Friday, November 30, 2007
Watching the Republican debates is proving a surreal experience. The feeling is like watching... well, a science experiment, I guess, would be the best way to put it. All of the Republicans involved seem to be devolving into crude caricatures of Republicanism, but different crude caricatures of Republicanism -- something a bit more surreal than mere pandering. It is as if modern Republicanism was pushed through an ideological prism, and each of its parts scattered onto a different podium at a different part of the stage.
Romney: The CEO Republican. The multimillionaire whose interest is an America secured for the financial goals of multimillionaires. The problems of the little people are nothing: give them a little verbal bread, by appealing to a few of their baser instincts (Guantanamo good! Terrorism bad! Torture good!), and the Republican party leadership can play the public like puppets on strings. Romney stands out for being the Republican whose social and foreign policy stances are most transparently a put-on, someone who seems happy to drift along saying pretty much whatever the staffers say he should say if it allows him to move on without incident.
Huckabee: The Religious Republican. The perfect embodiment of true Republican religion; sings to the majesty of a Jesus that has been painstakingly repainted in the Republicans' own image, scrubbed of inconvenient tendencies towards compassion. Huckabee does not know if Jesus would support the death penalty. He does not know if torture is anti-Christian enough to really make a big fuss over. He considers himself the most Christian candidate, but mere self-proclaimed knowledge of the Holy Will of God is not sufficient enough to go against the Republican edicts against the poor and sick that define his party. Republicanism is a stronger religion, on that stage, than Christianity will ever be, and Reagan a more heralded messiah: when it comes to Huckabee facing the phalanx of fervently "religious" Republican voters that will oppose him if he steps too carelessly on their own agendas, Jesus will have to make do as usual with a bit of vapid praise and little else.
Giuliani: The Crime Boss Republican. Giuliani's primary motivation in government has always been the consolidation of his own power, the use of that power to retaliate against his enemies, and, apparently, Herculean efforts to organize his city around best satisfying his own desires and needs and genitalia. And all of it sold to the public under constant assertions of danger, of terror, and imminent death if his edicts are questioned. He represents mafia don Republicanism, as perfected by Karl Rove, DeLay, Cheney and countless others, and is the most craven issuer of the bluntly stated threat: let me and my Republican associates and my Republican petty whims go unimpeded, or something will happen to you or your family.
Tancredo/Hunter: The Bigots. Nativism and racism writ large; the "Southern Strategy" recast to draw from and stoke fear, resentment and loathing not against black Americans, now protected too well for such rank hatreds to be openly expressed, but against brown Americans. Bigotry against minorities is still perfectly acceptable and, in fact, craved by the Republican base -- the targets, however, have had to shift as each previously assaulted group has won their own civil rights. So now the attack moves to gay Americans, yes, but most especially to Hispanics, thinly veiled under pretenses of rampant and dangerous "illegality." Gotta have someone to hate. Gotta have have some group, somewhere, that supposedly threatens the very social fabric of America by having the audacity to wish to be treated as human. What if (insert group here) moves next door, or marries your daughter, or gets on the same elevator as you? How many American laws must be changed or created or ignored, in order to prevent such a terror from happening?
Thompson: The Vacuum-Packed Professional Republican. Chosen by name alone, not skill, and specifically picked to be well known and inoffensive with no particular record, agenda, skills, or ideas that might get in the way. The goal of the handpicked vacuum packed Republican, whether it be Fred Thompson, Arnold Schwartzenegger, or anyone else, is for their name to quickly provide enough boost to make their actual statements and positions irrelevant. Unfortunately for his party backers, Thompson has proved to have the political vibrancy of a dead halibut, thus defeating himself handily in his only area of purported accomplishment.
Ron Paul: The To Hell With The Rest Of You Republican. The rejector of the base premises of government itself. Paul represents the large portion of the Republican party that condemns the very notion that government should have a role in bettering the health, education, or welfare of its citizens. Under the Republican faux-libertarianism that finds its current crown princes in figures like Grover Norquist and Ron Paul, government can indeed be ably used as an enforcing tool of bigotry, but not of tolerance; government can indeed be used as a valid tool of industry against citizenry, but not the reverse; government, most of all, is a failure by its mere existence -- unless it serves their own thinly drawn purposes, of course. It is the shallowest and most crass interpretation possible of societal good and, indeed, of civilization, which goes to explain why it is so popular among certain groups.
While not one of the current Republican candidates are eager to utter George Bush's name -- he is, after all, badly damaged goods, since he had the misfortune to put Republican ideas into practice and be branded with the now-obvious results -- there have been absolutely no attempts whatsoever to distance themselves from either those ideas or those results. On the contrary, it has just been broken up into discrete portions, every one of them seeking dominance over the others.
It is as if all the failures and corruptions of principle of George Bush has been cleaved into parts, each one of them reaching an even more extreme level in one or another of those seeking to succeed him. Would you like the religious panderer Bush, or the fiscally incompetent Bush? Would you prefer the Bush that uses the crudely drawn specter of terrorism as distraction from every issue and act, no matter how seemingly petty or unconnected? Would you like the Bush that turns all aspects of government into crap, or the Bush that uses his position as a tribal lord, meting out punishments to all those that oppose him and lucrative positions and benefits to all those that maintain their loyalty? You have a choice: each one is represented onstage.
And why should that be surprising? It is, after all, the fabric of Republicanism. These are the things that get applause, when spoken from their podiums: the crude, the insincere, the blasphemous, the hateful, even the condemnation of the tasks of government themselves. Large portions of America cheer for these things, and, surely, those portions of America need a political party too.
If anything, though, it's going to be fascinating to watch which portion of this spectrum proves the most powerful in the party. Will it be the racism? The oligarchical premises of rank and privilege? The claims of Christianity divorced of any actual requirement to behave in a Christian fashion? The damn everyone but me movement is alive and well, but which precise form will it take?
Which part of the schizophrenic Republican personality will prove most dominant, at the end of primary season? And what will it take to stitch the various Frankensteinian parts back together into something again vaguely presentable to the nation, come the general election?
UPDATE: My goodness, I forgot McCain, the Warmonger Republican. In my defense, it's only because everyone has forgotten McCain. He is still running, right, and not just as a foil to Ron Paul?