Let's call him Dick. He stands for the New Republican, and if polls are accurate he may well reflect today's average American. Since we believe in majority rule, we'd better try to understand the way Dick thinks because Dick may soon be ruling us. Again.
For most of his life, Dick was not engaged in politics. His parents were Republicans, and when he first signed up to vote, he checked "R" because that's what his dad said to do. He's not a Tea Party fanatic. Sarah Palin fascinates him less for her right-wing agenda than some librarian-letting-down-her-hair fantasy. Most of all, Dick is not a socially evolved Republican in the mold of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, or Earl Warren. Dick cannot name the historic accomplishments of these three GOP giants. They are vague figures in that dim, featureless era he calls "the past."Dick has been successful in business -- real estate -- and in personal relationships. He's maintained a respectful marriage and raised decent, healthy kids. He's a good guy to chat with about the weather, pet antics, stock market angst, and action flicks. Concerning politics, though, this New Republican has a maddening, seemingly illogical mentality. Despite his adult accomplishments and status as a grandfather, when it comes to the public arena -- societal concerns, community necessities -- he is mentally arrested. To call his political mentality childish is to insult children.
Dick advocates limited government but favors government surveillance of private citizens and endorses detention of suspects without charges. Dick gets red-faced with anger about deficits, but approved of the Republican raid on the huge Clinton surplus in 2001 and has no problem transferring taxpayer dollars to wealthy individuals, large corporations, and no-bid military contractors. He flaunts patriotism and grows misty over "America," but openly resents the vast majority of the fellow citizens who make up America. He professes to love our country but defends the destruction of our countryside; he supports multinationals that blast mountaintops in West Virginia, poison the Hudson River, and slick the Gulf of Mexico.
Yes, his positions may seem contradictory. But if we understand four key underlying principles of the New Republican, we can glean the rationale for Dick's attitudes. Although the four pillars holding up Dick's mentality may be primitive and self-serving, they are logical.
1. Unwillingness to Pay for Programs that Help Strangers
Dick has no empathy or compassion beyond his small circle of family and friends. This accounts for his blithe disregard of our young neighbor's cancer (Dick has never really met her). He despises the very thought of "government health care," but considers his life-saving, Medicare-funded surgery nothing less than his due. (Despite his cigar-smoking, red-meat-chomping, whiskey-swilling ways). He had no objections to his dying mother's government-funded, taxpayer charity when doctors took heroic measures to keep her alive -- comatose and miserable -- for a few more insanely expensive days. Dick saw no ethical conundrum because it was his mom, not some stranger's mother.For Dick, family equals fondness. Stranger equals danger.
Dick rails against rent subsidies for the poor "welfare chiselers," but happily accepts the taxpayer-funded dollars he collects in rent from his subsidized renters. He despises what he perceives as people -- strangers -- getting "something for nothing." He opposes a bike-sharing program in our city because the first 30 minutes of use is free; after that, riders play a small fee. He resents a city program for poor kids, which sponsors nature hikes and waives summer public pool fees. Even though both programs cost taxpayers nothing, being business-funded and volunteer-run, Dick objects. "When I was a kid, my parents paid for my bikes and recreation fees out of their own pockets. How come these kids get a free ride? It's not fair."
2. Belief that Free Markets are Natural and Completely Beneficial
In Dick's logic, free markets are like oxygen, and any regulation of their functions chokes him personally. He chanted "drill, baby, drill," along with other New Republicans and would love to see deep-water oil rigs off Delaware and Oregon. No need for government inspection and regulation. He feels meat-packers will withdraw contaminated products "naturally" after the first strangers' children sicken and die. Lenders can loosen or tighten credit at whatever rates they choose, whatever that "natural" market will bear.It never occurs to Dick that there is nothing natural about markets, which are just another human invention. He's never perceived that the entire public-funded infrastructure exists to facilitate the markets' "freedom." He cannot tolerate safety regulations because strangers should be smart enough to protect themselves. Yet if his grandchild (see #1) were to become slicked in an oil spill, his fist would be the first one shaking on the beach. Coal companies' complete destruction of whole Appalachian watersheds is "the natural price of heating our homes," but Dick would bring a lawsuit against heating-oil contamination of his grandchildren's swimming pond (see #1).
3. Belief That Secular Texts Are Sacred
It's logical to admire the best features of our Constitution. But Dick, who's no more religious than a goat, fetishizes the founding text; like a conservative imam idolizing the Koran, Dick believes each word in the Constitution is "sacred." He believes the Bill of Rights was handed down from God (a white-bearded white guy) exactly as Moses (Charlton Heston) received the Ten Commandments. It doesn't occur to Dick that the founding documents were written by humanistic and brilliant anti-Royalists; fallible, rowdy Colonial rebels. It doesn't occur to Dick that our two most nettlesome rights are poorly written, grammatical disasters that have plagued us for centuries. (Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion: What the hell does that mean? A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Where is the verb that should belong to the subject, "A well regulated militia"? What the hell does that dangling phrase mean before the clause?)
Dick's thinking seeks a semi-divine blessing, an absolutism that closes all argument and shuts out doubt; he would have another heart attack upon hearing that the U.S. Constitution is imperfect, flexible, and temporal. As with the Bible (which he has never read), the Constitution (which he has never read) must be interpreted "literally, as the Founders intended" though that would literally leave us with a nation where white landowners like Dick enjoy freedom and liberty while blacks remain enslaved and women remain unable to vote or own property.
Dick is uneasy with ambiguity, exceptions, gray areas, and individual interpretations. His deep rage against illegal immigration fixates on breaking The Law, as if a few phrases about entry into the United States were the summit of all human jurisprudence. "What part of illegal don't they understand!" he exclaims, as if that closes the case. Yet Dick violates The Law constantly, as we all do -- jaywalking, speeding, offering his 20-year-old nephew a beer, and fudging his tax details. Dick simply cannot grasp the concept of legal flexibility (except when he or his family require flexibility).
Dick can't admit that the Law can easily be ignored when the actions cause no serious harm and may even be beneficial. "Illegal immigrants," no matter how much their cheap labor benefits him on rental repairs, are an unmitigated evil because (see #1) they are the ultimate strangers: often dark-skinned, always foreign, and violators of the Sacred Law.
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