Photo: Josh Haner/The New York Times
In case it wasn't before, it should now be perfectly clear. After last night's Democratic presidential debate there shouldn't be a single doubt in your mind what's at stake in the 2016 election and what your responsibility is over the next year. It's almost shocking how thoroughly not shocking the face-off between the Democrats was, what with serious, lucid candidates discussing important issues about the future of the country. We've become so immersed as a media culture in the reality TV-style drama and general clown-car antics of the Republican race for the White House that many of us had almost forgotten what it looks and sounds like when adults take a seat and relegate the children to the card table in the corner for a little while.
Martin O'Malley may not have a chance in hell of winning the White House, but he had one of the best lines and most cogent points of the debate when he remarked on the practically separate-worlds distinction between the Democratic match-up and the two Republican street fights we've now witnessed over the past month few months. "On this stage you didn't hear anyone denigrate women, you didn't hear anyone make racist comments about new immigrants, you didn't hear anyone speak ill of anyone because of their religious belief," O'Malley said. "What you heard was an honest debate of what will move us forward." Unspoken was the fact that the dominant voices among the Republican candidates have done little but denigrate women, make racist comments about immigrants and insult people based on their religious beliefs. Jesus, as if to perfectly punctuate O'Malley's comment, during the debate mean little hick Mike Huckabee fired off a tweet that read, "I trust @BernieSanders with my tax dollars like I trust a North Korean chef with my labrador!" Because Koreans can't help but eat dogs. Get it?
Cracks like Huckabee's have been a staple of the Republican side of this race so far. It started with Donald Trump, who still seems like he's purposely trying to see how far he can push the American public before it revolts and throws him out on his ass, and it spread outward like a virus from there. Once the other GOP candidates in the direct orbit of Trump's big, bright, stupid sun realized that saying despicable things and picking juvenile fightscan get you traction with the base, they jumped aboard the crazy train. That's why Huckabee has exactly zero shame about being a racist on Twitter and why Ben Carson, who's number two in the polls on the GOP side, is literally going insane right before our eyes with each passing day. It's difficult to comprehend unless you really take a step back for a second: the frontrunners for president among one of the two major political parties in the United States are currently idea-free political Kardashian sisters who use the lowest common denominator's basest fears and resentments as fuel for their campaigns. Sure, there are a couple of "serious" candidates on the Republican side, but as it stands that lowest common denominator won't let any of them get anywhere near the top of the pack.
The race is dominated by crazy people and the result is unlike anything this country has ever seen before. Again, take a step back and recognize an almost staggering reality: one of those substance-free people currently flinging monkey shit at the other candidates and across the American media landscape is very likely going to get the GOP nomination and actually be one vote away from becoming the most powerful person in the world. You thought Sarah Palin was terrifying? She was. But Donald Trump or Ben Carson -- two political neophytes, one of whom is only running to satisfy his own ego and both of whom won't discuss genuine policy proposals because theycan't -- are in many ways so much worse. They're the logical conclusion of several years of Republicans utterly abandoning reason in favor of bumper sticker sloganeering, rabid anti-intellectualism and relentless governmental obstruction. What's worse, Trump is ensuring the truly paleoconservative base, in all its unfortunate ignorance, understands that it not only has a place in the modern Republican party but it's completely in control of it.
Decades ago, conservative godfather William F. Buckley issued a commandment that came to dominate GOP thinking and therefore allowed it to thrive for many years. He made it clear that the only way for conservatives to win nationally was to shun their more, shall we say, unbalanced adherents. Sure, maybe he was a pompous bore, but Buckley was an educated man who believed -- knowing who he was dealing with -- that giving the rabble an outsize voice would be the death of conservatism in America. The Republican party used to be about quashing the crazies within its base, not embracing them. Now it's exactly the opposite and Buckley's dire predictions have been realized. The 2016 presidential race is no longer about politics -- it's about sanity. The Republican frontrunners for president aren't conservatives, they're anti-government nihilists, and the former establishment has crumbled in the face of a chaotic coup by the base's fears and resentments and the people who have to now cater to them if they want to get elected. The Republicans can't govern anymore -- not in their present state -- and therefore they shouldn't be allowed to on the national level.
At some point a powerful figure may come along and knock some sense back into the conservative movement, but as it stands now it's hard to imagine. Not with Fox News and talk radio still shouting into an echo chamber and not when people like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal can stand on a stage as representatives of the Republican party and not be laughed out of the room by serious people.
Last night, the Democratic candidates spoke to each other civilly. They disagreed on policy but no one resorted to calling anyone ugly and in one of the highlights of the evening, one candidate defended another. You can imagine Hillary Clinton governing us precisely because she has the intellect and temperament to be a leader. You can imagine Bernie Sanders governing us because he has both passion and compassion for the middle- and working-class. More than that, as unfortunate as this sounds, you simply have no choice anymore -- not if you have a working brain in your head. If you're someone who values basic logic and reason, to say nothing of everything this country stands for, you cannot let it fall into the hands of the Republicans in their current incarnation. As long as Donald Trump and Ben Carson are essentially the leaders of the party, particularly since the GOPs de facto leader quit and the Republican House remains unprecedentedly adrift, the Republicans are no longer a serious party. They're no longer able or willing to govern. They're the party of pure, unadulterated crazy.
The choice isn't just obvious -- it's absolutely unavoidable.