Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mitt Romney's Republican Party

Mitt Romney sounds happy.  In fact, he sounds like a real swell guy.  No matter whether he’s talking about his grandkids or the desperate need to shore up our corporate welfare system, he’s a man whose pleasantness is perhaps his defining stylistic attribute.  And like President Obama, against whom he’ll be campaigning until November, he’s the very embodiment of sobriety—such that he and his wax replica in Madame Tussaud’s (I doubt there is one...yet) could have changed places and nobody would have noticed. 

Romney’s biggest problem was his well known track record of having, er, a certain elasticity of principles.  The issue he’s been firmest on is his desire to build a fence along our southern border, undoubtedly so that he can sit on it and survey the wide range of positions he’s taken on a variety of other issues.  But even when suggesting that any Latino who votes for Democrats is looking for a handout (“If they came for a handout they’d be voting for Democrats”), Romney maintains his chipper demeanour.

But of late, the mask has been slipping, and it reveals that Mitt Romney’s GOP would look a lot like the one which has been pillaging our country for the past several years.  Now I’m no fan of President Obama, and partly because of his cave-ins on energy, the financial sector, and public investment, but mostly because of his foreign policy, I will not be voting for him inNovember.  But the Republicans maintain a near-total monopoly on a particular type of verbal bonkers and public bombast, and perhaps realising that he has yet to earn the love of the economic fundamentalists who make up the party these days, Romney has been trying out his vocal-cords to see if he can hit Palinesque levels of absurdity.  He hasn’t quite reached that point, but for someone who purports to be a sensible kind of guy, he’s been pretty unequivocal in his embrace of the GOP’s transformation into a subsidiary of Koch Brothers/Enron/BP, etc.

Romney has gone right ahead and labelled Russia as “our number one geopolitical foe”, and has given notice that thoughtful negotiation with the world’s other leading economic power, China, will have no place in a Romney administration.  He’s advocated a harsh line on Iran, one which could lead to yet another war in the Middle East, and he’s endorsed a traditional thread of insanity which has run through recent U.S. foreign policy: that we harness ourselves uncritically to Israel and its militant, paranoid security regime, the equivalent of strapping yourself to a man on the Golden Gate Bridge who is contemplating the water below with particular fervour. 

Romney has attacked Obama for what he sees as a precipitate withdrawal from Afghanistan, and has pledged to “listen to the generals”, a mantra which misses the point of civilian control and which promises to shackle us to the ego of the likes of grandstanding General Petraeus, a politician to his fingertips, who thinks nothing of casting the bodies of thousands of servicemen and –women, to say nothing of the lives of Afghan soldiers and civilians, on the pyre of The Surge in order to vindicate his self-proclaimed strategic genius. 

The closest I’ve heard to an overarching articulation of Romney’s foreign policy came during the foreign policy debate held sometime last year.  He said: “We have a President right now who thinks that America is just another nation.  America is an exceptional nation!”  This is the kind of brainless panacea which passes for thought in GOP circles, and it will be the death of this nation one day.

Romney is also aggressive on the home front, including on the question of unionisation and collective bargaining rights.  This is another sphere in which Republicans have swerved dramatically into crazy-territory.  They have long been an anti-labour party.  Some of this stemmed from the kind of ideological obsessions that has turned them, in the words of a former GOP operative, into something “less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and ...more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe”.  Arnold Schwarzenegger was right to suggest that a sitting President Reagan couldn’t get through a GOP primary these days, but the candidate Ronald Reagan was famous for preaching a doctrine of selfishness, intolerance, and small-mindedness, helping to lay the groundwork for the strain of thought (if it can be so charitably characterised) that is the mainstay of today’s far right.  Reagan was forced to tack left by a Democratic-dominated Congress, and the results were bad enough—economic inequality has been on the rise ever since.  Romney just might be able to give greater colour to his destructive ambitions when in office.

Another reason for the GOP’s anti-labour bias is the extent to which the Republican Party has become, since the 1970s in particular, an arm of big businesses and powerful industries.  The money of people like the Koch brothers and the rhetoric of the oath-signing lunatics have proved a potent combination.  It is a combination which becomes impervious to evidence-based arguments, thanks to its ability to steamroll them by hijacking the political process and drowning out the opposition by throwing its wealth at them. 

And in that invulnerability, the Republican Party has become incapable of making a rational argument about unionisation.  It is no longer capable of arguing that we should correct some abuses and ask unions to think concretely about the responsibilities that come along with their liberties. 

Instead, it has launched an all-out attack on the rights which underpin unionisation.  These rights—rights it should be recalled which are responsible for the growth of the middle-class, the implementation of an eight-hour day, a 40-hour week, vacation time, insurance, compensation for on-the-job injuries, and a minimum wage—are being caricatured by Republicans as oppressive.  Oppressive in the same way that universal healthcare is tyrannical.  Oppressive in the same way that the enforcement of clean air, clean water, and safe food standards are an assault on the middle class.  Oppressive in the same way that levying taxes according to wealth to pay for public education from which we all benefit is an affront to liberty.  Roll back labour rights, and the long-term sufferings of the middle class will make the Great Recession look like a glowing Indian Summer of happiness and prosperity.  And with that suffering will come social unrest, which should give even the greediest of today’s plutocrats some pause.

Romney won’t have an easy time of it, though.  He’s swimming against the tide of logic, given what people have suffered during the economic crisis of the last several years, and although those waters seem to pull more feebly in the United States thanks to our conviction that we are a special people who will be invariably bailed out by divine intervention, people are going to question some of Romney’s more outlandish views.

Foremost amongst these is his eagerness to repeat and defend the view that people and corporations are one and the same thing.  Aside from the obvious differences (individuals are living, breathing animals, corporations are not), Romney’s almost childishly petulant defence of the inequity brought on by uncritical adherence to the dogma of the free market brings up the central contradiction: people have needs, corporations have wants, and the desires of the latter far too often adversely affect the ability of the former to realise those needs. 

By introducing the inequity of the free market into our politics, Romney and the party he now unequivocally leads, have begun the work of silencing the opposition, of drowning out the voices of individuals with a roar of corporate dollars, and of dragging the Democrats to the right, leaving progressives disenfranchised (particularly in a state like California, where a recent ballot initiative has pushed other parties out of the general election). 

In a 22 September GOP primary debate, Romney gave us this gem: “I don’t try to define who’s rich and who’s not rich.  I want everyone in America to be rich”.  A lovely sentiment, no doubt, but not one according to which you can reasonably govern.  Romney isn’t running to be a motivational speaker; he’s running to take command of a country’s social and economic policy, and to do so, you need to make choices and set priorities, and you do so in the sphere of taxation and social policy according to people’s needs.  There is an obscene gap in wealth and access to services in our country, and you cannot evaluate people’s needs without reckoning with this gap.  Romney, however, looks prepared to ignore it. 

It is at moments like this (“I want everyone in America to be rich!”) that I think of the image of Romney as the chuckleheaded capitalist, throwing money in the air, telling us to eat cake, and ignoring the unemployment lines, the plundering of our public institutions, and the threats which unchecked inequality pose to our nation.  That the man who was supposed to be the most reasonable of his party’s candidates has become the purest symbol of its insanity is telling, and bodes ill for our country’s future.

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