by 99 Seats
I've largely avoided political talk around here because, well, I find myself alternating between depression and anxiety as the Silly Season unfolds. But, after the Ryan pick, the Niall Ferguson article, the Todd Akin mess, the welfare flap, the serial mendacity of Mitt Romney, and after a few months of watching the politics unfold in the single worst arena for discussion, Facebook, I feel like I need to say something. And I think we need to face something.
The Republican Party no longer exists. Not as a political party. Conservatism no longer exists, not as a governing philosophy. It's a marketing campaign.
Earlier this year, Steve Benen at the Maddow Blog noted that Mitt Romney had very little to offer the constituents he met. Benen wrote:
But Romney's in a tough spot, because he doesn't have much of anything to trade in exchange for votes. He meets a struggling firefighter, but Romney can't promise to boost salaries for first responders, because the his platform calls for the opposite. He meets struggling college students worried about tuition costs, but Romney can't promise more Pell Grants or expanded access to student loans, because he fully intends to end the federal government's role in helping young people afford higher education.
This continues today. Outside of the very wealthy, there is nothing in the Romney-Ryan budget that helps actual people. It includes less money for public services, less money for student loans, less money for healthcare, less money for just about everybody, except the very rich. It's tempting to think that the Republican Party is the party of the rich, but that's not really true, either. Because the rich will hurt, too.
This matters for artists, too. When pressed to say what he plans to cut in order to balance the budget, Romney goes after the NEA (and Amtrak and PBS). Which is ridiculous because those programs make up a miniscule part of the federal budget. This is not a serious plan for deficit-cutting. And, if you are among the super-rich, you're more likely to enjoy and support the arts. Which means your opera, your symphony, your theatre will want more money from you. Yes, you'll get a tax break on it, but it's still money out of your pocket.
A couple of things about all of this: it does no good. Slashing funding for education, tecnnology, scientific research, health care advancements, none of that actually makes America stronger. It's counter-productive to Romney's "rebuild" America rhetoric. It also doesn't actually make the deficit any better, since it includes massive tax breaks. It's also, all of it, largely unpopular. The American people are a confused, difficult people to govern. The number one thing on our list to cut to balance the budget, foreign aid, is just about the smallest drag on the budget. We don't want to cut the other stuff, but we want the budget cut. It's a hard row to hoe, I get that.
But what the GOP and the Romney campaign are doing isn't threading the needle. The Obama budget tries to do that. What the GOP and Romney campaign is doing is, well, A) lying. Straight-up lying to the people they met. And B) marketing to a demographic, not serving a constituency.
The Romney campaign's rhetoric of "freedom," "accountability," "ending bureaucracy," "rebuilding America" is pitched perfectly to attract a certain kind of voter, to make a segment of the population feel like Romney is one of them and has their concerns in his heart. He's not and he doesn't. Like McDonald's pandering to a community struck by obesity and diabetes, he's offering people the worst possible choices and presenting them in coded ways that make them think he really knows them.
This extends to modern conservatism, which has morphed into a cult that believes government should be small enough to fit in a woman's uterus or a gay person's bedroom, that believes that any restriction on the 2nd Amendment at all is an assault on the Constitution, but invasive searches of certain segments of the population are totally fine. Who exactly are they serving? Whose best interest? Again, it's tempting to say "straight white men," but, as was pointed out during the debates on the Montana abortion law, the lack of available abortions means, if you knock a woman up, you have to marry her (or at least take care of the child). We like to say it's a party of business, but global warming, a lack of immigrant labor, products that sicken and hurt your customers are generally not good for business in the long run. Like lowering taxes by cutting services, eventually, this costs you.
But hearing it makes a certain population feel good. I'm not going to get into psychologizing that part. But it does. They listen to this rhetoric and feel good, good about their lives, their choices. So they vote for it. From 2000 to 2008, we saw how that worked out. Hell, we're still seeing how that's working out, since the same people are basically in charge of our government now, no matter who is in the White House. They're calling the shots and are still calling the shots on the basis of what makes their audience feel good, not what's actually good for them.
For a while now, I've been referring to the GOP as the Party of Your Asshole Uncle. "Pissing off liberals" has been a major part of their raison d'etre since William F. Buckley's days. Which is, I suppose, fine...if you're a jerk who likes needling your city mouse brother and his kids at Thanksgiving. It's not really when you plan to lead a country of 300 million people. To do that, you need a governing philosophy. Not a bunch of slogans and cheap jokes. Until the Republican Party can actually come up with a governing philosophy that makes sense for an incredibly wealthy, increasingly diverse, unimaginably powerful and influential, modern nation of 300 million people, I don't think they should be treated as a serious party.