As the Republican Party prepares to launch its national convention, it’s hard to defend, along lines of either reason or morality, a vote for a party that is looking ever more unhinged, dogmatic, and hypocritical.
Last week, the party shocked the country—and indeed people around the world—when one of its candidates articulated his moral views about something called “legitimate” rape, and his biological ones when describing the fictive ability of a woman’s body to “shut the whole thing down”. The GOP was quick to slap the candidate for a Missouri senate seat down, but the number two on its ticket is on record arguing that rape is best thought of as a “method of conception” rather than a physical, psychological, and moral assault on a human being. Those comments and the worldview behind them tell me all that I need to know about the modern Republican Party, but they’re part of a broader strain of hypocritical and downright scary thinking.
The Republican Party prides itself on its disdain for waste and its zeal for efficiency. Yet this party wants to mutilate our public school system by re-inventing the wheel through a system of vouchers to cater for the wealthy instead of improving those institutions which do their best to serve all children equally well. Replicating what you already have sounds like waste to me. This party defends industries and companies which spurn innovation and are steadfast in their use of outdated technologies, polluting shamelessly all the while. What, at the end of the day, could be more inefficient and wasteful than that?
They hate “Big Government” and “Government Intervention”, but they use that same government and its machinery to engineer a favourable climate for the very people who plunged us into recession, outsourced jobs, and who continue to exacerbate the economic equality which now characterises socioeconomic life in America.
They say that “Government” is in a constant state of overreaching itself, and then advocate allowing that government to actively monitor and censor its citizens when it’s not waging wars. These wars, of course, are not to be waged in the interests of citizens, but to expand the profit margins of oil companies, the arms industry, and our Frankensteinian national security apparatus, which has assumed a life of its own, complete with a set of interests that could not be more diametrically opposed to those of our people.
Another centrepiece of the Republican Party’s platform is respect for the Constitution. Or for their interpretation of the Constitution, characterised by selective reading and a desire to entrap future generations in the web of their own bigotry, economic and religious fundamentalism, and disdain for many of the values that citizens in our country developed during the twentieth century. And in spite of their rhetorical reverence, Republicans’ entire political strategy over the past four years has been to undermine our institutions of government and the respect that people have for our civic institutions to the point that they can then convince people of the inadequacy of these institutions.
In hamstringing our government, the Republican Party is destroying the one aggregate of institutions capable of addressing big problems and undertaking projects on a national scale in moments of crisis or opportunity. I feel safe in saying that unless the GOP’s influence wanes, we will never see another big infrastructure project in my lifetime. The California GOP’s effort to sabotage high speed rail is a perfect example: they starve the state of funds and kill off its capacity to act, and then complain that it’s inefficient. We will see no nationwide effort at social transformation or economic regeneration. There will be no attempt to address climate change. Both Obama and Romney will tell us, as our sycophantic leaders always do, that “we’re Americans and we do Big Things”. But the truth is, we’re no longer up to doing “Big Things” because with the Republican Party’s spanner in the works, accomplishing anything of significance has become a structural impossibility.
Not content with undermining the institutions designed to serve us, the Republican Party is perfecting its long-practised method of turning people against one another. Working Americans are being turned against their own redoubt—the unionised workforce which does disproportionate work in keeping wage levels above subsistence levels and defending and utilising the precious few rights and tools that workers have retained. Teachers, GOP operatives screech with what I can only call a kind of malicious glee, are lazy, malicious, greedy leeches. Their psychopathic preoccupations resound in the party media and, unhappily, find an echo chamber in the embittered and hateful comments on virtually any newspaper article relating to education that you find online.
They claim to have great reverence for law and order. But in their conduct of politics, they flirt with a kind of social anarchy, they pardoned a President who trashed all semblance of civic order and perverted the course of justice (Nixon), they supported a President who laundered arms and then got himself off the hook by making a virtue of his ignorance and incompetence (Reagan), and they defended a President who unabashedly lied to the public, allowed his Vice-President to use public office for the private gain of cronies in the energy industry, and who happily condoned the use of torture (Bush). I want no part of the GOP’s “law and order”, particularly when several of its presidential candidates this year equated people peacefully protesting economic inequality in the United States with the likes of al Qaeda.
