There is one episode from last night’s returns that sticks with me, and captures, I think, where we’re headed with the triumphant Republican Party. Wolf Blitzer was talking to Rand Paul who had just been declared the winner of the Senate seat in Kentucky. Blitzer asked Paul why he opposes rolling back tax breaks for individuals making over $200,000 (about six times what the average American takes home). Paul replied as follows:
‘Well, the thing is, we’re all interconnected. There are no rich, there are no middle class, there are no poor; we are all interconnected in the economy ... Let’s not punish anyone. Let’s keep taxes low and let’s cut spending’.
I waited for someone to intervene, for Blitzer to interrupt and point out that there are in fact rich people and poor people in our country. I waited, agonised, for some voice of reason to note that taxation isn’t punishment...when you tax the wealthy it’s about equality, about improving the livelihoods of those who are poor. Instead, Blitzer grovelled, all but going down on his knees to congratulate Paul, and to tell him he knew that his father was awfully proud.
The question is, will low- and middle-income voters in Kentucky, and across the country, be pleased with being told that they’re going to be asked to take a hit on behalf of the wealthy. And that being poor, according to Paul and the Tea Party branch of the Party he is held up as representing, is just a state of mind.
Here, on CNN, was the election story in microcosm. There was a media which learnt nothing from its failures over Iraq, which continues to report what people say as the truth even when it’s manifestly wrong. It is form of uncritical and infantile journalism which eschews questioning in favour of inflicting a barrage of meaningless statistics on viewers and treating a self-satisfied election-night political panel as a group of experts, when in fact these people do nothing more than shout over each other about who’s ahead in one marginal race or another.
Then there was the ascendance of a truly acerebral wing of the Republican Party. People are fond of saying that Washington is trapped in ideological gridlock, but the fact is that this morning’s Republican Party is hardly even about ideology. It is about power. They are a destructive force who over the next two years will do everything they can to destroy the President. People talk about how the rise of the radical Right might be a blessing in disguise for Obama in 2012 as though this is a game. But there are millions of people who will be taking it in the neck for at least two years because the Democrats were practically absent from the campaign as a progressive force.
And yes, finally there were the Democrats, who were, as always, on the defensive, responding to the absurd charges levelled at them by rhetorically-populist yet in reality corporate Republicans. The party who acted as though it was ashamed of its values, when it was even able to identify them.
We’ll undoubtedly be hearing more mind-blowing statements like Paul’s contention that ‘there are no rich, there are no middle class, there are no poor’ emanating from the Republican caucus. And what’s worse is that some amongst us will be paying a heavy price.