Vampire movies and television programs may be all the rage right now, but not one of them has anything on a good old-fashioned audience of Republican debate watchers.
In a rather shocking - yet sadly, not surprising - display of the bloodlust and viciousness usually reserved for members of law enforcement pulling over a driving-while-soused Mel Gibson, the so-called "party of life" has seen its most ardent adherents at the past few GOP debates belching out blood-curdling cheers in favor of untimely death and boos for soldiers serving-while-gay. All of which tells you a little something about who these theoretical human beings are, and what they stand for - and it has does not have much to do with traditional small government conservatism.
In a recent debate on MSNBC, as it was being pointed out that Rick Perry rivals Kublai Khan in his propensity for stopping people's ability to breathe, Perry was roundly cheered by the crowd for his record-breaking string of executions in Texas. Debate attendees yelped like it was a home run in the World Series or a successful moon mission, a sickening display whether one supports the death penalty or not (which I do in limited circumstances).
Much like wolves hovering over a slab of meat or performance art directed by the Marquis de Sade, the activist tea party Republican base seemed to delight in the suffering of others. They were Teddy Roosevelt ... if he were buried in a pet cemetery for the past 90 years.
But even that was nothing like what happened during the Tea/CNN debate the evening of September 12, when the topic of discussion was who would pay to keep a 30-year-old alive who lacked health insurance and had been in a terrible motorcycle accident. As Congressman Ron Paul was busy equating the death of this hypothetical easy rider with the "freedom" enjoyed by Americans, the crowd began to lustily cheer and yell "yeah" to the question of whether this accident victim should be allowed to die.
Think about that for a second. Weren't these the guys and gals who blew a gasket over the prospect of allowing the severely brain-damaged Terry Schiavo to rest in peace a few years back, and attacked her husband as some sort of ghoul for wanting his wife to die with dignity? Yet, somehow these days, bringing a little more Torquemada to their decision-making regarding who lives and who dies, seems to have become the new-new-conservatism.
It is a conservatism of ... how shall we put it ... death panels!
To his credit, even Governor Perry said he was taken back by this reaction. But let's think about that for a second - a guy who puts people to death like it's a bodily function was taken aback by the visible thrill provided to the GOP base by the thought of letting someone die. Honestly, when Rick Perry is the voice of reason on an issue, one wonders who might satisfy these gremlins.
I hear Baby Doc Duvalier is looking for a job.
Just for the sake of variety, instead of cheering for death at the most recent GOP debate on Fox, the crowd decide to shake things up--get jiggy with it, if you will--and move on from cheering death to booing those risking their lives in Iraq in our military. In this case it was a gay soldier, which is going to make it really difficult when they have to redo the magnets on the back of their mini-vans to say "Support Our Troops..You Know, If Their Dating Preference Happens To Be Those Of The Opposite Sex."
I think the Republicans have a word for Democrats who would boo our soldiers serving abroad--hmm, I can't seem to recall exactly what it is, but I think it starts with a "t" and rhymes with "season."
The truth is that this hatred, this fear, this anger - to paraphrase a certain evil emperor from a certain movie about wars in the stars - is driving all policy on the hard right these days.
Spending cuts are not about balancing budgets, or the tea party would be for raising taxes too. It's about hurting people - the undeserving poor, "illegal immigrants", other minorities, or some psychologically-disturbed, Rush-Limbaugh-inspired view of "those gosh-darn liberals," which likely resembles the cast of La Cage Aux Folles.
Wars are about punishing people too (at least among this segment of the far right) - those who are not Christian enough or Western enough, or maybe don't spend enough time watching Ax Men on cable. Again, in their rather feudal outlook, it is about hurting those who deserve to be hurt. Obviously torture fits right in here (which is part of the reason why there is so much disillusionment on the Left with President Obama, that he would join the Right in some - but thankfully not all - of these depraved and self-sabotaging endeavors).
This is why you will find no reliable pattern in conservative policy in this age. Politics-by-resentment (and Democratic acquiescence) generally lacks the finer points of clarity and consistency.
In one of his seminal works, brilliant sociologist and social commentator Daniel Bell, an editor and contributor to the compendium The Radical Right, opined in 1962 that "today the politics of the right is the politics of frustration - the sour impotence of those who find themselves unable to understand, let alone command, the complex mass society that is the polity today".
Sometimes I think he had a crystal ball when he said that.
Follow me on Twitter @cliffschecter
This column first appeared at Al Jazeera English