Thursday, September 20, 2012

It's not the man (ok, some of it is), it's the ideas.

Like most people, I was thoroughly disgusted by the video leaked earlier this week by Mother Jones which showed Mitt Romney speaking at a private fundraiser and disparaging nearly half of the American population as "dependent on government" and "think they're entitled to food, housing, and health care". Specifically, he referred to the 47% of Americans who did not pay any federal income tax last year. As many have pointed out, this 47% is a pretty diverse group, and most of them, whether they are seniors collecting Social Security payments, disabled veterans who need health care and other support after serving our country with distinction, or working families that are paid such a pittance by their employers that they qualify for the EITC and other credits so they can at least put food on the table, are neither dependent nor entitled and actually exemplify the American work ethic much more than Romney and his silver-spoon contributors.

But for better or worse, much of American domestic political coverage fits into the "horse race" model. It is fed by near-constant polling and focuses mainly on whether or not a candidate is up or down. Movements can be attributed to news events, statements made by candidates, or even just by what stage it is in the campaign, but while many viewers find it exciting or interesting (otherwise they would just switch to something else) it has a huge flaw in that it tends to be very narrowly focused on the personalities of the candidates, with their ideas rarely if ever coming into the picture. As a result, much of the coverage of the video has centered on how badly it hurts Romney's electoral chances, how it showed fatal flaws in his ability to relate to the "average American", and speculation about how he might try to pick up the pieces and mount something resembling a competent campaign. While I certainly love how all this is exposing Romney for what he is, it will likely now also give the GOP a convenient excuse when he loses in a few weeks. Once again they will be able to focus on the fact that they picked a bad candidate to be their standard-bearer, without once asking themselves whether or not that standard is one that even should be borne. And that is a shame, because while Romney certainly is a bad candidate, everything he is saying is pretty much on script with the GOP platform.

If there is one thing I have learned about observing the GOP over the past several years, as it has gone from a respectable political party that intelligent people could support to one that is now dominated by the most extreme partisans and is on the verge of both moral and intellectual bankruptcy, is that introspection does not appear to be its strong point. Whenever something does not go its way, the GOP will always search for explanations outside of itself and its ideas, because even broaching the possibility that those ideas might be wrong is now heresy to the highest degree. More thoughtful conservatives, such as David Frum, who have tried to make the party have this internal discussion now have little influence among the faithful, even if they appear respectable to the rest of the world, and those faithful continue to remain in their evidence-proof echo chamber. Will another electoral defeat jolt some sense into the few GOP-ers who have some, and lead them to the conclusion that maybe it isn't bad candidates or non-existent voter fraud that makes them lose, but the fact that their policy ideas from 12 years ago were disastrous when actually implemented and they haven't offered anything substantial since? Maybe, but I'm not counting on it. In fact, the GOP pushing themselves further into irrelevancy is probably just what this country needs. 

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