Not a real fan of the options this year, but...

2012-11-05 20:01

Okay, here’s the thing. In general, my intuition is that Republican candidates tend to advocate economic policies which are more likely to work decently than Democractic candidates. And for a long time, that was enough for me to vote for them even when I had to hold my nose on social issues.

A few things have changed.

First, the Republican party has moved more and more towards Ayn Rand’s model of what freedom is, which is “I got mine; fuck you.” The systematic and widespread contempt for the poor is a serious problem; it’s not sound economics, and I don’t think it’s good governance. Romney’s famous “47%” remarks highlight a number of key flaws with the way prominent Republicans think and talk about “the poor”.

1. Just plain fuzzy thinking; Romney and the people at that event saw nothing wrong with the assumption that the sets “people who pay no federal income taxes”, “people who are relying on government support”, and “people who will vote for Obama no matter what” are the same set, even though it’s quite obvious that no two of them were.
2. Confusion about the many taxes we pay. Many Republican candidates and voters seem to believe that people who don’t pay federal income taxes aren’t paying taxes.
3. Confusion about the stake people have. There is a repeated assertion that people who aren’t paying federal income taxes don’t have anything personally at stake if federal income taxes go up. This is, of course, not always true; many people who don’t currently pay income tax would be paying it if the rates were higher. Furthermore, many of them have paid in the past, or will pay in the future.
4. A mix of dogmatism and inconsistency. The whole thing is magnified by two things; first, Romney’s insistance that he stands by those remarks, even though they were “inelegantly stated”, and second, his later complete retraction of them. Retracting them immediately would have been a sensible and reasonable course of action; people often say things that sound right intuitively, then reject them when confronted. Standing by them for several days despite criticism shows an unwillingness to check your work, and that’s a very bad sign. Retracting them completely later is nice, but plays into…

Second, the interaction between party primaries and general elections makes it impossible to meaningfully find out what many Republican candidates actually stand for. There’s huge pressure during primaries to be as vehemently anti-gay and anti-legal-abortion as possible, followed by huge pressure to stop talking about those issues in the general election. Politicians being what they are, we get a little of everything and no way to tell what candidates really believe. Okay, that’s par for the course, but we also don’t know how they will really vote. And that sort of matters.

Third, the recent behavior of Republican candidates on issues related to abortion, contraception, and so on is simply not one I can live with. The so-called pro-life movement isn’t, at any level, actually about preventing abortion or saving lives. Now, I can to some extent live with people pushing things that I think are harmful when they do so in good faith. These people, however, cannot possibly be acting in good faith. Recent remarks by multiple Republican candidates on topics related to rape highlight a wudesoread complete lack of interest in women’s well-being. And laws like the moderately famous Texas “sonogram” law make it clear that the purpose of these acts is not to save lives, but to punish women for being sluts.

Yes, I’m aware that many candidates (and voters) don’t support these things. But they condone them, which turns out to have similar effects. When I see a Republican candidate condemning these things unambiguously, I’ll give that candidate a pass on these issues.

Fourth, gay rights. Seems pretty straightforward. While Romney’s positions on many issues are sort of hard to read, his position on gays is absolutely unambiguous, and absolutely reprehensible. He’s not just vaguely talking about “preserving marriage” to appeal to the base. No, he’s acting to punish kids for having gay parents. He’s telling gays that he didn’t know they had families, and referring to a lesiban’s “adopted daughter” within minutes of hearing the harrowing story of how she gave birth to the child in question. Here, he’s far from the worst the party has to offer, but he’s not even close to the best. He is, in fact, fairly typical.

When I wrote a local candidate (Mike Dudley) to ask about this, he said he’s in favor of one-man/one-woman laws, but that it’s “not a big part of his platform”. I certainly have to give him credit for taking the time to respond; that’s more than most people would do. But the fact is, it may not be a big deal to him, but then it wouldn’t be — he’s not one of the people being denied basic civil rights. And that, I think, is my general objection:

Fifthly, and most generally, the Republican party seems to have committed to a party-wide view that things that happen to other people are not our problem. Romney doesn’t care about the “very poor”, and it’s not his job to care about “the 47%”, unless you believe him when he says it actually is. Time after time, groups of exclusively male Republican legislators argue that they shouldn’t be including the views of women on issues related to pregnancy and contraception. In short, there is a consistent general pattern that Republican legislative choices are rooted in the effects of that legislation on those present and maybe on the people they think will vote for them. That is not a decent way to run a country.

