‘It’s not leadership. It’s demagoguery’

‘IT’S NOT LEADERSHIP. IT’S DEMAGOGUERY’…. Of all the recent ideological purges in the Republican Party — Specter, Crist, Scozzafava, Bennett — Rep. Bob Inglis’s was arguably the most jarring. The South Carolina congressman had a pretty conservative voting record, but was nevertheless humiliated in a GOP primary a couple of weeks ago, losing by a ridiculous 42-point margin, 71% to 29%.

What precipitated such a defeat? Inglis expressed a willingness to work with Democrats on energy policy; he urged his constituents not to take Glenn Beck too seriously; and he said his main focus as a lawmaker was to find “solutions” to problems. Last year, Inglis said the Republican Party has a chance “to understand we are all in need of some grace.” The result: GOP voters turned on him.

Inglis talked to the Associated Press this week, and lamented the fact that Republican leaders are created a toxic political environment. He was especially disappointed by the health care debate — Inglis strongly opposed the Democratic proposal, but was disappointed by his own allies’ rhetoric.

“There were no death panels in the bill … and to encourage that kind of fear is just the lowest form of political leadership. It’s not leadership. It’s demagoguery,” said Inglis, one of three Republican incumbents who have lost their seats in Congress to primary and state party convention challengers this year.

Inglis said voters eventually will discover that you’re “preying on their fears” and turn away.

“I think we have a lot of leaders that are following those (television and talk radio) personalities and not leading,” he said. “What it takes to lead is to say, ‘You know, that’s just not right.'”

Inglis added that in the South, some of the right’s hatred of President Obama is driven by racism.

The South Carolinian’s remarks come just a week after Sen. Bob Bennett (R) of Utah, defeated in his re-election bid by his own party’s activists — for reasons very similar to Inglis — conceded publicly that he finds “plenty of slogans on the Republican side, but not very many ideas.”

For many in the party, I suspect the criticism from Inglis and Bennett will be dismissed as sour grapes. They lost because GOP voters rejected them, the argument will go, so they’re bitter.

But to ignore the importance of their concerns would be a mistake. Inglis and Bennett were kicked out of Congress because they were willing to work with people they disagreed with, and took the notion of problem-solving seriously. As the Republican Party moves further and further to the right, the rejection of officials like Inglis and Bennett signals a dangerous trend for the political system.

What’s worse, Inglis suggests the GOP’s demagoguery will eventually backfire, causing voters to move away from the party preying on their fears. But in the short-term, that’s probably backwards — if Republicans do very well in November, as seems likely, they’ll conclude that their recent tactics are a recipe for success. The result will be more offensive politics, not less.