Sarah Palin

The whole country, Democrats and Republicans alike, have something in common this month -- total ambivalence about the current crop of GOP candidates.

For liberals they’re a lineup of yesterday’s men -- from the guy who lost to the last guy who lost, to the guy who was run out on a rail.

Their stances on most hot button social issues seem to run the gamut from completely out of touch to shockingly theocratic. For liberals they’re a particularly unsavory lineup of 1950s wannabes and fundamentalists.

Thankfully, it also looks like they’re an unelectable lineup.

Conservatives have different worries about the same candidates.

Firstly they worry that Mitt Romney is not conservative enough … then they fret that Rick Santorum is too governed by his militantly Catholic outlook that will not appeal to moderates … and Newt Gingrich is admired more than loved.

But the real problem, which isn’t being addressed, isn’t the opinions that the individual candidates hold – it’s the opinions that they’re allowed to hold.

When the billionaire backers of the Tea Party created a right wing noise machine to stymie the Obama administration at every turn, they little suspected that what they had unleashed would come to set the agenda for the entire party.

But that day has arrived. The Tea Party rhetoric has been so uncompromising, so ludicrous and so successful that it has set the agenda for the entire GOP.

None of the candidates dare to express themselves now without first consulting Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and the pundits of Fox News.

But it turns out that attacking competence, longstanding expertise in your field and diplomatic authority has some unintended consequences.

Replacing career diplomats with hockey moms from Alaska isn’t always prudent politics.

Going with your gut and selecting a candidate for their looks is an emotional but not an intellectual response to politics.

Calling the establishment of your own party an out of touch elite may feel right, but that doesn’t indicate it is right.

By dumbing down and playing to the gallery the GOP have lost control of the party and given it over to a monster they created themselves.

This week a poll discovered that 52% of Mississippi GOP voters believe that President Barack Obama is a Muslim.

That’s probably an emotional response more than a rational one. It’s a way of acknowledging his otherness, which means his race.

It’s not the first time this has happened. Remember the “birther” movement, which claimed Obama isn’t even a U.S. citizen?

Establishment conservatives who claimed to know nothing about it quietly but consistently encouraged this kind of out-there insanity.

Palin, the acknowledged Tea Party queen and the symbol of the malaise afflicting the party, has never been afraid to stoke the worst kind of demagoguery in the base from notoriously accusing the president of “palling around with terrorists,” to her recent outrageous claims that he wants to drive the country back to the racial discrimination “before the Civil War.”

Palin said on Fox News last week, “Now, it has taken all these years for many Americans to understand that that gravity, that mistake, took place before the Civil War, and why the Civil War had to really start changing America. What Barack Obama seems to want to do is go back to before those days when we were in different classes based on income, based on color of skin.”

Politics ain’t beanbag, as someone said, but nor should it be a blatant call to arms against a phantom racist conflict.

It surprised me that Palin’s intemperate comments didn’t cause the immediate firestorm they were intended to. Perhaps that’s a reflection of her increasing irrelevance, or perhaps the ridiculous message couldn’t resonate beyond the base she had pitched them to.

But it’s a measure of the times we live in, and it’s a measure of the deep identity crisis the GOP is having internally right now, that this unrepentant political arsonist has a platform within the party at all.

No one minds the rough and tumble of politics, but predictions of a national race war are an astounding misuse of the national stage.

To make Republican misery even more pronounced, news that the U.S. economy is picking up steam and adding jobs again cannot fail to make the GOP worry about its chances in November.

We’re eight months away from Election Day now and it will probably be decided on the health of the economy.

But we should not forget what has happened and is happening still within the party on the long road to Election Day.