The Republican party is in a world of hurt. The "base" of the party, which includes the tea-baggers, is flexing its muscles in ways that some of the brighter bulbs in the GOP know to be politically toxic to the larger voting public.
Specifically, there is the new Arizona state legislation just signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer. The law allows for law enforcement officers in that state to demand proof of citizenship from anyone they "reasonably suspect" (whatever that means) of being an "illegal alien." Or, stated more plainly, the new law gives police the authority to stop and question anyone, at anytime, for any reason whatsoever. The constitutionality of the law is in doubt. Many believe that it will not survive legal challenges that are already being mounted. The White House is said to be considering its own challenge.
Let's be clear. The reason this law is vile and reprehensible is not because it attempts to address the immigration problem, but because it is an assault on the rights of American citizens. Are there any tea-baggers out there who would care to explain to me how this law, which allows the police to stop American citizens and demand they show proof of citizenship, is virtuous and necessary while the recently-passed health care legislation is somehow a threat to their freedom?
But the law is symptomatic of the Republican party's Big ProblemTM. You see, in the bitterly-contested travesty that was the 2004 presidential election, Junior Bush and the Republican party was able to squeak out a victory by riling up the most ignorant and obnoxious of their supporters, today's tea-baggers, by using that oh-so-juicy political motivator, fear. (It still works, in red states, apparently. Already Texas and Georgia state legislatures are showing signs of following in the footsteps of Arizona.)
Well, this noxious legislation is serving several useful purposes, from a progressive perspective.
- It is consolidating Latino support for the Democrats and destroying those feeble inroads that Junior and Karl Rove made during their hateful tenure.
- It is galvanizing the political left and center of the electorate against Republicans. Already, boycotts are being organized against the state of Arizona. The prospects for a robust mid-term turnout this November were dim enough for Democrats, but this legislation could well be political Red Bull.
- It is agitating the fissure within the Republican party between "responsible" party leaders and the racist hoi polloi. The Arizona law has evoked meek, half-hearted condemnations from such Republican leaders as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.
Tough job. Republicans are trapped in a snare of their own making. For too long they coddled and humored the most ignorant of the American electorate. For too long, they espoused the lethal doctrine: No enemies on the Right.