They hate immigrants. They hate Muslims. They hate socialists. They hate humanists in America. They hate gay Americans. Never, I think, in our country’s history, can the promotion of hatred have played such a prominent role in the aggrandisement of political power, or have come to form such a bedrock of an entire political movement.
Mitt Romney, this Party’s current standard-bearer was once asked if he would accept a budget deal that gave him nine dollars of cuts for every dollar of taxes raised. This is the sort of fictive scenario which should set Romney and his cronies all a-drooling and a-trembling with excitement at the wreckage they could make of people’s livelihoods, but instead, cleaving to the fanatical views of the fundamentalists who call the shots in his party, he demurred. As far as I’m concerned, this is not the act or the judgment of a rational human being.
But it works.
During the first decade of the twenty-first century, our country was systematically looted. Republican economic policy since the 1970s—in the face of Democratic indifference and acquiescence where not outright participation—has been primarily concerned with wealth redistribution. By hammering away at the rights of workers, by unshackling the interests that President Roosevelt had restrained and which President Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address, by rolling back those checks on excess which protected our health through trying to keep the very food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink safe; through all these means the Republican Party has been seeking to take wealth—and the security and quality of life which accompanies it—from a great many people in our country and transfer it into the pockets of a few actual people and a few more of Mitt Romney’s imaginary friends—corporations, that is.
The people who support Mitt Romney are pushing what amounts to a hostile takeover, or at least a merger...a merger between monied interest and the state. A merger which, far from “shrinking” government, would have the effect of turning it into a personal instrument of a handful of people in the financial, energy, real estate, and weapons spheres. Forget the rhetoric about shrinking government until you can drown it in a bathtub. “Government” as it is being constructed by the Republican Party would be as “Big” (and size is really a poor metric) as anything that exists now. The difference is that it will no longer have any interest in helping you or your children or grandchildren to gain an education. It will not take the time to see that nothing dangerous or poisonous is put into your food or dumped into your water or pumped into your air. It will make no effort to make that thing we call the “market” free. It will draw up no rules describing fair conduct in our social and economic lives.
But it will wage war. It will persecute people who do not conform. It will actively promote the welfare of the few at the expense of the money. It will also seek to redefine the parameters of citizenship along religious lines.
I very much believe in the right to worship whatever you wish, which is more than can be said for any of the leaders of today’s Republican Party. But I disagree very profoundly with the mass indoctrination of children through churches about matters such as morality and reason. To me, depriving a child of the opportunity to look at the world through fresh, open, uncluttered eyes, denying them the chance to make their own decisions about matters of belief and faith, of right and wrong, about where we come from and where we’re going and how we should live our lives, is tantamount to a violation of that child’s human rights. Those are big questions, and people should have as much of their lives as they need to think about them.
Unfortunately, the Republican Party is coming to stand for an ugly strain of religious intolerance. If this juggernaut is not halted, I can hear the keening of a nasty, exclusionary, un-reasoning fundamentalism in the wind—one which will persecute spiritual deviants and humanists alike. That’s right. They will persecute people because of their religious beliefs or because of the philosophy to which they ascribe. Not simply disagree, but do everything they can to make a belief in their god or their creed a litmus test for not only holding political office, but for participation in civic life.
“How can I trust you if you don’t pray?” Newt Gingrich once rhetorically asked a fire-breathing audience. Rick Santorum, a man who, in his own mind, tells us that he manages to find “love” amidst his hatred of the LGTB community, of communists, of atheists, has assailed Obama for his “phony theology”. He has asserted, with a straight-face, that our rights come from God rather than from the committed albeit mortal men who drew up the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, or the men and women whose actions and demands made the Revolution possible. Michele Bachmann has similarly set herself up as the interpreter of right and wrong based on her reading of an un-footnoted ancient text, and Newt Gingrich has suggested that we only employ teachers who are Christian. Bachmann and other assorted wing nuts in Congress repeatedly call for McCarthyite inquisitions, to root out atheists, socialists and Muslims.
