Tuesday, September 11, 2012

They own this country

I like this article at McSweeney's for two reasons. First, there's this calm, measured description of the Republican National Convention:
Nearly 2,500 delegates descended on Tampa to kick things off – mostly old, blindingly white, extravagantly layered in American-flag Tea Party chic, like characters from Betsy Ross’ most terrifying acid trip. Just a bunch of rapturous geriatrics coated in rhinestones worried sick about “voter fraud” amid a sea of smiling CEO-types, old-timey straw-hat enthusiasts and round-faced Eagle scouts in blue blazers and khakis.

Individually, they didn’t seem all that bad, really. Decent, polite people taking the time from running their local Chambers of Commerce to act out their genuine civic desires. If anything, many of the delegates seemed, both on TV and in interviews, almost impossibly well-meaning—deep pools of middle-class idealism about a country and a political party that may or may not be artfully bluffing them into electoral loyalty. (As to the sleazy legions who still see the President as an alien fascist socialist: please throw yourselves in the ocean.) And yet, despite whatever good intentions brought everyone’s weird great-aunt to Tampa last week, the event itself remained top-heavy with a weapons-grade mean dimness, blinkered and trollish in its theme of nudge-nudge-wink-wink disingenuous quote-truncation. Only to a certain kind of steakbrain does “We Built This!” make any logical sense as a political rallying cry. Instead, it only underscores just how demented and small the Republican Party has become. Romney and his pals have created a policy persona based on proud avarice, and their dedication to hard-sell it to the narrowing audience still interested in tax cuts for the rich or outlawing birth control or whatever is remarkable. Banking on collective late onset assholishness doesn’t seem like a particularly enjoyable way to run a campaign, but that’s their call, and at this point there’s not a lot of available plays anyway.

Up on stage, the Republican pitch took its ugh-y shape. Amid platform positions to ramp up the war against pornography and support statehood for Puerto Rico (but not D.C.), the speakers offered a warm sprinkle of indifferent malevolence. A litany of rising stars lied their way through head-in-sand “We Built This!” paeans. Paul Ryan proved the vagaries of man’s perishable memory by rewriting history: claiming Obama caused the Standard & Poor downgrade when S&P explicitly said the GOP in Congress did; arguing that Obama undercut the debt commission when Ryan himself voted to quash the report; blaming Obama for a GM plant shut down in 2008 (never mind that in attacking Obama for not saving it, Ryan is saying The Government should’ve helped out); and so maddeningly on.

Only a truly unrelenting putz could attack Obama for “shifting blame” after helping President Bush create a massive deficit, almost single-handedly prevent a solution under President Obama, and then run for vice president by blaming Obama for that deficit. But the week’s villainy peaked with Mitt Romney’s chosen laugh line—standing out as it did amid his usual pious, bathetic “disappointed TV dad” tone—mocking the president for promising “to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet.” To the crowd, it was nothing short of a giddy adrenaline shot of “Obama LOL” but on TV it smacked of cluelessness, as hurricane water was hitting cities more vulnerable than ever thanks to literally rising sea levels. If ever raucous laughter deserved a little castle-thunder sound effect, that was it. Otherwise, clutching his deceit like a rosary, Romney waded through a long menu of evasions, lies and political gibberish, a prime-time address be-couched in demonstrable untruth. And yet, the crowd hollered for him, fêted him, armed in their imagined comprehension, hateful of notional enemies, lashing out in anachronistic anger about shifting demographics around them.

OK, that's just about exactly as I saw it - a bunch of clueless dinosaurs, faithfully following smiling T. rex leaders who know exactly what to say to keep them heading to the right, always to the right. Should I feel anger, or just sympathy? (I'm afraid, as an American, I mostly feel embarrassed.)

But then there's this:
It’s been widely noted that nothing sums up the GOP quite as well as an old, out-of-touch white guy arguing with a fictional Barack Obama, but two key moments seemed later dwarfed in the shock. For one, if a high-profile Democrat made a throat-slashing gesture about the Republican nominee on prime-time TV, the shrieking from the D.C. journalism establishment might have knocked the moon out of its orbit. But the more subtly interesting moment came when Eastwood surveyed the audience in front of him and declared, “We own this country!” As the crowd erupted in deafening applause, it occurred to me: the man’s got a point.

The ovation that line drew came as no great surprise. Even though the Republican Party today is 92 percent white—the highest percentage since Reconstruction—they’ve spent the last few decades dictating the public discourse while self-perceiving as the victims in America [my emphasis]. But we know why these Wall Street suits and paranoid misogynists get away with deciding the terms of the debate year in and year out. Look at polls taken before the conventions: those likely to vote in November favored Obama by two points, and all registered voters liked Obama by nine points. But people unlikely to vote chose Obama by 26 points, 43% to 17%. Twenty-six points! Who are these non-voters, who make up about 4 to 7 percent of the electorate? Two-thirds say they’re registered to vote and, according to the National Journal, “tend to be younger, female and clueless about politics.” The absenteeism of these people—our friends, our coworkers, our Facebook nemeses—are why Republicans get to win, the reason why that cavalcade of jackasses “own this country.”

That's the scary thing, and the reason why we progressives struggle to move America forward. Republicans have scared many elderly white people with their rhetoric, their veiled racism, and their lies. But they're on the wrong side of history. The future, after all, belongs to the young.

And, having pissed off racial minorities, they're on the wrong side of America's demographic changes, too. (In fact, that's one of the things making their supporters so hysterical these days.)

So why would they do this? After all, Republican leaders tend to be very cynical about politics. They do whatever works. When Democrats supported civil rights in the 1960s, doing the right thing, even knowing that it would tear apart their party (which was full of Southern white 'Dixiecrats'), Republicans gleefully took advantage of it, deliberately wooing white racists in order to advance their own political ambition.

As a result of that 'Southern strategy,' the South switched from being solidly Democratic to solidly Republican. The South had been Democratic since before the Civil War. Now, it's the Republican base.

And more recently, we've seen how Mitt Romney abandoned everything he used to believe, for his own political ambition. Of course, we don't really know if he ever believed anything, except as it would advance his goals at the moment. To that extent, he's a model Republican.

And when Paul Ryan stood up at the convention and told lie after lie, that, too, was perfectly in step with today's Republican Party. Indeed, Fox 'News' has been doing it for years.

And this has been working for them, because scared elderly white people vote. That's the whole point. The minute this stops working for them - I mean, really stops working - the GOP will change. As easily as they've forgotten George W. Bush, they'll forget their previous actions. But they're going to do a lot of damage to our country in the meantime. (And what they change into might not be anything admirable, either.)

Look at those numbers. People unlikely to vote overwhelmingly support Barack Obama. But that's not going to make any difference, if they don't vote. All registered voters poll strongly in his favor, but among people likely to vote, his support drops dramatically. This is why Republicans can remain competitive. This is why they can win.

I've heard every excuse in the book as to why people don't vote. And yes, it's often young people. Well, that's why the elderly are such a prize in politics - because they reliably vote - while young people, who actually have more to lose, tend to be fickle, apathetic, and lazy.

And this year, Republicans are trying their damnedest to make voting difficult for Democratic-leaning constituencies. They know that, if they make it harder to vote, fewer people will vote. That's particularly useful when Democratic constituencies tend to be unreliable voters, anyway.

Yes, the dinosaurs own this country. That doesn't have to be the case, but it is. The rest of us could end that, if we were willing to stand up and perform even the most basic of our civic duties. But there's always an excuse to be lazy, isn't there?

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