Send in the clowns: It’s been a bad week for the GOP in D.C. and Helena

Maybe it was the full moon, or something in the stars. But one thing is certain: Easter week turned out to be anything but a resurrection of hope for the GOP. In both Washington, D.C., and here in Montana, the antics of leading Republicans ran the full gamut of gaffes, from laughably ludicrous charades to bald-faced lies. And to top it all off, the latest polls show public approval of the new, Democratically-controlled Congress heading upward.

The show started with Sen. John McCain’s “shopping trip” to Baghdad. Attempting to bolster flagging public support for President Bush’s recent troop surge, McCain, who still fancies himself presidential material, figured he’d jet off to Iraq and let the American people see for themselves just how wonderful things are there.

McCain probably thought “if there’s one thing Americans can identify with, it’s shopping.” I mean, right after 9/11, what advice did President Bush give our shocked citizens? He told us to “go shopping” to show the terrorists that it’ll take more than knocking down a few buildings to keep our die-hard consumers away from their favorite pastime.

So McCain goes to a Baghdad street market, the cameras are rolling, and he and some of his attendant stooges buy a few rugs on the cheap. Only one thing, McCain is wearing a flak jacket—and no, it’s not a fashion accessory, it’s the real thing intended to stop real bullets from doing real damage. With him is Gen. David Petraeus, the latest in the long line of generals in charge of the Iraq War and, wouldn’t you know it, he’s not even wearing a helmet! Is this safe or what?

It just goes to show how out of touch these guys are with Americans back home if they think normal people wear flak jackets to go shopping. I mean, local violence is bad these days, but it isn’t flak jacket bad.

There were a few other things that severely undercut the credibility of McCain’s effort. For instance, more than a hundred heavily-armed soldiers completely surrounded the market, including snipers and spotters on rooftops. Meanwhile, three attack helicopters with rockets and machine guns circled endlessly above the happy shoppers, ready to destroy anything that may have threatened the charade.

In the end, McCain was universally denounced for his stunt, which, by the way, cost the United States’ taxpayers a pretty penny to stage. Leading the charge were Iraqi merchants themselves, who were incredulous at the claim their markets were safe. Pounding nails in the coffin lid were the tens of thousands of Iraqis who took to the streets on the fourth anniversary of the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein—only their show of force was to demand the United States end what they call “the occupation” of their country and withdraw all forces. So much for winning in Iraq. Next up is probably a last-gasp, Saigon-style helicopter evacuation from the roof of a Baghdad hotel.

Meanwhile, another GOP presidential contender, Gov. Mitt Romney, told a guy in an NRA hat at one of his campaign speeches that he was “a lifelong hunter.” Apparently taking a page from Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s political playbook, Romney hoped to cull favor with the hook and bullet crowd. Only one slight problem: when reporters looked into the records of the states where Romney has lived to see what licenses he bought, guess what?

Turns out Romney’s “lifelong” hunting consists of a trip to Idaho when he was 15 to hunt rabbits—yes, rabbits—and a quail shoot at a game farm when he was 60. A governor he might be, but a Great White Hunter Mitt Romney is not. Even more embarrassing, Romney is a Mormon and, well, telling fibs is not particularly embraced by the church. But take hope Romney fans, he just came out in favor of even more money for the war machine. Apparently spending nearly $2 billion a day on our military isn’t enough for him. So even if he isn’t a hunter, he obviously loves guns and blowing stuff up—which just might be good enough to pull some NRA votes.

Closer to home, Montana’s own GOP was out in full regalia. House Majority Leader Mike Lange (now dubbed “Mad Mike” by the political wits), is apparently in a contest with Gov. Schweitzer to see who’s the bigger bully. Last week former Gov. Judy Martz lambasted Gov. Schweitzer as “a bully” in a speech to Helena area Republicans. Not to be outdone, Lange stormed into the offices of both House and Senate Democrats saying “It’s war. The bloodletting has started.” With fingers blazing as he emulated shooting at the startled Demos, Lange said he was done being “nice.” That’s enormously funny when you remember that the first words out of the mouths of the Republican House leaders at the start of the session were “it’s war.”

Well, the Republicans love war and they’ll do just about anything to make us think we love it, too. But in the end, the GOP’s record is a dismal failure. They have lost the war in Iraq, spent the federal budget into a hole, trashed the global environment and tossed our constitutional rights in the garbage can. Yet they still want us to believe there is some valid reason to listen to their lies or support their losing policies. And in the end, of course, they’re hoping we’re so dumb, so scared or so foolish that we would once again trust them with our votes.

If the antics of the last week—and the dismal public reaction they spawned—are any indication, the Republicans would do us all a favor by putting away the clown suits, shutting down the theatrics and facing the fact that it’s time for the GOP to get real. Or maybe just go away.

Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.
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