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Shock poll: Why do so many Republicans think Obama is a socialist, a Muslim, or even the anti-Christ?

A new poll shows that a quarter of Republicans think Obama may be the anti-Christ. Apocalyptic right-wing rhetoric is going mainstream, as Republican lawmakers stoke the flames of epithet-hurlers and conspiracy theorists.

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Healthcare reform supporters who tuned in to the Glenn Beck Show the morning after Sunday’s vote for a dose of schadenfreude were sorely disappointed. For months Mr. Beck, a conservative radio talk-show host, had bewailed the fate of the nation should the healthcare bill pass into law. He warned it would be “the nail in the coffin of our country.”

Yet not 12 hours after the bill’s passage in the House, Beck appeared on air in a chipper mood. Chin up, he told his listeners. If we elect conservative Republicans willing to repeal the bill, the country can be saved.

In other words, no need for panic: The apocalypse has been postponed until November 2010.

Entertaining as it is to watch the goalposts move, the right’s end-of-life-as-we-know-it language has real consequences. It has eliminated opportunities for political compromise and threatens to reduce the Republican Party to a hodgepodge of epithet-hurlers and conspiracy theorists.

Apocalyptic rhetoric has a long history in American politics. The New Republic recently compiled the dire predictions that accompanied progressive legislation like Social Security (“It will go a long way toward destroying American initiative and courage”) and the minimum wage (“a step in the direction of Communism, bolshevism, fascism, and Nazism”).

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