PITTSFIELD

The past Presidents’ Day has morphed from a celebration of George Washington’s birthday into a holiday falling on a Monday for employees to enjoy a three-day weekend, and in the process it has popularly become a celebration of presidents past and present. This should include President Obama -- but not so according to the Republican members of Congress who shun the president. Why? Because of political cowardice to avoid challengers in primary elections now controlled by a loosely allied group of some 20 percent of voters who are best described in my view as making up what Charles P. Pierce titled his book, "Idiot America."

This state of political affairs should be obvious to anyone with common sense and objectivity in following current events in this country. A mixed group of political activists, including right wingers, extremists, tea partiers, hate mongers, self-styled patriot militias, racists, and believers in zany conspiracy theories, have hijacked the Republican Party primary election process. They have been galvanized into this action by the culture wars (abortion, same sex marriage, and so on), anti-big government groups (advocating a radically smaller federal bureaucracy) and assorted wacky groups (including believers in such nutty conspiracies as President Obama being a socialist, or worse, a closet anti-American Muslim bent on destroying America).

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This political bloc has become the base of support for Republican office holders and so far this group has been able to hold political sway over GOP incumbents by showing what it can do in party primaries. The party primary loss by Michael Castle in 2010 to Christine O’Donnell for the U.S. Senate was the premier political lesson for all Republican incumbents.

Castle was a well-liked and long-time Delaware politician who served both as a state representative and state senator and as governor. He last served as the only congressman for that state from 1993 to his primary loss in the Senate race. He was a centrist in Congress working across the aisle with the Democrats and for that he got O’Donnell as a primary opponent.

She was backed by this new bloc of mixed groups I mentioned above. She had no real political experience. During the debates in the campaign, she displayed an alarming lack of knowledge of how the government works. The most memorable thing for me, and I am sure for many other observers, about her campaign was the ad she ran asserting that she was not a witch to counter the claims that she had flirted with witchcraft in the past.

She beat Castle, but lost handily in the general election to a little-known Democrat, Chris Coons. Castle’s loss was a clear lesson to other GOP incumbents -- if it can happen to him, it can happen to us. Other similar lessons included primary losses like the one by long-time and popular Indiana Senator Richard Lugar to Richard Mourdock who was backed by this voting bloc dominating the GOP
primaries.

Mourdock, who is now best remembered for his public comment that a pregnancy caused by rape "is something that God intended to happen," lost in the general election to unheralded Democrat Joe Donnelly. Paying heed to these lessons, such well-known Republicans as Senators John McCain and Orrin Hatch both swung far to the right ideologically and avoided any dealings with President Obama. They did it to avoid the political fates of their former colleagues Castle and Lugar.

While it is bad enough for the nation that Republicans in Congress are cowed into stonewalling the president and the Democrats on governing, there is a more insidious effect because of this. As Pierce noted in his book, Idiot America is emboldened because it believes there are "two sides to every question -- (so) both (sides, including its side) must be right, or at least not wrong." Republican officials feel compelled to play to this voting base by creating two sides to every public issue.

For example, since there continues to be one side in America with the view that President Obama was not born in Hawaii then there must be something to that side. Based on the factual evidence of newspaper accounts of the birth and the birth certificate there is only side to this story. The president was born in Hawaii. But the nutty birthers continue to push their side.

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A more recent example of this two sides to every story to foster ignorance and stupidity was the report by the Congressional Budget Office about the supposedly long-term loss of about 2.5 million jobs because of the Affordable Care Act. Republican leaders, based on ignorance or a deliberate intent to deceive, presented this as another bad consequences of the ACA.

Factually, as pointed out by the author of the report, there was only one side to this report. The report was intended to show that people who now hold jobs just to keep an employer’s health care coverage will be able to voluntarily leave work -- an estimated 2.5 million of them over some eight years -- because of coverage under the ACA. Other example of fostering false sides to stories about public events include Benghazi and the so-called IRS scandal.

One wonders if there still is a sufficient number of responsible, reasonable, and mature Republicans who can break this circle of stonewalling governance and fostering of ignorance by made-up sides to stories.

Robert "Frank" Jakubowicz is a regular Eagle contributor.