In the 1850s, we saw the rise of the Know Nothing Party. Over the last twenty or so years, we have seen a rise in the Know Nothing wing of the GOP. In the battle for the soul of the GOP, the Know Nothings may be winning the battle, and that could mean years of political obscurity and minority political status for years to come. The Know Nothing wing is lead by the usual suspects, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and now Sarah Palin.
First, a little bit of history. The Know Nothing party was actually named the American Party. Iit was a Nativist political movement that blamed many of the ills in the nation on immigrants. In a time of rising immigrants, this Protestant dominated group feared all immigrants as anti-American. They were particularly troubled by the Irish Catholic immigrants who they believed were beholden to the Pope and not to the United States. There basic beliefs were :
- Severe limits on immigration, especially from Catholic countries
- Restricting political office to native-born Americans
- Mandating a wait of 21 years before an immigrant could gain citizenship
- Restricting public school teachers to Protestants
- Mandating daily Bible readings in public schools
- Restricting the sale of liquor
2008 Noble Prize winner for Economics and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote in August, 2008. "[K]now-nothingism — the insistence that there are simple, brute-force, instant-gratification answers to every problem, and that there’s something effeminate and weak about anyone who suggests otherwise — has become the core of Republican policy and political strategy. The party’s de facto slogan has become: “Real men don’t think things through.”
OVC characterizes this as "simple answers for complex problems." There are some serious thinkers on the GOP and conservative side like George Will, David Brooks, and Peggy Noonan. Unfortunately, their voices are be drown out by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and the rest of Fox News. The darling of this movement is Sarah Palin, who has become the de facto leader after the fall of former leader George W. Bush. (Before you say Bush was liberal on immigration, and thus the comparison is false, the rest of his stances fit well in line with the simplistic nature of the Know Nothings.)
First the 21st Century Know Nothings are very anti-immigrant. Immigrants are stealing their jobs, taxing our health care system, collecting welfare benefits, and committing countless crimes. We have to build a wall to keep the new one out and throw the illegal ones who are here out.
The anti-Catholicism is not prevalent in the 21st Century Know Nothings. Catholics have been replaced by Gays, Liberals, the Main Stream Media, and anyone else they consider "anti-American." Representative Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) stated the view which epitomizes the new Know Nothings. When asked by Chris Matthews of Hardball "how many do you suspect of your colleagues as being anti-American?" Bachmann responded: "What I would say -- what I would say is that the news media should do a penetrating expose and take a look. I wish they would. I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America? I think people would love to see an expose like that." (Of course, she has since dismissed the comments as "an urban legend.")
Sarah Palin is the gift that keeps giving for the Democrats. Although she is loved by the Republican base, she alienates almost every Democrat and a large number of Independent voters. The base sees her as another Ronald Reagan. She speaks in plain language and does let complicated facts get in the way of her simplistic views. Palin also seems unaware of her shortcomings, instead blaming all her ills on the evil, liberal main stream media.
The GOP has a lot of soul searching to do over the next two and four years. For the Democrats, they hope and eve pray that the soul searching will lead to Alaska and Sarah Palin. Then, Millard Fillmore would be proud.