Friday, November 09, 2012

What Now For Republican Politicians?

Reports of the demise of the Republican party are, I'm almost certain, premature. Had Obama handled things differently after his election in 2008, we might indeed be seeing the Republican party being replaced with the Libertarian party.

Had Obama investigated the actions of the Bush administration, if that investigation had uncovered and publicised the illegal activities that administration engaged in (especially the manipulations of the vote in 2000 and 2004), and had the authors of those policies found themselves in jail, the word 'Republican' would become a word no sane politician would want to associate with.

And had Obama not bailed out the banks - if he had allowed them to fail - he would have created a storm of chaos and suffering. However, he then could have used that bailout money - perhaps even only a fraction of it - to use the Federal Government to ride to the rescue of people and small businesses in need of credit and relief. And he could have ushered in a new era of regulation of Wall Street.

But Obama chose to move on from the crimes of the Bush administration. He chose to prop up the banks and the current system, and settled for incremental changes. Despite these conservative actions, actions which merely nudged the status quo slightly, he was attacked throughout his first term and his reelection campaign as a radical socialist, a proponent of unprecedented Government control of the economy, and a person in favor of buying votes and support with Government assistance programs to lazy poor people who didn't want to work.

That is to say, despite having the clearest opportunity since the Great Depression to step in with the power of the Federal Government to directly help citizens, he chose, on his own free will, to use that Governmental power to keep the current economic system in place, and merely nudge it a bit toward greater regulation and stability.

Obama approached each issue not from a radical, leftist perspective, and not even from a particularly liberal perspective. He aimed right down the center. And for these centrist plans, he was virulently attacked and obstructed by the Republicans. The Republicans routinely opposed policies they themselves had supported in the recent past, simply because Obama was proposing them. Centrist, sensible policies full of compromise were attacked as radical and socialist. The main example of this would be the opposition to a health care plan almost identical to the one touted in Massachusetts by the eventual Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.

Obama's victory, though decisive, was not a landslide. It could be said that a stronger nominee could have won the election, or that Hurricane Sandy provided a crucial October bump for the incumbent. But it is difficult to find a strong nominee for a party that embraces a bizarre coalition of capitalists that put profit above every other consideration, along with evangelical Christians who oppose abortion rights, immigration, affirmative action and are not accepting of gay relationships. Romney is from the former category, and spent the primary season fighting a stream of candidates from the latter. A capitalist is never going to turn down an opportunity to make a profit selling something to or getting cheap labor from a person, no matter whether that person is gay, or straight, brown or white, Christian, Muslim or Atheist. That is the essential conundrum of the Republican coalition.

Romney had trouble coming across as a man with a deeply religious foundation, because the truth is he has a capitalistic foundation. Furthermore, he sought to paint Obama as a dangerous President with an unprecedented radicalism. It's relatively easy, given Obama's name, appearance, and urban intellectual mannerisms, to make this case to a large swath of the country. But it's not a big enough swath, particularly when no evidence of Obama's supposed radicalism exists.

The aftermath of a national disaster is usually a good opportunity for an incumbent to make himself look good. Bush blew it with Katrina, but a President almost always gets a bump from marshaling the forces of the Federal Government to help storm victims out, and Sandy was no exception. But it particularly helped Obama because it further dissipated the myth that he was some sort of radical, dangerous outsider. He calmly and rationally acted responsible in the face of a crisis, in order to help ordinary people in trouble. Romney's campaign was hurt by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's appreciation of Obama's competence. But it was also hurt by Romney's offhand offer to abolish FEMA in order to reconcile the ever present Republican tax-cut-to-the-wealthy economic plan with the new found 'bring down the deficit' call the Republicans trot out only when they are running against an incumbent Democrat. Romney was painted into a corner by the conundrum of his coalition's opposing interests, and he threw FEMA under the bus. It came back to bite him in the ass, but it was really his coalition that was ass-bitten from the start.

The Republican plan, since Clinton won in 1992, has been to attack the Democrats' character relentlessly, obstruct their agenda at all costs, stoke fear in poorer white folks, fear of blacks, fear of Hispanics, fear of gay people. Their economic plan has been to decrease the tax burden on large corporations and wealthy individuals at all costs, and to obscure the harmful effects of these policies on poorer white folks. They have bolstered these efforts with attempts at voter disenfranchisement.

While they paint perfectly reasonable Democrats as radical, it is they who have done the most radical, unprecedented things in this country since 1992. They have pushed the boundaries of legality by having a special prosecutor investigate a sitting President for a land deal that happened before he was elected. That is something that never happened before. They then had this special prosecutor move right over into investigating the President's personal life. That is also something that never happened before. They impeached a President and nearly removed him from office for uncovering an embarrassing affair, asking him about it under oath, and charging him with perjury. In a historical sense, these were radical actions.

