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Carnival of the Fire-Breathers

Randall Terry at a news conference in Washington on Monday.
Randall Terry at a news conference in Washington on Monday. (By Susan Walsh -- Associated Press)
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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Before recent events, I intended to write about the GOP's message problem with the headline: "Shoot the Messenger."

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Sunday's fatal shooting of abortion doctor George Tiller makes my title inappropriate, but the idea remains relevant.

The adage, of course, is "Don't shoot the messenger," meaning we shouldn't necessarily blame the person who delivers bad news. For the Republican Party these days, however, the problem isn't so much the message. It's the messenger.

By grotesque coincidence, Tiller's murderer furthers the point.

It has long been a problem for the GOP that some of the party's cherished positions are embraced most enthusiastically by people whose grip on reality is sometimes . . . tenuous. This is especially true with regard to abortion.

There are certainly compelling secular arguments against abortion that one might be perfectly willing to hear. Then Randall Terry shows up.

Terry, the colorful founder of Operation Rescue, doesn't represent the Republican Party, but he is nevertheless the most familiar face of the antiabortion movement. When President Obama recently gave the commencement address at Notre Dame, who showed up to lead the protest but Terry and the equally odd carnival performer Alan Keyes?

Rather than persuading people to think differently about abortion, the Terry-Keyes act makes one want to write checks to Planned Parenthood. And smart Catholics, who were perfectly capable of articulating their objections to the president's invitation to America's premier Catholic university, were suddenly stuck in the frame with rabble-rousers who demean the message.

Such is the continuing dilemma of the GOP: How do you get out the message when the messengers keep getting in the way?

Now comes a fanatic with a gun. Let me be clear: I don't mean to compare Terry or Keyes to the shooter. The former are passionate protesters; the latter is a murderer.

Nor do I join those who accuse talk show host Bill O'Reilly and others who have spoken out against Tiller as somehow being responsible for his murder. The man who pulled the trigger is responsible for Tiller's death. Period.

That said, fire-breathers on the right don't help, whatever the cause. They may warm the base, but the Republican base is becoming a remote island in mainstream America. Everyone else is paddling away.

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