Here’s the question of the day: Do we really need a Republican Party? And if so, why?

Once the party of giants like Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Nelson Rockefeller, it’s now led by political Lilliputians like Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and John McCain.

Once the party of the anti-slavery and environmental movements, it has become the anti-immigrant, anti-civil rights Party of No, backwards-looking and obstructionist.

In the health-care debate, it sided with the insurance companies.

In the fight for the reform of our financial system, it supports the banks and Wall Street financiers.

On environmental and energy issues, it backs the polluters and the extraction industries.

At every turn of the road for the past 30 years the GOP has favored the rich over the poor, the few over the many. During that time, the party has never seen a war or elite privilege it didn’t like.

And now, it seems to have lost its grasp on reality.

The reaction of Republicans and their media mouthpieces to the passage of President Barack Obama’s historic health-care bill has been nothing short of hysterical. Here’s what a few leading lights of the party had to say about it.

“A decisive step in the weakening of the United States,” asserted Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida.

“One of the most offensive pieces of social engineering legislation in the history of the United States,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina.

“We will not allow this to stand,” swore Rep. Michele Bachmann, the unhinged lady from Minnesota.

Apparently, Republicans think that “Freedom from Health Care” is one of the things guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.

And Sen. John McCain, the titular head of the party, had this to say: “There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year. They have poisoned the well in what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.”

(Watching McCain these days is like watching a giant helium-filled balloon starting to lose air. It gets a little smaller, more wrinkled and pathetic every day. His loss in the last presidential election has made him a bitter old man.)

In truth, there’s nothing that the Democrats or Obama could have done to win the cooperation of any Republican, let alone a significant number of them.

The GOP is committed to standing together against everything Obama suggests. Republicans think that is the path to victory in the coming elections.

And it may well be. The American people are famous for punishing politicians who do the right thing. When Lyndon Johnson, in an almost unprecedented act of political courage, got his civil rights legislation through Congress in the 1960s, he knew it was going to cost the Democrats their hold on the South. And it did. When Bill Clinton passed the tax increase that set the stage for the greatest economic boom the nation has ever seen, he did it with hardly a single Republican vote. And in the next election the Republicans took over the House.

That trick might work again, but I don’t think so.

For one thing, these Republicans aren’t serious people; they’re a bunch of clowns. While the health-care votes were going on, they wandered out on the Capitol’s balcony and played to the tea party mob outside, holding up placards like cheerleaders at a homecoming rally.

For another, the modern Republican Party–having worked to win the support of white southerners in the aftermath of desegregation–is built on the ruins of an ideology that would deny equal rights to all. It’s rotten at the core.

It’s almost laughable to see angry Republicans warn Democrats about going against the public will.

The GOP is a party that has lost the popular vote to the Democrats in four of the past five presidential elections, and yet it has the nerve to claim to know the public’s will.

If there’s any justice in the world, the Republicans are going the way of the Whig Party.

Bon voyage.

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Donald Kaul

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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