In 2000, in Florida, they utilized an unprecedented loose match to a list of felons in order to remove as many legal African-American voters from the rolls as possible. The secretary of state acted in an astonishingly partisan manner in presiding over elections and recounts in Florida in 2000 as well as in Ohio in 2004. They gerrymandered congressional districts in unprecedented illogical, and sometimes arguably illegal ways in order to increase Republican representation in Congress. They poured unprecedented amounts of money into elections and lobbying, and they were able to lower income taxes and capital gains taxes on the wealthy and large corporations in order to present a radically different distribution of wealth from what we had in 1950, 1960, 1970, 1980, and 1990. The stretched and broke rules, defying conventions and the basic spirit of fairness for the short term gain of a few, while others suffered. And then they had the gall to align themselves with moral Christians.

The Republicans' election successes of the last 20 years have not been built upon creating a platform that would appeal to the majority of citizens. Their successes have been built on radical manipulations of the process, and by tricking churchgoing, religious Christian Americans into thinking that they shared their concerns. And by painting reasonable Democrats as radicals.

And the problem with this plan is that it does not stand up to the facts of what is actually true. Democrats have not been radical in the last 20 years. Republicans have, in several ways. Democrats have not been free-spending irresponsible deficit builders. Republicans have far outpaced Democrats in their building of the deficit. Clinton pushed, over virulent Republican opposition, a return to the top bracket tax rates when Reagan left office. He also streamlined programs like welfare and cut a lot of spending. Clinton left office with a surplus, and with the economy booming. George W. Bush pushed through tax cuts to the wealthy, and spent huge sums on dubious military adventures in Iraq, building up record deficits. He left office with the economy in shambles and with the debt ballooning. Obama decided to save the economy and had to increase the deficit to do so, something Republicans wanted in order to save their fortunes. Into this situation wades Mitt Romney saying that something must be done about this horrible national debt. He convinced some people, but not enough.

Because what he was saying was just not true. Recent history shows that a Republican is not the person you want to trust to bring a deficit down.

Also, in the last 20 years, those citizens who want to ban abortion have, despite many Republican electoral successes, not seen Roe V. Wade overturned. They also have not seen an end to affirmative action. They also have not seen any significant immigration restriction. Republicans have managed to cut taxes to the wealthy and ease financial regulations many times over. But they haven't shown any real interest or desire in making their fundamentalist Christian supporters' dreams a reality.

Republicans are going to have to start having real positions on real issues that appeal to Americans in real ways. Not by promising them things you cannot or don't intend to give them. Not by playing on their deepest fears. Not by tricking them. Not by gerrymandering them. But by offering them something. And by offering them something, you are going to have to keep a little less for yourself.

1. Stop calling the fantastically wealthy 'Job Creators', and stop trying to connect less tax burden on the wealthy and huge corporations with economic growth and patriotism. They don't go hand in hand and enough people realize it that your gravy train has a flat tire. If you keep pushing it, you may end up with no train at all. Instead of calling yourselves fiscal conservatives while actually being wealth distribution radicals, actually BE fiscal conservatives.

2. Stop demonizing Hispanics. The truth is, immigrants to this country work hard at low paying jobs other Americans don't want to do. They represent a pool of cheaper labor, which is good for capitalists. There are plenty of white people that are fearful of Hispanic culture and influence. Instead of stoking that fear, assuage that fear, and you can compete with the ever expanding Hispanic vote, instead of going after the ever-shrinking 'fear of Hispanics' vote.

3. Commit yourselves to true democracy, by abandoning these radical efforts at voter suppression and gerrymandering and voting machines with invisible software. Work the system, don't game it.

4. Stop denying climate change, and promoting the idea that there is plentiful cheap oil if only we would drill for it. You don't have to be a total green environmentalist, but adapt an energy policy that's based on reality.

5. Stop denying that Government has a useful role in peoples' lives. This narrative paid dividends for Reagan, but its time has passed. The essential conundrum is that your candidates are trying to get people to vote for them so they can become part of the Government. If Government has no useful purpose, why are you running for office? So that you can get paid to do nothing?

In short, the Republican establishment has used the Government and the good will of the American people as a moneymaking scheme. At some point, the money and power you can squeeze out of that scheme will dry up. That day has come and the jig is up. If you are not in jail or strung up from a lamppost as a result of your participation in this scheme, consider yourself lucky. Join the community of the United States of America's democratic self-governance by the people and for the people.

Or go live in one of your tax havens if you would rather lord over the peasants. Have fun hiring your own police force.


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