Thursday, April 19, 2012

Vote Republican (if you're so inclined, but not for these reasons)

I am writing tonight to follow up on a graphic I posted on Facebook earlier this week. As anticipated, the graphic, an attack on current Republican dogma, drew several comments, both critical and supportive, on the message I was trying to convey.

One of my conservative friends, Kari, posted a comment in response to the graphic. "Scraping the bottom of the barrel, Sam? I expect much more thoughtful discourse from you. ;-)."

I responded to Kari by promising to blog, "expanding on the theme (with sources)". Here goes.

Let's start with the message in the graphic:



I introduced the graphic with this observation:
I know a number of my friends aren't going to like this. The truth is, these are positions that have been championed by candidates they've supported to various degrees. Might as well own up to it now if these are the opinions/values/programs you want to see prevail in November.

I proved to be particularly prophetic. A firestorm of comments ensued. As of this writing several days later, there have been about 50. More conservative friends went post to post with more progressive friends, including a number of self-proclaimed former Republicans.

The fact that the graphic evoked such strong visceral reactions results, I believe, from a fundamental conflict within the Republican party. As I noted when I posted the graphic, "the truth is, these are positions that have been championed by candidates they've supported to various degrees." The further truth is that a majority of Republicans and Independents think the platform presented is nonsense. The final truth is that our political system has failed us to the extent that we encourage candidates looking to gain traction in early contests to throw red meat to the faithful to generate newsworthy turnout and support.

Unfortunately for principaled conservatives who do not support the scapegoating, denigration and baseless soundbites that pass for political discourse, there is neither an alternative debate nor sufficient demand for one to silence the idiots.

The phenomena is not limited to conservatives. Four years ago, John Edwards was pulling stunts like recreating RFK's tour of inner city ghettos as a means of demonstrating his populist leanings. Senators Obama and Clinton were tripping over one another to distance themselves from the war in Iraq. In this cycle, my progressive friends clamor for wealthy individuals to pay their "fair share" of taxes, playing number games with percentages that ignore the fact that multiplying any percentage by a high income generates a lot of tax revenue. In the final analysis, how much is enough?

One of the most thoughtful comments on the post was from a woman who declared, "I am a Republican and I do not believe in any of these statements." If more Republicans who share her belief system spoke out, and if more Democrats similarly renounced campaigning by pandering to the lowest common denominator, we might actually return to problem solving and civil debate. Unfortunately, we treat our political campaigns like reality TV competitions and our candidates survive by ridiculing their opponents and avoiding the controversy that comes from standing up to the proponents of the theories contained in the Facebook graphic.

I promised Kari sources. Here goes.

1. Corporations are People. This one is easy. I agree. Maybe "people" is the wrong word. But corporations are separate legal entities. They were invented for that purpose. They have allowed remarkable achievements and prosperity not possible through a mere assemblage of individuals. Corporations are separate and distinct from their owners, the shareholders. Their debts and their assets belong to the corporate entity until otherwise assumed or distributed. Where things have gotten out of hand is the claim that corporations have separate First Amendment rights to political speech. Corporations are to its shareholders and management what Charlie McCarthy was to Edgar Bergen. No one would have allowed Charlie to use his income to contribute to political candidates for the same obvious reason that ought to apply to corporate participation in politics.

2. Women who use birth control are sluts. This platform is derived from the Rush Limbaugh/Sandra Fluke controversy. Check out the interesting take the Christian Science Monitor had on the controversy. Here, given the opportunity to take Limbaugh to task for his off the wall attack on Sandra Fluke, GOP candidates shucked and jived. Rather than thoughtful discussion about the conflicts between individual rights and religious freedom, it was safer not to incur demagogue Limbaugh's wrath. Governor's Romney's comment, "It's not language I would have used", leaves the impression that it wasn't the attack that was out of line, just the inclusion of raw language in destroying the reputation of a woman following her constitutional right to petition Congress for a redress of her grievances.

