Thursday, September 25, 2008

Was Mitt Romney trying to prove my point?

A while back I posted an e-mail that I wrote that read:

Another issue that this brings to light: Thomas Frank has a new book coming out in a few days called The Wrecking Crew about how the conservative movement in power yields incompetent and ruinous government. Yet, whether in power or not, the noise machine figures spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week blaming "liberals" for all problems in America.

For example, they say vote for Republicans as a solution to fiscally irresponsible Democrats. They get in power and bankrupt the country and then say vote for Republicans as a solution to fiscally irresponsible Democrats. You get the idea ... they're very good at scapegoating, not so good at governing.
Despite my awareness of this Republican penchant for tilting at windmills, I still find it flabbergasting to witness in action. Take, for example, Mitt Romney's speech at the Republican National Convention. He could hardly have done more to make my point for me.

Romney begins by saying that we need to "change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington!" and to "throw out the big government liberals." Remember that this is a campaign speech for the Republican presidential candidate. Is Mitt Romney unaware that the Executive office has been under Republican rule for the last 8 years? that the "big government liberals" Romney is talking about are President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and the Republican Congress that they had for much of their time in office?

The thing is is that it doesn't matter that Republicans have controlled much or most of the federal government - executive, legislative and judiciary - since 1980. Republicans such as Romney exist in a realm of mythology and imagination; where "liberals" are always to blame and "conservatives" by definition are never responsible for bad government. As Thomas Frank puts it in The Wrecking Crew (since blockquoting translates all text into italics, I've bolded words that Frank had italicized)

If we adopt the conservatives' own timeline and date their "revolution" to Reagan's election, it has been twenty-eight years. From that day to this, with only a few interruptions, conservatives have held either executive or legislative power over the very state that it is their article of faith to despise. The big government that they rail against, is, by and large, their government.
But "conservatives" can not recognize responsiblity for their governance because it is at odds with their ideological mythology. The narrative remains the same regardless of what the reality is: "liberals" and the "big government" establishment are the problem; "conservatives" are the solution. Frank elaborates this point through out the book

The conservatives' sense of their own exclusion is fundamental; it predicates everything they do, say, and enact. The government is never theirs, no matter how much of it they happen to control ...


The hallucination is dazzling, awesome. For most of the last three decades these [self-described] insurgents have controlled at least one branch of government; they were underwritten in their rule by the biggest of businesses; they were backed by a robust social movement with chapters across the radio dial. Still, however, they are the victims, the outsiders; they fight the power, the establishment, the snobs, the corrupt.
Why? Because faux populism is the movement's answer to selling an agenda designed to benefit a select few that in reality is unpopular with the American public. Heads we win, tails you lose scape-goating is a built-in epistemic component of the ideology of the conservative movement.

The conservatism that made such a huge comeback in the seventies and eighties was a mutation specifically adapted to survive a disaster of the 1929 variety. By which I do not mean that conservativsm abandoned laissez-faire, its raison d'etre, but that from now on it would present itself to the world as a form of opposition to the established order, changing its shape as circumstances required. From now on it would be a movement not of bankers and manufacturers but of outsiders, of rebels, of freedom fighters, even. It would recruit and mobilize the embittered and the aggrieved - blue-collar patriots worried about the Soviet threat, born-again Christians watching their culture fall apart - and form them into a vast grassroots insurgency. It would wallow in preposterous theories about the secret treason of the ruling liberals and encourage the darkest imaginable interpretation of the government's every deed. This was a movement defined by what it was against.

And the main thing it was against, as everyone knows, was Big Government, which is to say, the liberal state or, more commonly, just Washington. To this day, conservatives keep the volleys coming with remarkable consistency, deouncing the federal city and its works.
It's a sort of perverse form of the No True Scotsman tactic. Witness this dazzling jewel from Romney:

Is a Supreme Court liberal or conservative that awards Guantanamo terrorists with Constitution rights? It's liberal!
I'm not even sure where to begin with this; it's impressive the amount of b.s. Romney can manage to fit into a 14 word sentence. But let's star with this: There are 9 justices on the Supreme Court. Exactly 2 of those 9 were appointed by a Democratic president. The "liberal" Supreme Court has a majority - 6 out of 9 justices - appointed by either Bush 41, Bush 43, or Reagan - all appointments made since the conservative movement has taken over the Republican party. Given that Antonin Scalia has rebuked the Bush administration on occasion for its unilateral assertion of extra-Constitutional authority, that would make him a "liberal" too.