Sixth, the Republican party has become more and more vehemently unwilling to cooperate. This has drawn significant commentary in the last year or two, because it’s something of a change. Prior to the Obama administration, Congress might oppose the president’s views, or opposing sides in Congress might gridlock, but there was a general understanding that, at the end of the day, there was work to get done. No longer the case — and it is not remotely plausible to blame this one on the Democrats, tempting though it might seem. The Republican party, thanks to the newly-energetic “Tea Party” base, has a much higher than usual density of people who are unwilling to consider compromises. More generally, there is a consistent distinction in fundamental values between American “conservatives” and “liberals”, in that most liberals do not regard loyalty to a group as a moral value, while most conservatives do. This results in a party much more willing and able to guarantee a strict party-line vote, and to do so even when the obvious and immediate result is disasterous.

Seventh, the ideological commitment to science-denial of various sorts has gotten utterly ridiculous. The Republican party continues to, in general, present the notion that there is no real scientific consensus on whether our climate is changing, or whether those changes are related to things humans have done. The consensus there isn’t quite as solid as the consensus on evolution, but it’s okay, the Republican party as a whole steadfastly denies that there is a consensus there, either. There are plenty of open questions that scientists are legitimately disputing and studying to do with climate change, but the Republicans have worked hard to create the illusion of a serious dispute where none exists. “Even die-hard skeptics have long since conceded that point.“

I like the idea of smaller government, but the Republican party hasn’t been about smaller government for years. They’ve been about smaller social services, based on a consistent delusion that “welfare fraud” is a huge problem which dominates welfare costs; that’s cost us millions in lost productivity, and millions upon millions in extra paperwork and bureaucracy, but it hasn’t saved us enough money to notice. They’ve been all about making the government larger and more intrusive when it comes to marriage (state’s rights? Not on this issue, say the Republicans), drugs, and the like. They have spent many, many, millions promoting Voter ID laws which are carefully crafted such that of all the examples of vote fraud out there in the world today, not one is on offer that would have been prevented by such laws. At least one strategist, realizing that his career was over due to other problematic behaviors, finally came out and admitted that the goal was to suppress poor, minority, and elderly voters, who are disproportionately affected.

The Republican party in its modern form relies on the Big Lie, and relies on it heavily. Ads for voter ID trumpet “over a thousand” fraudulent votes cast in MN’s recent election; the Hennepin County attorney responds that the number of fraudulent votes was much, much, smaller. Furthermore, the letter points out, the problem which permitted any of those fraudulent votes was unrelated to ID, and has already been addressed; voter ID wouldn’t have had any impact, because all the fraudulent votes were cast by people who were in fact who they said they were, lived at the address given, and so on. From “death panels” to the assertion that Stephen Hawking could never have lived in a society which had socialized medicine, to robocalls to Democratic voters telling them they have to vote on Wednesday, the modern Republican party has committed wholeheartedly to this. The cluster of bad actors around Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and so on continues to be a spectacular source of epic dishonesty — and highly popular with the party’s voter base. Multiple pundits insisted that Obama hadn’t called the embassy attacks acts of terror, and did so in ridiculously flimsy ways — but Repubican voters and supporters accepted this testimony in droves. (Not all, mind; I’ve known several who rejected that one as Too Ridiculous.)

It needs to stop, and it’s not going to stop while these tactics work, and it’s not going to stop while people who sort of disagree or disapprove continue to vote for them anyway on the grounds that they’re “better”. Ultimately, the difference is this:

When Republicans are told of Republican politicians and the like doing sleazy things, they totally disregard the criticism, claiming that the Democrats did it worse. No action is taken, because it would not be Playing To Win if you were to stop cheating when you think someone else is cheating.

By contrast, time and time again, I have seen Democratic voters and politicians step up and condemn such actions. When some wit on tumblr announced that she’d filled out her nana’s absentee ballot, and “She hates Obama, but little does she know she just voted for him”, there was an immediate dogpile of people who are voting for Obama, one describing Romney as “a sucking chest wound of a person”, who condemned this in no uncertain terms.

That’s what it comes down to. One party believes you should play fair. If we were to ditch the psychopaths and get back a party that believes you should play fair, but that the government should be smaller, we might have more interesting elections again.

Peter Seebach