between strangers. In families, everybody knows where the buttons
are, where we are most vulnerable. When the gloves come off, the
punches have extra sting.
Fights within families are always more vicious than fights between strangers. In families, everybody knows where the buttons are, where we are most vulnerable. When the gloves come off, the punches have extra sting.
As ugly as partisan elections can be, partisan infighting between elections can be even nastier.
That used to be the rule rather than the exception in the Republican Party. During the long years of Democratic dominance of national politics a generation ago, Republicans took out their frustrations on each other. The joke used to be that when the Republicans decided to punish someone for some minor transgression of party orthodoxy, they would form a circular firing squad.
That was pretty much the case until Ronald Reagan came along and enunciated his Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.
Under George Bush and Karl Rove the party has raised that discipline to new heights. Democrats’ guiding characterization has long been from Will Rogers’ “I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”
But Reagan’s admonition has been flung down and danced upon by San Benito County Republicans.
This is not just the politics of personal destruction. This is paranoia raised to a fine art, where skin is so thin that looking at someone wrong can get you sued. Moving someone’s cheese, in the parlance of the latest self-help book, is grounds for repudiation.
Several members of the San Benito County Militia, as they call themselves, are at the center of the current dust-up with the leadership of the Republican Party Central Committee. I make no claims about the merits of the various charges and counter-charges – as city editor here, it is important that I remain neutral on that. But I can comment on the so-called militia itself.
I was invited to attend their morning coffee get-together a few weeks ago, and have sat down with them three or four times since. They eyed me warily the first time, as well they should have. My employers do, after all, buy ink by the barrel.
Eventually they treated me pretty much the same as they did anyone else, even tolerating my comparatively liberal views. They are funny, respectful, crude, and irreverent. They worship the Second Amendment, which I believe they understand imperfectly, more than the Eleventh Commandment. But one thing is obvious: This is a militia in name only.
There are people who are frightened by that word. In their paranoia they have conjured up an image of wild-eyed right-wingers who drill in the woods with fully automated assault rifles, awaiting their opportunity to seize control of the government.
There was a time during the Clinton Administration when such stories had real currency, because Timothy McVey taught us they had to be taken seriously. But I’m here, with my impeccable liberal credentials, to tell you that these folks are just a bunch of “geriatric white bastards,” as they call themselves. I’m not even sure at which end of the gun one of them might be holding would be the safest place to stand.
Some years ago I reported in Santa Cruz, where the rivalries between the left and the far left – are there any Republicans in Santa Cruz? – get equally nasty. The body politic there is routinely purged of the politically impure, which is defined as those being on the outs with those in power.
Liberal fights are just as mean, but in a different way. These are people who have yogurt and granola for breakfast, not bacon and eggs. They drink chi, and have their own unique language of disparagement. In San Benito County, it’s “Who moved my cheese?” In Santa Cruz, it’s “Who moved my chi?”
One big difference between there and here is that here the political playing field is competitive. John Kerry won in San Benito County, even if many prominent elected officials are Republicans. Local Democrats could not be happier that county Republicans – and the state party as well – lack the coherence of their national organization, although even that has recently begun to show signs of fraying at the edges as President Bush’s term approaches lame duck status.
My grandfather, a Republican, and my father, a Democrat, agreed on a few things, two in particular: that politics requires thick skin, and that thick-skinned politicians win more elections. San Benito County Republicans ignore that lesson at their peril.
John Yewell is the city editor for the Hollister Free Lance