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Loose cannons are destroying their own cause

June 27, 2010|By TIM ROWLAND

If anything I said this morning has been misconstrued to the opposite effect, I want to apologize for that misconstrued misconstruction. - Texas Rep. Joe Barton.

Political opposition plays a role in government that is often just as valuable as political leadership. It's the opposing force that says that McCarthyism or the Vietnam War is wrong. It's the brake against runaway taxation and regulations.

Political opposition is, or should be, a responsibility to all Americans, not a sport or a parlor game. And when it rejects all logic and stridently puts the good of the party above the good of the public it risks oblivion. That's not good for either side, much less the American mainstream that's just trying to get by and can't be bothered by tiresome, conservative-liberal sniping.

When Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, sided with British Petroleum against the American people, he wasn't breaking new ground. He was simply parroting the line of the Republican Study Committee - of which our own Rep. Roscoe Bartlett is a member - which accused President Obama of "Chicago style shakedown politics" in establishing a $20 billion fund to compensate oil-spill victims.

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This is the arch-conservative talking point you've heard more and more: Yeahthegulf-oilspillisarealshame, BUT, what Obama is doing is MUCH worse."

This is a position that's so off the grid that even people who don't follow politics are cocking their heads and wondering what these people are talking about.

And when cornered, of course, this group's only defense is to chant the nonsense even louder, as if they're trying to get through to a deaf person.

While it's unclear exactly what the Republican Study Committee is studying, we do know what it's not studying: history and strategies for winning elections.

From a conservative, or even a moderate point of view, there's a fair case to be made that the federal government is vastly overreaching its authority and overspending its means. So yes, this might be the time for a referendum on expanding, expensive policies, and the midterm elections are just the right spot for a public "ahem" over unchecked big government.

If that doesn't happen to the extent that some might like, blame the Republican Study Committee and like-minded individuals who have surrendered their role of serious opposition for childlike tirades against the sitting administration, even when the sitting administration gets something right.

Were Obama to cure cancer, you get the sense that the opposition would complain that the destruction of cells violated the sanctity of life. (Democrats, for the record, did much the same thing with Ronald Reagan and paid a decade-long price.)

Serious opposition will fail to be taken seriously when its claims become so outrageous that moderate voters simply shrug and, to borrow a Reagan line, say, "There they go again."

Trying to blame Obama instead of health-insurance-company profiteering sounded mildly plausible. Trying to blame Obama instead of Wall Street greed raised eyebrows. But trying to blame Obama for siding with the people and businesses of the Gulf instead of a violation-riddled oil company shattered all credibility.

So there you have it. A golden opportunity to put the brakes on big government is being scuttled by the very people who want to put the brakes on the hardest - all because they have become so extreme that no one takes them seriously any more.

Anger and tantrums may get you on TV. We know this because of all the health-care protesters who willingly screamed at their representatives, egged on by a cheering crowd like a teenage girl during spring break will respond to a mob of drunken frat boys yelling, show us your you-know-whats.

But mainstream America was quickly bored by all the shouting and moved on to the next televised trainwreck.

Outrageous statements may win you fame. But it's fleeting. Quick, what's the name of the dude who shouted "You lie" during the president's health care address? And six months from now, after the fall elections, no one will remember Joe Barton's name, either. And if no electoral sea change has come to pass, Barton, Joe Wilson and the rest of those sitting on the far, far right will have to ask themselves whether the course of take-no-prisoners extremism was worth it, or whether the whole thing was one big misconstruition.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He may be reached at timr@herald-mail.com">timr@herald-mail.com.

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