Obey had already raised more than a million dollars
for his re-election campaign. He’d risen to one of the most powerful positions
in Congress as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. And he’d
recently had the opportunity to preside over the House of Representatives
during one of the proudest moments of his four decades in national politics:
the historic passage of health care reform that progressive presidents since
Theodore Roosevelt had sought for a century.
But anyone who happened to read the online newspaper
account of Obey’s retirement got an instant demonstration of just how welcome
retirement might be for any thoughtful political leader these days.
One of the freak shows in online journalism is that
every yahoo on the street has an opportunity to instantly post his so-called
thoughts about every news event.
Within minutes of the posting of Obey’s retirement,
pages of hate-filled, anonymous bile spewed forth.
“Thank GOD this socialist piece of garbage is OUTTA
“Another gutless liberal that fears the voter’s rath
(sic) in November!”
“Great news! One less Marxist in Congress!”
And this particularly elegant wish: “May David Obey
die screaming of rectal cancer!”
At 71, why wouldn’t Obey prefer to retire from
Congress on his own terms instead of once again running the gauntlet of
revolting ugliness that passes for political opposition these days?
Even in his solidly Democratic district, Obey would
have to put up with despicable attacks from the know-nothing government haters
who have now been officially proclaimed a movement by the media.
In fact, a large number of the insulting posts
accused Obey of being absolutely terrified to run in November against the
awesome political power of the so-called Tea Party movement, backing a former
reality TV star for Obey’s seat.
One of the ironies of Obey getting out of the race
is that without a powerful incumbent, Republicans may actually be able to
attract a more legitimate candidate to run.
The Democrats still will be in strong position to
win the district with whichever popular Democratic officeholder ends up winning
the party’s nomination.
In elections around the country, all the so-called
Tea Party candidates have managed to do so far is lower the level of political
debate and to push Republican incumbents further to the extreme right.
One of the reasons Obey was so publicly cantankerous
at times during his career was that he did not suffer fools gladly. It’s not
difficult to understand how much he loathed the idea of facing vicious attacks
from Tea Party gatherings that are pretty much wall-to-wall fools.
In the memoirs of politicians from Obey’s
generation, the most common complaint is the absence of personal decency
between political rivals today.
They’re all nostalgic for those bygone days when
leaders from opposing parties would fight each other tooth and nail on the
issues and then go out for drinks together afterward.
There’s no evidence today’s politicians love alcohol
any less. They’ve just become mean drunks instead of friendly ones.
The Party of Hatred
Hating politicians in general is one of the basic
principles of the Tea Party movement. Add to that the undercurrent of personal
hatred toward the first African-American president that has become obvious at
the predominantly white Tea Party rallies.
President Barack Obama himself reflects the wider
public’s desire for less partisan gridlock when he reaches across the aisle to
embrace Republican positions unpopular with Democrats such as offshore oil
But the Tea Party extremists within the Republican
Party refuse to tolerate any Republican siding with Obama on anything.
That’s why the biggest casualties of the Tea Party
movement so far haven’t been Democrats, but Republicans like Gov. Charlie Crist
in Florida and Sen. Bob Bennett in Utah who have been accused of not hating
Hatred is too repugnant an emotion to build an
opposition party around. In fact, by purging the Republican Party of all
politicians willing to work with Democrats to solve America’s problems, the Tea
Party is assuring Republicans will repel moderate and independent voters for
years to come.
Now that an outrageous law in Arizona has put
immigration reform back on the table, continuing demonstrations of race hatred
within the Republican Party could alienate Latinos, the fastest-growing voter
demographic in the country, from Republicans forever.
In the long run, freak-show politics may decimate
the Republican Party. But that doesn’t make inflamed hatred against Democrats
any more pleasant in the short term.
Obey’s four decades of public service have been
reduced to vile slurs and an ugly wish for him to die a painful, cancerous
So don’t ask why Obey would retire in such a toxic political atmosphere. The real question is: Why would anyone stay?