I Guess It’s a Little Thing, But This Other Thing Is Big

The U.S. has two major political parties. One is older than the other. Which one?

You might think it’s the Republican Party. It’s not. The Democratic Party was founded in 1828, when Andrew Jackson was running for president. It’s the oldest active political party in the world. Jackson was the first Democratic president, which is why the party is occasionally called the “Party of Jackson” (even though Jackson might not be a Democrat today).

The Republican Party wasn’t founded until 1854. The party’s main thrust was opposition to slavery. It’s sometimes called the “Party of Lincoln” because Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president — even though Lincoln was a liberal or progressive for his day, not a conservative or reactionary (the Republicans began to move right around 1912 and never looked back).

It bugs me that news people frequently refer to the Republican Party as the GOP. Many Americans don’t know what “GOP” refers to or stands for. It’s “Grand Old Party”, even though the Democratic Party is older. In fact, the GOP acronym was first used to refer to the Democratic Party. After the Democrats dropped it, the Republicans picked it up.

So the Republican Party isn’t old compared to the Democratic Party; news people don’t have a friendly little acronym for the Democrats; and worst of all, when the GOP does something especially bad — like opposing voting rights in Congress and across the country — a significant number of people don’t even realize it’s the Republicans at work. That’s why I try to avoid using “GOP”.

That was the small thing. Here’s the big thing, as chronicled by Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post. Her article appears on the paper’s digital front page as “Dear Media: Stop Giving the GOP the Benefit of the Doubt”: 

The Republican Party has a reliable — albeit inadvertent — ally in the mainstream media. The latter remain all too anxious to make the authoritarian and often blatantly racist party seem “normal.”

When Republican Glenn Youngkin won the governor’s race in Virginia, the media gobbled up the GOP talking point that he had cracked the code for the post-T___ era. See how clever he was to keep his distance from former president D____ T____? The coverage rarely scrutinized his positions, such as his potentially disastrous proposed tax cuts or his aversion to mask mandates, a critical part of Virginia’s school reopening.

The story line was set: Democrats blew it by closing schools; Youngkin was “smart” to pose as a normal Republican. As The New York Times cooed: “Many conservatives see his campaign as providing a template for how to delicately embrace T____ism in blue states.”

Delicately? Youngkin was always serious about the MAGA camp’s culture wars, as he made abundantly clear on day one of his governorship.

Shortly after his inauguration, Youngkin promptly banned critical race theory from Virginia curriculums, even though it isn’t taught in schools, thereby flaunting his willingness to cater to White grievance in a state infamous for its resistance to desegregation. He described what would be removed from school curriculum: “All of the principles of critical race theory, the fundamental building blocks of actually accusing one group of being oppressors and another of being oppressed, of actually burdening children today for sins of the past.”

Listening to Youngkin, one might never know that slavery and Jim Crow are woven into the Commonwealth’s history and are relevant to ongoing racial disparities in wealth, education, health and homeownership. His airbrushed version of history is the standard MAGA effort to cater to White supremacists and wreak havoc in the schools. If only the media had taken him seriously during the campaign.

And just as Democrats predicted, Youngkin swiftly imported Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s war on mask requirements, preventing schools from issuing such mandates. Several school boards promptly decried his edict and said they’d go on protecting teachers and students. It seems Youngkin duped voters and the media who wanted to believe there was a normal alternative to MAGA Republicanism.

The media’s predilection for portraying Republicans as tactically brilliant is indicative of their preference for treating politics as a game. They denude their coverage of any qualitative judgment that would inform voters that the party’s “cleverness” is lying, plain and simple.

This refusal by the media to render judgment on the GOP’s cult leaders has gone on for more than six years. Despite replete evidence of T____’s inability [note: refusal] to distinguish truth from fiction, his self-image of grandiosity and his fixation on conspiracy theories, the mainstream media failed to characterize T____’s conduct as abnormal.

Take his bizarre rally in Arizona on Saturday, where he rambled incoherently, insisting, for example, “The left is now rationing lifesaving therapeutics based on race, discriminating against and denigrating . . . White people to determine who lives and who dies. If you’re White, you don’t get the vaccine, or if you’re White, you don’t get therapeutics.” This is a loony lie. . . . 

No reasonable person could hear this and not conclude he is unhinged. And he has been sounding like this for years. Yet the media largely covered the rally as run-of-the-mill politics. One New York Times headline: “T____ Rally Underscores G.O.P. Tension Over How to Win in 2022.” Meanwhile, Politico intoned: “Spread out in a sea of red MAGA hats and T-shirts emblazoned with ‘T____ won,’ the former president’s fans roared in support as he aired complaints about the election and made swipes at the Biden administration.”

Is that what he was doing? “Airing complaints”? Or was he making positively ludicrous claims, like the guy on the street corner hollering about the end of the world? Anodyne descriptions that slot T____’s antics into “politics as usual” mislead news consumers. To make matters worse, interviewers avoid asking Republicans how they can pledge loyalty to someone so bonkers.

Certainly, the media should avoid rendering a psychiatric evaluation . . . but they routinely refuse to convey the abnormality on display before them. This is “the emperor has no clothes” on steroids.

Unflinching, brutally honest coverage would describe T____’s behavior accurately, including his syntax and preposterous lies. It would concede this conduct would be disqualifying for any business executive or even a small-town mayor. The media are compelled to level with voters: The two parties are not equivalent, in part because one treats its crackpot leader like a messiah. . . .