If the Republican Party gets any nuttier, we’re going to have to lock it in the attic when company visits.

It’s bad enough when Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are your Homecoming King and Queen, but in primary election after election this year they’re producing candidates like Christine O’Donnell, who believes that homosexuality is a bad habit, masturbation a sin, evolution a liberal myth, and rape no impediment to successful motherhood. She’s running in Delaware for the U.S. Senate.

She isn’t the only lulu on the Republican ticket. There’s Sharron Angle of Nevada who, if elected to the Senate, will work to phase out Social Security, probably in concert with Republican hopeful Joe Miller of Alaska, who thinks your Social Security check is unconstitutional…you know, like unemployment benefits. (As nearly as I can figure, the only thing this new bunch of Republicans finds constitutional is guns.)

Then there’s Dan Maes, who believes that a bicycle-sharing program in his state would be a threat to personal freedom. He’s asking the people of Colorado to make him governor.

It occurs to me that what’s going on here is not a political movement, it’s a mental disease–somewhat akin to mad cow–and it’s spreading to the rest of the Republican Party. The party of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Nelson Rockefeller has become the party of Rand Paul and Michele Bachmann.

Where once it depended on William F. Buckley and Russell Kirk for intellectual heft, it now looks to sleazy charlatans like Newt Gingrich and Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative movement’s house thugs.

The sad thing about this–oh, put away your handkerchiefs; it’s not that sad–is that it’s sucking once-moderate Republicans (Lindsey Graham, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins) into the vortex of irrational extremism that is at the center of conservative ideology.

This ideology is based largely on two ideas:

  • Taxes are a bad thing and must be cut, drastically.
  • Budget deficits are a bad thing and must be cut, drastically.

Theoretically you can do that by cutting the size of government, but just eliminating the traditional “waste, fraud, and abuse” won’t get it done.

To do that you’d have to slash the Pentagon budget along with Social Security and Medicare payments, farm subsidies, aid to the states, and the budgets of law enforcement agencies, medical research institutes, and financial regulatory commissions, among other things.

There’s no political will to do any of that, let alone all of it.

That was quite obvious when the Republicans issued their “Pledge to America.” It promises to create jobs, control deficit spending, and do away with the “arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites” that has been running things for these last 20 months or so.

It’s long on generalities and short on specifics. It proposes extending the Bush tax cuts of 10 years ago, for example, but never gets around to explaining how to make up for the resulting $3.7 trillion in lost revenue over the next decade.

Oh, they offer up a few suggestions–canceling what’s left of President Obama’s stimulus package, for example–but these moves really wouldn’t amount to much.

They say that cutting taxes would end the unemployment problem, but it wouldn’t. Business people don’t hire workers because you cut their taxes. They hire when they have an increase in customers.

Where are your customers going to come from when all of your energy is going into firing government workers?

The pledge is an example of what political commentator Mark Shields calls “the Hot Fudge Sundae Diet.” It promises to solve all of your problems without cost or pain.

Isn’t that the attitude that got us into the mess we’re in?

When tea partiers first said they were going to “take government back,” I didn’t realize they meant they were going to take it back to the 12th century.

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Donald Kaul

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. www.otherwords.org