Last week, Sarah Palin stepped over the edge of civility. Fox Business host Eric Bolling played a clip of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on “Meet the Press” in which Christie said Newt Gingrich “has been an embarrassment” to the Republican Party.
“Poor Chris,” Palin responded. “This was a rookie mistake. He played right into the media’s hand.” Palin added that Christie must have been shaken up by Romney’s second-place showing in South Carolina. “You kind of get your panties in a wad, and you may say things that you regret later. And I think that that’s what Chris Christie did.”
One can only hope that Palin regrets her rookie mistake of using that brand of crude language on television. Except, just when Palin seems increasingly irrelevant, that quote put her name back in the news.
Days later, when Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer greeted President Barack Obama on the Phoenix airport tarmac, the two got into a testy exchange about Brewer’s account of a meeting with the president in her memoirs, “Scorpions for Breakfast.” Associated Press photographer Haraz N. Ghanbari snapped photographs of the Republican governor jabbing her index finger at the president of the United States.
Governors: Manners, please. Stanford University political science professor Mo Fiorina considers the tarmac spat indicative of a “breakdown of basic civility, of basic mutual respect, of the degree of animosity within the political class.”
A few years ago, I read amazing memoirs, “My Year Inside Radical Islam” by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, who converted to Islam as a college student. “No other Muslim will accuse you of not being a Muslim,” a friend had told him. “The thought that other Muslims would accept me as a brother in faith even if we disagreed on some theological points was comforting.”
Over time, however, Gartenstein-Ross continued to find new sets of rules to which he was expected to adhere if he wanted to see himself as a good Muslim. He wasn’t supposed to listen to music. “You should not go to law school,” a sheik told him. “If you go to law school, you will have to say the Constitution is good.” He had to grow a beard.
Each act of conciliation drove the young man to greater extremes and further isolated him from the rest of society. In 1999, Gartenstein-Ross worked for a foundation that the U.S. Treasury Department later found to have funded terrorist organizations. As his eyes opened, his fanaticism waned.
There are days when this Republican feels as if the GOP is puffing up its own extremist bubble. The GOP has more litmus tests of fidelity than before. There’s more rancor, and there’s a showy contempt for moderation.
I called Gartenstein-Ross to ask whether he sees a connection between today’s pumped-up GOP and his experience in radical Islam. Islamic extremists, he told me, “declare people with more moderate views of Islam to be not Muslim at all.” The Republican Party doesn’t advocate violence toward apostates, he replied, and liberal groups such as MoveOn.org also push the edge of the envelope, but he saw a similarity: “You have the same element with this desire for purity.”
Also, in an age when opinionators are competing for attention, shock talk draws the most attention. Palin trash-talked Christie’s undergarments — presto, she made Politico. Brewer berated the president in a most inhospitable manner — and her book sales shot up.
Stanford’s Fiorina told me that the Republican Party today reminds her “a lot of Democrats in the ‘70s. It took them four or five elections to figure out that the country wasn’t going to elect them.”
Fiorina looks at the GOP and sees “what happened to the Democrats.” Now the GOP base is “anti-establishment.” GOP factions “fight with each other more than the other side.”
Then there’s this rush to claim victimhood. On Thursday, Palin was on Fox Business claiming that “the establishment” was trying to “crucify” Gingrich. Crucify? How? By letting him talk? First party lemmings alienate everyone outside their little bubble, and then they blame the “establishment” because many voters do not trust them with power.