Every political party has its fringe elements. Parties attempt to both isolate and retain the fringe - a task akin to keeping the loony uncle at family gatherings without allowing him to draw too much attention to himself.

The current dysfunction in our political system derives in large part from the fact that what had been fringe elements of the Republican Party have gained real power within the party. These elements are bent on carrying through on the dictates of their ideology regardless of the consequences. Their power has not been sufficient to gain the outcomes they would like to see; but it has been sufficient to disrupt the flow of government, to create stalemate, and to redirect energies and the political news cycle away from what should be the focus of action.

Limited success, in turn, has emboldened others. No fringe element is unwelcome in the new alliance of the fringe. Want to believe that the president of the United States is secretly a Muslim and was not born in the United States? You're welcome. Want to believe that women who are "legitimately" raped have built in biological defenses that prevent pregnancy? You're welcome. Want to argue that government-based health care programs will lead to death panels? OK.

Now we are faced with the irrational willingness to shut down the government or endanger the nation's credit rating in order to defund the Affordable Care Act.

One can summarize the basic tenets of the Republican fringe:

Our enemies, those who believe that government has a positive role to play beyond national defense, are evil. The trend toward a nation of color portends the loss of all that is good and right. Perceived threats to individual liberty in any form are to be resisted regardless of the consequences for society as a whole - except in the areas of women's sexuality and procreation, where individual liberty is to be opposed. Growing inequality is the result of moral decay, and the grossly unequal distribution of wealth is a sign of how our economic system rewards the worthy rather than evidence of the predatory nature of unregulated capitalism.

From that base, it becomes easy to take a fundamentally centrist president of color and turn him into the Great Satan. The prism of the fringe makes comprehensible a House of Representatives that supports nothing that might benefit the nation if it appears to also benefit the president.

The traditional conservative wing of the GOP brought much that was valuable to our politics. However, the gains of the last decades for conservatism have come at the price of any attempt at reasonable politics. One does not have to be a defender of the progressive agenda to see the harm this type of politics is doing to the country.

VINCE CONTI

Cape May Court House