South Carolina’s conservative officials. They want to spend expand government interference in religion through “school choice.” They want to extend the jack-boots of government thuggery into our bedrooms, our churches, our families. They want to expand the powers of an out of control nanny-state to create a neo-fascist mullahdom that will create “real Americans,” formed in the image of the Great Hypocrite Ronald Reagan.
Here come the pro’s. Watch out, South Carolina.