Monday, May 19, 2014

Anti Maim

There's nothing wrong with Rubio's boilerplate anti-Obama positioning, but there's nothing especially unique about it, either.
Thus spake (or rather wrote) David Harsanyi for Reason magazine the other day, explaining why he thought Marco Rubio is overrated as a Republican presidential contender.  I'm not a regular reader of Reason, by the way: I came to the post via one by Daniel Larison, in which he also gave Rubio a drubbing.  (Also today from Larison: Chris Christie's recent ridiculous foreign-policy speech, and why so few people take Rick Santorum seriously as a presidential candidate.  Belaboring the obvious, you see.)

Unlike many of the Democrats I know, I'm not rooting for the Republicans to come up with an effective candidate for 2016.  At least, that's how it sounds when they concern-troll over the poor quality of today's Republican presidential hopefuls, in the nearly universal treatment of politics and elections as a horse race, or a WWF match.  An "effective" candidate really means someone who can seduce the corporate media and play them all the way to the end, not someone who thinks about issues and policy.  But then, who cares about issues and policy?  The general belief among political elites and those who work for them is that the voters are stupid, only interested in personalities, and must be fooled into voting for your candidate.  Only the true Gnostics see past the shadows on the cave walls to perceive the Ideal Forms.  And who knows?  That might even be true.  I certainly don't mean to overestimate the sagacity of most voters, but then I don't think much of the elites either, who are nowhere near as smart as they like to think, especially when it comes to personality cults.

The trouble with the Republican candidates, it seems to me (and to other, more knowledgeable observers) is that they appeal only to a very restricted sector of voters, mostly older, white, highly religious, racist, and bellicose.  They can certainly generate excitement among such people, who seem to have the free time to pack the rallies and debate halls on weekdays, and also vote.  But there aren't enough of them to win presidential elections, and without gerrymandering and voter suppression there aren't enough to win elections at other levels.  Hence the GOP's reliance on gerrymandering and voter suppression.  And as candidates that appeal to this demographic start trying to appeal to those outside it, as they must do to win the election, they either make fools of themselves before the outsiders by sounding too wingnut, or disappoint the Republican core (as opposed to base) by sounding too moderate.  That seems to be a large part of what has happened to Rubio, as to his predecessors.

The thing that got me about Harsanyi's comment, quoted at the top of this post, is his claim that there's nothing wrong with reflexive "anti-Obama boilerplate."  Maybe there's nothing wrong with it in campaign speeches, but on the job, in Congress, that mindset brought us, among other wonders, dozens of futile attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, demands for more wars, and two debt-ceiling squabbles, one of which shut down the federal government, with all the bad effects attendant on that adventure.  All of these might have been defensible if they'd really spoken for the majority of citizens, but they didn't.  (One of the signs of the Right's detachment from reality is its fondness for organizing events with ludicrously inflated numbers -- the Million Moms Campaign, Thirty Million Patriots, and the like -- which draw only a few stragglers.)  The reflexive anti-Obama mindset of the Republican party has not just been self-defeating for them (can you see my tears of sympathy?), but very harmful for most of America and much of the rest of the world.

I'm all in favor of harsh criticism of bad policy and bad action.  I have no interest in moderation for its own sake in either tone or content.  But reflexive anti-anything or -anybody boilerplate isn't real extremism; it's just reflex.  A two-year-old yelling "No!" does it as well.  And it's not limited to Republicans: remember the popular line among certain Democrats in 2008, "I'll vote for anybody who's Not Bush" -- even though Bush wasn't running?  A related trope was their fear of a Third Bush Term; alas, that was pretty much what we got.

For all that, I don't want to overstress the anti-Obama thing.  My ambivalent pro-Obama friend posted a meme the other day that began: "When one party can hate one president so much that they're willing to destroy the country, something is very, very wrong."  I'm not trying to minimize the Obama-hatred, but as I commented, the Right wants to destroy the country just for the sake of doing it; look at the agenda of Goldwater and Reagan, and you'll see that it long predates Obama.  Their aim is to strangle the federal government in any area where it might actually promote the general welfare, so that most Americans can be made miserably subservient to ruling elites.  Hating Obama is just an added bonus.

If the Republicans did field a sane, competent presidential candidate, she might get my vote.  But such a person would never get past the primaries, or even to them.  And the Democrats, though their candidates will probably contain their insanity somewhat better, are not going to give us anyone who's any good either.