OP-ED: Maybe the 'crazies' in the House GOP really are crazy


Scripps Washington Bureau (TNS)

Michael Needham is delighted to see John Boehner's back.

Needham is the CEO of Heritage Action for America, the political operations wing of the Heritage Foundation, the conservative Washington think tank.

The Sunday after Speaker Boehner zippity-doo-dah'ed his way out of town, Needham went on Fox News to gloat. He didn't appreciate that Boehner and his ilk called the party's far-right flank a bunch of "crazies." Needham thinks the tea party gang is the party's "base."

"Nancy Pelosi does not talk about her base that way," Needham said. "Barack Obama doesn't think about his base that way."

What a great point! Needham is absolutely right.

John McCain calls the tea party crowd in Congress "wacko birds." Republicans have referred to them as "wing nuts" for years. Boehner called wing nut poster boy Ted Cruz a "jackass."

Democrats don't call their comrades on the "loony left" names — anymore.

There is, though, another perspective.

Maybe we should take more seriously the claim that the wing nuts really are a bunch of crazies, just like the GOP establishment, sometimes, says they are. Maybe Boehner's fatal error wasn't that he called them mean names, but that he tried to co-opt and negotiate with them. By definition, you really can't deal rationally with crazies.

Depending on how you define your terms, you can make a solid case that, en masse, the tea party wing is politically crazy. Crazy has meanings other than insane. The word came into English from the root "craze," an import from old German that meant "full of cracks or flaws," which actually remains the first definition of "crazy" listed in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Crazy as insane came later.

So what would constitute being politically crazy — "full of cracks or flaws," not mentally ill? Here's a simple formula: believing and promoting things that are demonstrably false (or the reverse, denying things that are demonstrably true).

Now, let's go through some high-profile beliefs that are commonly (not universally) held by members of the House Freedom Caucus (the right-wing GOP core group) and/or large numbers of conservative Republican voters.

•President Barack Obama is a Muslim. Numerous polls show that more than 50 percent of all Republicans believe this untrue claim to be true.

•President Barack Obama is not a legal citizen of the Unites States. A September poll shows 29 percent of Republican voters believe Obama was born outside of the United State, not in Hawaii, where he was born.

•Forty-nine percent of Republicans do not believe in evolution.

•Allied forces did not find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after we invaded, but more than 41 percent of Republicans believe they did in a 2015 poll.

•Numerous Republican politicians claim Planned Parenthood officials sell fetal tissue so they can buy Lamborghinis.

•Roughly 40 percent of Republican voters do not believe the Earth is warming because of human activity.

•Iran does not have the capacity to attack the U.S. with nuclear weapons, but 45 percent of Republicans think it does and that military action is needed right now.

•Some GOP presidential candidates and members of Congress believe the Islamic State intends to attack the U.S. on our soil; they don't buy the idea that what the group really wants is an Islamic caliphate in and around Syria.

•Republicans in the House claim simply "repealing" Obamacare is a practical and politically possible option.

•Over one-third of Republican voters believe Donald Trump represents their best shot at winning the presidency.

Now, doesn't it make sense that Boehner and other "establishment" Republicans think the Freedom Caucus is a bunch of "crazies"?

Lately, Boehner has been using a new term of un-endearment. "False prophets," he says, bedevil the GOP caucus. These people say they will enact laws that will not and cannot be passed — like repealing Obamacare. They claim that they will not compromise but will prevail. If you worked with people like that, what would you call them?

Boehner and his wingmen thought that they could do business with the wacko birds, but these folks were in a whole different line of work.

Imagine a baseball team shows up for a game and insists they will get four strikes and four outs when they're at bat. They may be nice people and perfectly stable, but as far as baseball goes, they're nuts. No one would play them.

A small group of Republicans shows up in Congress and says we will not compromise or vote for bills that compromise our beliefs; our job is not to work in accord with the traditions and precedents of the House of Representatives but to be ever faithful to our existing beliefs without compromise.

In political terms, they're crazy.

The many "establishment" Republicans in the House tried to play ball with a small team of political crazies. Big mistake. They lost, we lost.

The next team managers would be better off trying to do business with the squad across the aisle, who are at least is playing by the regular rules.

If they don't, it will be "strike four."

— Dick Meyer is chief Washington correspondent for the Scripps Washington Bureau and DecodeDC (