Fidel Castro dubbed this year’s Republican primary as the “greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance the world has ever seen.” We as a nation gave him that line by allowing our political culture to surrealistically descend to the level of a reality television show where angry kindergarten bullies magically sprout middle-aged bodies, stuff them into bad suits, and get to run for president of the United States. It would all be cryptically humorous, save for the fact that it’s real.
Folks on the left side of what’s left of our political spectrum have been coming up to me lately, asking, “What do I think about the ongoing Republican implosion?” By this, they’re referring to the fact that less than two years after the Republicans swept to victories in elections across the country, they’ve arrived at this sorry juncture where they can’t even field a competent presidential candidate, with their likely choice limited to an array of self-humiliating imbeciles locked in competition with each other over who best serves the angry wrathful bigoted god that they relentless conjure. So yes, this looks like an implosion as the party heads into election season damned to having a ticket led by a candidate that’s condemned to be a national ignominy. And hence, the logic would go, damned to go down in flames.
Way back when…
So back to the question: What do I think about the Republican implosion? I was, as in past tense, pretty excited about it—about the impending demise of this reactionary movement that obviously had gone way too far off in radical right la-la land, nominating a candidate destined to make his toadyism to the plutocracy plain for all to see. But that was back in 1980 when they nominated Ronald Reagan.
History has since taught me not to count on the American electorate to defend American values—that anything is possible. It also documents the power of propaganda in a society whose political culture is dominated by a privately owned and corporately controlled “news” media. So no, I’m not excited about the “implosion” of the Republican Party, since it could foretell the implosion of the nation if one of these buffoons is elected president.
Before Reagan was elected, we had affordable college education, a strong manufacturing sector protected by tariffs, and a strong and growing middle class buoyed by equally strong unions, regulations, and agencies with teeth to stymie Wall Street criminality. And we had the beginnings of a mature and coherent energy policy. Imagine what the preceding sentence could look like in reference to a President Santorum or Romney: “Before President Santorum, birth control was legal, torture was illegal, and people had freedom of religion.” Or, “Before President Romney, it was illegal to drill for oil in reservoirs.”
It’s not just that I’m afraid that one of these crackpots could be president. I’m more afraid of what I’ve already seen this year. It’s overly simplistic to think that the Republicans are losing, just because their candidates may lose. The Republican Party, or more specifically, the plutocratic movement that owns and operates the party, is much better at setting and meeting long-range goals than are progressives, centrists, or even old school conservatives. They have their eye on the ball, not the election. And, on issues that matter to corporate and plutocratic interests, the ball has maintained an unabated rightward surge since about 1980, no matter what political party nominally claims to be in power.
Santorum Zedong and the contraception play
The fight over contraception, both to keep it legal and keep it affordable, is an engineered distraction, and it’s a ball mover. We can’t shy away from this fight to protect our rights to birth control. Nor can we ignore similar attacks on freedom of religion that would have one religious group imposing its beliefs on everyone, as anti-contraception fundamentalists are now attempting. This is especially true now when the Senate is one or two votes away from rolling our human rights back 90 years. And the entire Republican field of presidential candidates, including the “libertarian” Ron Paul, are on record as supporting this attack on women’s healthcare. So we must take up this fight. But this struggle diverts us from the fight against the plutocratic Republican assault on banking reform, tax equity, environmental protection, consumer protection, healthcare, and education, to name a few other important struggles.
So, in the short run, Republicans might lose elections because 99 percent of gestation-aged American women who have had sex have used some form of artificial birth control in their lives and don’t want to lose this right. But looking at the larger picture, the Republicans win because we are not debating or acting on the issues they’d rather have us not to debate or act on. Our media is clogged with what seems like radio signals emanating from the 1920s—an antique debate about birth control and an attack on women (but not men) for having, and possibly even enjoying, sex.
Think of the long-range planning embodied in “Communist” China’s Mao-era five-year plans. Five years from now when we look back, Republicans will have lost on the birth control issue that they fabricated, but will have successfully forestalled true banking and tax reform. There are only so many fights we can fight, and we have no choice but to fight the draconian social agenda of the Republican Party. And their handlers know this. Hence, their strategy is both brilliant and effective. So while the Republican field of candidates is populated by buffoons, they are, in their apparent self-destruction, serving their masters well.
Back to the future
When the nation is discussing issues that were settled in the middle of the last century, such as banking reforms put in place after the Great Depression, and whether or not we should have Social Security and Medicaid programs for retirees, whether we should regulate toxic pollutants or fund agriculture and food inspections, or, to the extreme, whether we should have public roads and provide emergency fire and ambulance services to poor people who can’t afford to pay for them (I don’t make this stuff up), it dements the whole national political discussion. The outcome is that Barack Obama, who by rational analysis is to the right of Bill Clinton, who was to the right of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy, and even Dwight D. Eisenhower, is termed a “socialist” for defending Social Security or funding bridge and highway maintenance.
With the media framing the undo civil society position as a mainstream pole in our political spectrum, any deviation from this radical antisocial agenda appears way to the left, even if it is itself well entrenched on the capitalist side of the political spectrum. With no visible left in place, Obama and politicians like him are drawn toward the right, just to avoid being tarred as “radical” for being out of step with the primeval positions articulated in the Republican primary. So we get an insurance-industry-friendly Republican-engineered “Romney Care” as our health plan, instead of discussing single-payer healthcare and serious cost controls and prescription price caps. And we get what was originally a Republican “cap and trade” market carbon plan and a few baby steps to nowhere, along with the continuation of an oil-dependent infrastructure, instead of any serious investment in conservation and alternative energy.
With Democratic presidents positioned to forward what is essentially a Republican agenda, Republicans don’t need to get elected. In fact, they often do better enacting major components of their agenda when they don’t have lightning rod presidents like George W. Bush or any of the current nut-job candidates in office. Remember, it took Bill Clinton to pull off what no Republican could accomplish, finalizing Ronald Reagan’s tariff-busting global trade schemes and enacting them into law.
The Republican Party is not imploding. And while they might be poised to lose some important elections, they’re moving the ball and winning the game. Unfortunately, as they stall action on environmental, fiscal and social crises so their handlers can engorge themselves at everyone else’s expense, we all lose in the one big game that counts.