3. College students are snobs. This plank apparently misstates Senator Santorum's characterization of President Obama as a "snob" for saying everyone should go to college. Leaving aside the fact that President Obama never said that and has championed trade schools and community colleges as an alternative, study after study confirms that persons with more education trend higher in income and the ability to support their families. But Rick Santorum was not courting an educated electorate. His demographic is the less educated, malleable malcontent who blames folks who have achieved some modicum of success for their plight. Senator Santorum played the snob card and ran with it because it generated buzz in the media and support among a constituency looking for a scapegoat.

4. Gay Americans are an abomination. This plank overstates the case, but just barely. Opposition to repeal of DOMA is largely as Republican cause, as is the submission of constitutional amendments for popular vote. For background, check out this link on Senator Santorum. Governor Romney is not in strong disagreement in this election cycle.

5. Poor people deserve to be poor. This is a stretch. Certainly, unlike the positions outlined above, no one is campaigning on this slogan. It largely derives from fiscal conservatives wanting to cut programs that give people living in poverty opportunities to better themselves.

6. Union workers are Socialist thugs. Unions have become more and more of a scapegoat for the failure of the Obama administration to increase employment. The alleged stranglehold on the economy is belied by the falling numbers in union membership. Fox News is a leader is utilizing disinformation about union organizing and its effects.

7. The unemployed are lazy parasites. This was a popular belief offered by Congressman Gingrich as he railed against extending unemployment benefits. While he did not always get away with it (see discussion towards end of link), GOP opposition to extending benefits was as much about opposition to encouraging laziness as it was about the financial pressures of paying for the program.

8. Latinos are illegal until proven otherwise. This is another example of an overstatement not far from the truth. Recent legislation adopted in Arizona and Alabama, and pending in the rest of the alphabet, effectively turns the U.S. into a police state for people of Hispanic descent. Governor Perry was dismissed for a lot of reasons, not least of which was his support of immigration reform and his refusal to disavow the impossibility of deporting 10 million illegal immigrants. As an aside, I often tell clients that one person's "amnesty" is another person's plea bargain. Funny how many conservative Republicans are looking for amnesty if they get as much as a speeding ticket.

9. The Bible trumps the Constitution. You'd have to have been deaf, dumb and blinde these past few months not to have noticed the injection of religious reasoning into proposals for public policy. Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum were leading proponents of Evangelical Christian dogma as a solution to the problems arising in our foundering society. The whole dispute with the Catholic Church over whether the government can require its contracted health plans to provide a birth control option arises over a dispute about the scope of the Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution.

10. Global Warming is a Hoax. Yes it's scary and, yes, it will be expensive to fix. But real leadership would speak candidly about the problem and not just scoff because Al Gore made it a priority topic of discussion. Here's a link that made its way around Facebook. It's from Minnesota's own Paul Douglas. And, yes, it's scary.

11. The Auto Industry should go bankrupt. Another example of semantics being used recklessly. The auto industry (or, at least, a large share of it) did go bankrupt, and the results of the Chapter 11 reorganizations proved highly beneficial compared to liquidating as an alternative. The issue comes down to whether Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization would have been possible without U.S. government financing. Governor Romney has been on both sides of the issue and is justifiably criticized in my mind for taking a cavalier attitude about the fallout from massive layoffs across the industry. Having done a fair amount of Chapter 11 reorganizations, on behalf of both debtors and creditors, I do not think bankruptcy financing necessary to reorganizing GM and Chrysler would have been available in 2008 except from the Federal government.

12. The U.S. President is a Muslim agent from Kenya. This is a classic case of playing to the fears of the uninformed electorate. If you're dependent on ratings to make a living, why not engage in ridiculous conspiracy theories and pump up the rhetoric, forever?

Bottom line is that the planks in the platform characterized in the Facebook graphic represent very real positions, theories, and attitudes promulgated by the most vociferous element of the GOP's constituency. If I was a more moderate, educated Republican, I would also be defensive about being painted with this drivel. But the best defense is a good offense. Rather than being upset about the sarcastic "Vote Republican 2012" tagline, join together in speaking out against those who trivialize legitimate inquiry into the direction our country is heading and offer realistic solutions.

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