GOP, hijacked by extremists, offends American sensibilities


FOR ALL their flag-waving and apple-pie eating, there is something so very un-American about the conservatives running today's Republican Party. Not many people have come out and said this, but the impression grows that they aren't playing in the same ball park as everyone else.

This is not the party that brought us George Bush, Bob Dole or even Ronald Reagan. They were all identifiable products of the America we know. They were one of us.

Dick Armey, Ken Starr, Tom Delay, Bob Barr. Where the heck did they come from? For all their references to the heroic Americans who fought in World War II, these are not guys who pitch in to get the national job done. This is not your dad's Republican Party.

There's something foreign about them. They march to an authoritarian beat more at home in a banana republic. The discomfort they engender may account for the consistent and strong public opposition to removing the president.

Americans may play rough, but they usually play fair. Thus, every time the Republican prosecutors throw a rabbit punch, the president's poll numbers rise: Independent counsel Ken Starr wires up Linda Tripp to extract intimate secrets from a trusting Monica Lewinsky. He locks Ms. Lewinsky in a hotel room for 12 hours. He threatens her with a quarter-century of prison -- and jail time for her mother, too -- if she doesn't give them the dirt. He forces her mother to testify about personal conversations with her daughter. He has his goons questioning the legality of Julie Hiatt Steele's adoption of a Romanian child. Ms. Steele's offense? Refusing to confirm Kathleen Willey's story that she honestly told Ms. Steele of being sexually molested by the president.

The inquisitors seem totally clueless about American sensibilities. Permitting the release of grand jury tapes showing the president subjected to an onslaught of deliberately humiliating questions. Making a grand show of bringing 32 boxes of the Starr report into Congress.

Releasing a Starr Report that contained pornographic sexual details. Did they think that the old-fashioned people who object to the president's behavior would not mind Mr. Starr's publishing the steamy story in a government document? That Mr. Starr and his allies would expect public acceptance of these tactics is utterly mind-boggling.

Americans sense that the conservative leaders not only don't like Mr. Clinton, but also don't like them. Right-wingers portray ordinary Americans as moral insects who do not care about right and wrong as long as they're making money. And who is leading this parade? It's Bob Barr, the conservative from Georgia who vows to expunge all remnants of the '60s counterculture.

Let's set aside pornographer Larry Flynt's claims that Mr. Barr committed adultery and helped his second wife get an abortion. Just look at what has been on the record for over a decade. This guy's been divorced twice and married three times.

Adultery was not invented in the '60s but no-fault divorce was. Back in the '60s, someone who had been divorced even once could not have been elected in a conservative congressional district. And while Mr. Barr brags of having joined any number of conservative groups during the Vietnam War, the military was not among them.

So-called conservatives didn't blush at allowing this wife-trader to submit legislation entitled the Defense of Marriage Act.

When did conservative Republicans decide to secede from the American nation? Perhaps it was about six years ago, when House Majority Leader Dick Armey shocked traditionalists by referring to Mr. Clinton as "your president," rather than everybody's president. Last week, several Republican representatives boycotted the President's State of the Union Address.

That's not the American way. Every year, a team loses the World Series, and the defeated club's response is "wait until next year." Leaders of the Republican legislative majority won't wait for the next presidential election to try again, and they won't govern in the meantime. We don't really know what they want. That's the unsettling part.

Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal editorial writer and columnist.

Pub Date: 1/26/99

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