This is going to be a long campaign season. Really, really, really long.
So far, at least, this campaign season is going to go down as being relentlessly, unremittingly negative. There's no bigger vision involved in any of them. The economy is being used as a handy bludgeon, but I don't think anyone honestly thinks anyone in Congress is going to do a damn thing about it, and so "bludgeon" is the best that can be hoped for. There are no constructive proposals, in the literal sense; all of the "big ideas" in government revolve around how much can be trimmed, and lopped off, and destroyed. The closest we get to a positive vision of our American future is when someone proposes we amputate a little less of it than the other guy.
Think about it; what are the big visions being proposed this election season? What are the plans for the nation? Behind the nationalism and flag pins, what, precisely, are candidates proposing that would make America one damn bit better? There is social rhetoric galore, but the only concrete, "big" vision is tax cuts. Very specific tax cuts, targeted at very specific people—the same people that have reaped a whirlwind of tax cuts for the last thirty years. There is a "big" vision to reduce the deficit—but it isn't met with any actual plan to reduce the deficit, because the "tax cut" vision is much, much more important. There is muttering about how religion should play a larger role in American life, and how government must defer to it to a much greater extent, and while I imagine that is seen as a bright future for a certain, narrow set of people, those of us who suspect our religion will not be the be-all, end-all religion chosen for this status regard that rhetoric as a horror show.
Conspiracy theories abound, filling the vacuum where more reasonable thoughts might once have stayed. Birtherism is the most prominent example, since it is a cheap and easy way to appeal to racists without coming out and copping to being one yourself: From Donald Trump to a two-bit Arizona Sheriff, it is the go-to move when you want to mark yourself as conservative leadership material. That's a view that smacks entirely too much of the past, and the nastier parts of the past at that.
Part of the problem is the Republican rejection of the very concept of government. It cannot be a force for good, in their new philosophy, and so the only allowable government actions are to destroy a small part of it. No matter how uncontroversial the program is (S-CHIP, anyone?), it is now railed against as abomination. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, enormously successful social insurance programs, are now all evidence of socialism. Environmental regulations? Screw the entire concept, and call it a secret United Nations conspiracy for good measure. It is a radical and reactionary vision, but more than that, it is relentlessly mean-spirited, and shallow-minded, and it is relentlessly focused on dismantling and destruction. Even if you were to accept the premise that all of this dismantling would somehow lead to a lovely economic renaissance that it has never, ever once led to, that best case scenario still sounds rather grim—a world led by the largest of large corporations, and scraps to everyone else.
I don't know. Republicans used to be quite good at nationalist rhetoric, and stoking notions of American exceptionalism, but even those panders seem to have become far more plasticized and stagnant of late. Yes, we still hear that America is the greatest country in the world, but it's been a long while since any candidate has stated a concrete something that we are best at. Instead we hear that we can't compete with other nations because our standards are too high, and need to be lowered. Our health care? Cut it. Wages? Cut them. Worker rights? Axe them. Environmental rights for your town? Screw it: China doesn't worry about protecting its environment, and look—they're beating us!
Back when Newt Gingrich was the current flavor of the month, the Not-Mitt of that one small moment, he proposed America build a base on the moon. He was roundly laughed at. He was laughed at by Republicans, because they knew he didn't really mean it, and because any Republican congress would disembowel any proposal like that with a gusto usually seen only among serial killers. He was laughed at by Democrats, because we knew he didn't mean it, too, and because it was so ridiculous coming from a modern Republican as to make us wonder whether he stored himself in a sealed box since he had last been in elected office. It was, admittedly, a momentary vision of America as a nation doing something that was grand, and unique, and that only America could do. But it barely lasted a week, and was never heard of again.
There's nothing like that these days. Or even half of it, or a tenth of it. Or even a damn thing. There is no proposal for how America should boldly do this, or America should take the lead on that. There are a hundred different futures waiting to be explored, and our great national vision is to do whichever one is the least ambitious, and takes the least effort, and dismantles the most government. Our grand national vision is not to build rockets, or build dams, or bring electricity to a far-flung nation, or build a transportation network that is the envy of the world; our national vision is to give some tax cuts to wealthy people, because anything else would be socialism, and call it done.
What a rotten national vision. What a long, long campaign season this is going to be.
April 20, 2012
A long campaign season
Posted by Mike at 4/20/2012