The surprising news this weekend that moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava not only dropped out of the Congressional race in upstate New York but endorsed her Democratic rival Bill Owens instead of her conservative challenger Douglas Hoffman, is but the latest manifestation of the Republican Party's radicalization. As I noted in an earlier post, these days the Republican Party seems more interested in maintaining ideological purity on core issues dear to the hearts of its base supporters, than in expanding its reach to moderate voters. Some Democratic strategists such as David Plouffe seem sanguine about this phenomenon, as it may further marginalize the Republican Party, and help elect more Democrats, but I'm not sure it is healthy for the Republican Party, or for our democracy in general, for Republicans to continue to serve such a narrow constituency.
I just finished reading Republican Gomorrah by Max Blumenthal, a truly scary look at the backgrounds and interconnections of the right wing evangelicals who now make up the core of the Republican Party's supporters. Blumenthal makes these people sound like members of a sado-masochistic cult, rooted in violence against children, obsessed with pornography, vigilant against their own repressed homosexuality, and believing in imminent Armegeddon. The hysteria we see being launched against the Democrats' agenda can be explained in part by these fearful beliefs. Republican Party leaders seem hesitant to renounce the base's most fevered rantings (for example, the widespread belief among the Republican base that Barack Obama is not qualified to be president). Anyone who does not follow the right wing or evangelical party line on abortion, gay rights, or anti-government ideology risks becoming the next Dede Scozzafava, targeted by zealots within her own party.
For the two party system to work, the Democrats need a healthy and a reasonable Republican Party that can contribute to the debate. I'm not saying that the entire Republican Party should be composed of Arlen Specters and Olympia Snowes. What I am saying is that it would probably be better for both the Democrats and the Republicans if the Republican Party were more accepting of its Olympia Snowes and Dede Scozzafavas, instead of viewing them as traitors. The more that such voices are shut out of the Republican Party, the more the Party is taken over by a core cadre of fear-mongers and hate-mongers. The danger is that Democrats will never take such an opposition seriously, and the opposition, being shut out of the debate, will only become more extreme and more violent.