Earlier today we found out that the standoff with Somalian pirates had come to a happy end for American Captain Richard Phillips. Patriotic Americans have good reason to rejoice this Easter Sunday: top to bottom this story has been a positive reflection on the courage and skill of American merchant sailors, the U.S. Navy, the Navy SEALS, and the leadership of the Obama administration. For the Republican Party, however, this incident has become yet another self-inflicted public relations disaster.
It began shortly after the first reports of the hijacking came in on Wednesday, April 8th, when Rush Limbaugh took to the airwaves to attack the Obama administration over the hijacking. Limbaugh's attack was an expansion on comments made earlier by Dick Cheney that the Obama administration left the American public more open to attack.
Conservative blogger Ann Althouse was listening and she described what happened next:
He'd slotted the story into his Obama-doesn't-know-what-to-do template and was riffing away about Obama's indecision and what he must be fretting about and how he'd probably want to apologize to the pirates and so forth. The big show was steaming along. (I thought a good ending would be: hostage crisis... it's Jimmy Carter all over again.)
And then he was slipped the news that the U.S. crew had taken their ship back, defeated the pirates. And Rush should have turned that big show around instantly. It should have been: Yay, America! Americans don't lie back and wait to be rescued. We're ready to fight. We're self-reliant. The government isn't the answer to everything. There were lots of great alternate Rush Limbaugh templates to mobilize right then. This is why we need to have our own guns. This is why the bitching about Bush after Katrina was all wrong. Etc. etc.
But Rush couldn't turn that big show — that big container ship — around. He couldn't let go of Obama doesn't know what to do, and I felt a little sad about my radio hero.
Althouse points like a laser beam at Limbaugh's blunder, in fact she admits to it herself: the Republican Party expected Obama to fail this test, expected him to "be like Jimmy Carter." Just hours after the hijacking, long before most of the facts were known, Republicans and conservatives like Limbaugh and Althouse were placing massive bets against the ability of the United States--under the leadership of the Obama administration--to deal with this crisis. Limbaugh placed a big bet on the table that the United States would fail.
But Limbaugh's mistake should have been almost immediately obvious. Even as we were digesting the first news of the hijacking, more reports came in indicating that the ship's crew of tough American merchant sailors had managed to overpower one of their attackers and had chased the remaining attackers off the vessel. Unfortunately, the fleeing pirates had taken Captain Richard Phillips hostage when they fled in the Maersk Alabama's lifeboat. Rush Limbaugh had bet against these sailors, and so had already lost most of his bet even before his show was over.
But Republicans weren't going to cut their losses: instead they doubled down. After an attempt to trade the captured pirate for Captain Phillips went wrong, Phillips found himself trapped aboard the small lifeboat with four heavily armed pirates. "There's no way Phillips is getting out of this," Republicans seemed to be saying. Once again key Republican talking heads bet against an American mariner, the U.S. Navy, and the leadership of the Obama administration.
Republican spokesman Brad Blakeman was on MSNBC this morning predicting that the U.S. Navy would fail in its mission to rescue Captain Phillips. Over at This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Newt Gingrich went on the attack against the Obama administration, betting against the U.S. Navy. Knowing as we do how this story ends, it's hard not to conclude that Gingrich is a little reckless. Clearly Gingrich has no idea what he's talking about. Gingrich wasn't privy to the Obama administration's deliberations and planning. While Gingrich was loudly condemning the Obama administration as a "do-nothing," halfway around the world the U.S. Navy's SEALs were executing a plan signed off on by Barack Obama, and successfully rescuing Captain Richard Phillips. Newt Gingrich bet against the U.S. Navy SEALs and lost.
What did this minor incident involving piracy have to teach us about the Republican Party?
- The Republican Party really is hoping that the United States fails. Often. So much so that we crawl back to the Republicans and beg them to take over the government in 2010 and 2012.
- Because the Republican Party wants the United States to fail, the Republican Party has a vested interest in causing the United States to fail. This perverse incentive can be seen working itself out in the way that Republican talking heads and thought leaders like Limbaugh and Gingrich bet against the United States, predicting our failure before all the facts are in. Limbaugh in particular clearly savors the thought of American failure.
- The Republican Party's leaders are irresponsible. Politics is supposed end at the water's edge. For Republicans like Limbaugh and Gingrich to go on the radio or television and demonstrate that they are hoping for a hostage rescue to fail so they can exploit that failure for political gain is a clear demonstration that the Republican Party and its leaders are unfit to serve as the leaders of our country.
All too often Republicans place party before country, and that simply isn't acceptable in a situation like the one Richard Phillips faced this week.
Update: Wow, thanks for all the kind comments and my second trip to the Rec List. I'd just like to make a shameless plug for my home blog, The Richmond Democrat. Thanks again for your kind words