And then there is the racism, sometimes coded, at other times quite open. The bigotry which is fast coming to characterise the Republican Party comes up for air in Romney’s aide’s remarks about our “Anglo-Saxon heritage” and breaches more spectacularly in Donald Trump’s (and now Mitt Romney’s) not-so-coded birtherist language. “Thinkers” like New Gingrich and “intellectuals” like Dinesh D’Souza engage in gutter speculation about Obama’s ‘foreignness’ that could come straight from the social Darwinists and scientific racists of the nineteenth century. They turn “anti-colonialism”, the basis for our own nation’s independence, into an epithet, which is fitting given that the high priests of the neoconservatives who have sent thousands of young American men and women to their deaths in imperial wars.
I’ll be honest. I’m not even sure why we vote for Republican representatives, given that their candidates and caucus are coming to resemble the ranks of some authoritarian party, marching in ideological lockstep, murmuring party dogma to themselves, shepherded and disciplined by their party’s thought police—Rush Limbaugh, Grover Norquist, Howard Jarvis, and Co. The moment they sign up to serve their party and its corporate paymasters, these people foreswear the use of their grey matter, promise that an independent thought will never flit across their brow, and pledge to never raise taxes come what may. We may as well substitute for our Senate and House some giant voting machine, with the Koch Brothers at the controls.
The country that Mitt Romney’s party is bent on constructing is light-years away from the dreams that our forbearers harboured when they set out to fashion a new nation in an era characterised by the application of reason and a disdain for policy driven by small-minded superstition. Our approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict is driven by a combination of denial and a belief in the “end times”, as unholy a combination as ever existed. Our denial of climate change is based on a total upending of logic and an approach to evidence that hasn’t been seen since the church murdered Giordano Bruno and imprisoned Galileo Galilei in the seventeenth century. Mitt Romney may peddle a subtler, more corporate and less breathless form of this madness. But these are his political, philosophical, and institutional fellow-travellers.
It’s a real dilemma for voters. I don’t want to support the President, because he’s escalated a misconceived, immoral, dangerous war that is claiming the lives of too many innocent Afghans and too many Americans, including some in the North State. And I remain convinced that his sole purpose in continuing this irrational fight is for the sake of a few percentage points in the polls. Nor do I care for his acquiescence to the neoliberal consensus which elevates the desires of financial elites above the needs of our country’s workers. The claims that Obama is promoting a “socialist” agenda is risible, and anyone who claims as much is either a moron or deliberately deceptive, plain and simple. From my perspective, the lack of any social democratic agenda being advanced in the U.S. is a problem, but others should at least have the sense to admit that where healthcare, environmental protection, and the conduct of foreign policy is concerned, Obama would have been outflanked on the left by Nixon, Ford and Eisenhower.
I wish, given the threat that the modern Republican Party poses to our country, that I could end this post with an endorsement of Obama. But however much I could close my eyes to his half-heartedness on healthcare, his equivocation on financial and political reform, and his cowardice on the question of addressing our planet’s climate crisis and the question of careless growth, his wars continue to define his presidency in my mind. It feels contradictory to say that even though I won’t vote for Obama I nonetheless hope he wins. But because the alternative is Mitt Romney’s Republican Party, that’s how I feel.
And don’t think “they’re all the same” or “they’re equally responsible”. The Democrats have, in recent years, been best characterised by moral cowardice and a tendency to devise policy with opinion poll studies in one hand, constantly looking back over their shoulders. But the Republican Party is in a league of its own, defined by behaviour, views, and policies that are best defined as sociopathic.
Forget your fiscal proclivities, and all the rest. This is a party that is trying to take our country down. Whether you cast a vote for the President, vote for a small party, or simply leave the boxes on the Presidential ticket un-ticked (very likely my personal approach), don’t vote Republican.