The Right in decline: send out the clowns

Margaret Thatcher is demented. I don't say this unkindly, as I might have during her term in office as Britain's longest-standing and most destructive prime minister.

Margaret Thatcher is demented. I don’t say this unkindly, as I might have during her term in office as Britain’s longest-standing and most destructive prime minister. Now in her declining years, the Iron Lady suffers from dementia, just like her late hero and pal, Ronald Reagan.

Sarah Palin is a twit. There is no kindly way to say this. The former U.S. vice-presidential candidate has speculated on whether air strikes against Libya constituted a war or a “squirmish” and declared that America must stand by its North Korean allies. Like Thatcher, Palin is a creation of the right-wing gutter press, and she may have believed, in her addlepated way, that this made them birds of a feather. Thatcher’s minders do not agree.

Last June, Palin made headlines – her only known talent – when she tried and failed to arrange a meeting with Thatcher. One of Thatcher’s people told the Guardian that such a visit “would be belittling for Margaret. Sarah Palin is nuts.” Conservative talk-show star Rush Limbaugh was among many who expressed outrage at this insult, claiming to know Thatcher and declaring she’d be much too dignified – if she could still talk – to use the word “nuts.”

Yes, that’s the same Rush Limbaugh whose sponsors are abandoning ship after he called law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” because she advocated for public funding for birth control. During his rant against Fluke, Limbaugh displayed almost Palinesque ignorance, suggesting that women who have more sex require more birth control pills.

Limbaugh was a strong supporter of Palin’s non-run for the Republican presidential nomination. Why Palin didn’t run is unclear, though as a mere millionaire she may not be rich enough. It certainly couldn’t have been the twit factor that kept her from the hustings. Take a look at the crew who did throw their hats in the ring.

A multi-millionaire since birth, frontrunner Mitt Romney tried to connect with unemployed Americans by declaring, “I’m unemployed myself.” Attacking civil servants, he claimed that they make more than he does, perhaps forgetting he had already released his 2010 tax return, showing he made $21 million.

Romney’s nearest rival, Rick Santorum, has declared that the principle of separation of church and state makes him “want to throw up” and has advised pregnant rape victims to accept the “gift” God gave them. Next in line for the nomination is Newt Gingrich, the only leader of the House of Representatives to be censured for ethics violations including “reckless disregard of House rules,” violating tax law and lying to the ethics panel. He has said that “blacks don’t understand the keys to wealth” and Spanish is “the language of the ghetto.”

The question arises, has Baroness Thatcher lost her marbles all alone or did she take the rest of the English-speaking world down with her? Never mind that it’s somehow an honour, a claiming of status, to be allowed to visit a demented old woman whose claim to fame is that Rupert Murdoch and Rush Limbaugh once loved her. How did the political landscape get so scattered with clowns? How did the obviously racist, the clearly stupid and the blatantly untrue come to be the common discourse of the Right?

Take the Canadian House of Commons, where Dean Del Mastro, parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, remains the government front-person on the robocalls scandal. With great flourish last week, he accused the Liberals of being behind suspicious calls which originated in the U.S., because they were the “only party” to use an American call centre. Actually, Liberals never did. Conservatives did, including Del Mastro’s own campaign.

Even after the accusation turned out to be absurd, the Conservatives stuck to their guns. Del Mastro called on the Liberals to release their own call records, but announced his own party wouldn’t do likewise because they know they did no wrong. He appears to be trying to build a case that the Liberals savaged their own election chances in order to build a “smear campaign” against the Conservative party.

If Harper and Del Mastro were out to convince Canadians that they are exactly the kind of bungling schemers who tried to sabotage the 2011 election, they couldn’t be going about it better. And yet, like Palin and Limbaugh, like Gingrich and Santorum, Canada’s Conservatives retain their following. How do they do it? Don’t people care anymore that they’re being played for fools, by fools?

Back Stateside, there is some good news; the power of the American loony Right is in decline. No matter which clown wins the Republican nomination, no one seriously expects him to defeat Obama in November. So cheer up, Canada. No matter how zany it gets, there’s always light at the end of the circus.

Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon in 2010 and 2002. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.

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