Which leads to the second point: the Supreme Court has never ruled that "Guantanamo terrorists" should be awarded "Constitution rights." The Supreme Court has ruled, however, that the President can not unilaterally abrogate the rule of law; that he can not unilaterally strip American citizens and legal residents of the rights that they are guaranteed by the Constitution; it has ruled that the most basic and essential foundation of our democratic society which stretches back to the 13th century - habeus corpus - can not be unilaterally voided by the President.

Romney's ideal "conservative" Supreme Court would hand the President the powers that when exercised by other countries we rightly denounce as the tools and foundation of tyranny. This reveals how authoritarian and fundamentalist the psuedo-conservative mindset has become; a "conservative" jurist is not defined by having conservative leanings and political views, but by how loyally the jurist is willing to provide sanction for the fiat of a Republican president (so long as that President himself is considered a "conservative" true believer.)

And lastly, it is by now well documented that many of those persons held at Guantanamo are not terrorists, nor were they captured on a battlefield. And we know that at least dozens have been held in error. For Romney to continue to collectively refer to everyone who has been held at Guantanamo as "terrorists" is sickening. Apparently, in "conservative" America the standard of justice is innocent until designated guilty by the President and then guilty for then and evermore no matter what. Or like the Red Queen said: Sentence first, verdict after.

Here are a couple more whoppers from Romney:

  • Is government spending — excluding inflation — liberal or conservative if it doubles since 1980? — It's liberal!
  • The right course is the one championed by Ronald Reagan 30 years ago and by John McCain today. It is to rein in government spending and to lower taxes ...
Here we see the best examples of what I was originally talking about. Government spending is "liberal" by definition, even when the "liberals" doing it are named Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. And yet since Reagan is a hero of the conservative movement he is still credited as "rein[ing] in government spending." The compartmentalized thinking neccesary to circumvent cognitive dissonance is truly staggering.

Back to Thomas Frank:

When Reagan took over in 1981, he inherited an annual deficit of $59 billion and a national debt of $914 million; by the time he and his successor George Bush I had finished their work, they had quintrupled the deficit and pumped the debt up to $4 trillion.
And then Clinton came into office and the budget eventually got balanced and the annual deficit was transformed into a surplus. Which George W. Bush - the man Romney has conveniently forgotten has been President for the last 8 year, and whose economic policies McCain plans to continue - immediately turned back into massive deficits. Romney truly is residing in some sort of imaginary parallel universe. As Frank puts it

The irony of it all has been noted so many times that it is unnecessary to describe it in detail here. Republicans come to power again and again promising balanced budgets and howling against deficits - government debt was "mortgaging our future," Ronald Reagan admonished in his inaugural address - but once in office they proceed, with a combination of tax cuts [mostly for the super-rich] and spending increases, to balloon the federal deficit to levels far beyond those reached by their supposedly openhanded liberal rivals. So mechanically and so predictably do they embark on this course that it has basically become part of their identity, their brand. Vote Republican and watch the deficit grow.
Now here’s my favorite bit of reality revision from Romney

It's time for the party of big ideas, not the party of Big Brother!
I can imagine that George Babbitt – pre crisis of conscience – might have been able to interpret 1984 as an allegorical attack on liberalism and the welfare state, but that isn’t exactly what the social democrat George Orwell had in mind. No, what Orwell was actually concerned with was how a totalitarian state would attain and maintain power; and the primary means by which the party of Big Brother did so was by creating a state of perpetual war which was used to justify a state of perpetually curtailed liberties. Quoting Douglass Kellner in Towards a New Political Humanism:

In his prophetic novel 1984, George Orwell envisaged a grim condition of total warfare in which his fictional state Oceania ruled its fearful and intimidated citizens through war, police state terror, surveillance, and the suppression of civil liberties. This constant warfare kept Oceania’s citizens in a perpetual situation of mobilization and submission. Further, the Orwellian state controlled language, thought, and behavior through domination of the media and was thereby able to change the very meaning of language (“war is peace”) and to constantly rewrite history itself.
If anyone is the “party of Big Brother” it’s the one that gave us the Patriot Act, illegal authorization of the Pentagon to begin warrantless surveillance on US citizens, unilateral assertion of Executive authority to throw American citizens in prison indefinitely without charge or trial; the party which sells wars by rewriting history to link the enemy of the moment to 9/11 (e.g. Iraq and Iran); the party which desires to make the actions of its leaders secret and unaccountable to the public; the party which wants to roll back the Posse Comitatus Act; the party which wages an open assault on science – the most reliable means by which the human species ascertains reality. And that is the Republican Party.

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