National Commentary

The GOP ‘Little Shop of Horrors’

It is time-worn, but very true, that you cannot know who your friends really are until a crisis hits and people are challenged with having to set aside their own issues for awhile to put their shoulders to helping you.

(Sometimes this is a good mental exercise to sort out your friends, deciding who are merely of the “fair weather” variety, or those who are looking for a free ride, from the kind who will stick with you in the face of adversity.)

So, in the immediate aftermath of the “fiscal cliff” vote on Tuesday night, millions of genuinely hurting Americans, victims of an extraordinary natural disaster called “Super Storm Sandy,” learned very rudely and abruptly who were not their friends: In short, the Republican Party.

House Speaker John Boehner made it very clear after the “cliff” vote that he would not entertain a motion for a vote on emergency aid to the victims of Sandy. This was not an oversight, not something lost in the flurry of activity and emotion associated with the “cliff” vote, but was a calculated and premeditated stiff-arm and middle finger to all the victims of Sandy.

As Rep. Peter King of Nassau County, New York, himself a Republican, explained on national television yesterday morning, all the logistical details on how to get the votes needed to secure the aid package had been worked out in advance with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, also a Republican.

The measure was on the everybody’s radar screen in the leadership of the GOP but when it came time to take it up, Boehner said loudly that he would not speak with King or any in the delegation impacted by Sandy, and adjourned the session, sending lawmakers back home.

King’s vehement denunciations not only of Boehner but of the GOP, writ large, drew a lot of media attention yesterday. Like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in the immediate aftermath of the Sandy storm in late October, he stated emphatically that in cases like this, it is not party that matters, but action.

Christie was, of course, soundly criticized by his fellow Republicans for giving President Obama the credit he deserved for not holding back, as Pres. George W. Bush did so shamefully in the case of Katrina, but bolting to the scene of the crisis and mobilizing an extraordinary federal response.

Now, in the negative flip side of the same matter, King has echoed the same sentiment as Christie, in response to the same cataclysmic event. In both cases, these Republicans didn’t care about their party loyalties nearly as much as they cared about who would, or wouldn’t, come to the aid of their suffering constituents.

This is, and should be, a huge blow to the already reeling credibility of the Republican Party as an institution in American life.

The GOP now firmly caught in the grip of an ideological radical fringe, a weird crazy quilt of extremist gun advocates, abortion foes, gay and government haters, anti-tax fanatics, Wall Street apologists and zany conspiracy theorists. These elements, who intend to severely punish their party leadership for caving on the “fiscal cliff” and will push to create another debt limit crisis in the near term, could care less for real people, beyond their own narrow spheres of influence.

They’re like the man in the burning house who turns away firefighters, yelling, “No thanks, I’m a libertarian!”

The GOP has become a cult, a cult of cults, no longer grounded in reality and addressing reality-based human needs, but a cacophony of disparate ideologically rigid rhetorical postures.

It won’t be as easy for the GOP to dispel this Tea Party monster and its progenitors it nurtured in its midst like a well-watered house plant over the last three decades. Like a guest overstaying a welcome, it is not as simple as telling the Tea Party it’s time to go home. This plant’s home is the GOP, and that’s the GOP’s biggest and not-nearly-cured headache. Shades of “Little Shop of Horrors!”

The dilemma caused by this is what people like Gov. Christie and Rep. King are now having to face, and it won’t get any easier for them.