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Apocalyptic Republicanism

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There is a sense in which we can understand the current Republican strategy of "taking the economic medicine while fighting the Democrats tooth and nail." It is a sense of repugnance they have for what they reflexively call the welfare state, the image of ugly masses feasting from the hard work of honest, upright, upstanding, virtuous Republicans. It is also part and parcel of their theory of disaster capitalism, an unavoidable and not-to-be-monkeyed-with natural economic phenomenon. They prefer this imagery to the facts on the ground, and it fits with their current strategy of refusing to participate in anything appearing to be a coalition or cooperation for a mutual interest. There is also a stern authoritarian Sunday-school teacher aspect of this which requires an additional explanation.

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With the election finally over and the birthplace of Barack Hussein Obama all but universally recognized to be the the State of Hawai'i two years after statehood, the Republicans have been startlingly truculent and have been carrying out McCain's disdainful "that one" strategy. They know perfectly well that if they cave in to cooperation, they will lose centrist Republicans and blue-collar people cowed by 9/11ism over the next two years. They need desperately to prove that Republicanism is a vital and intellectually viable approach to governance and economy, so they feel they must stand firm on principles that have "only recently" been discredited ... as if the public will forget that Republican libertarian recklessness and as if it makes any difference how long it has been discredited. Discredited means discredited.

Republicans are hoping, against all the gloom and doom advice their brokers and investment consultants are pouring into their eager ears, that this is just a recession and that everything the Obama Administration is doing is excessive and will be a campaign launching platform for two and four years hence. Their hope flies against powerful winds from virtually all the economists and the news from all over the planet. What then could it be that makes these dogmatic people stand so pat with such a lousy hand? Do they really think that a minority party can bluff its way past a decade long depression in a matter of a couple years?

Look around. The Republicans have no national leader who has garnered the sworn allegiance of the moderates, the conservatives, the religious, the non-religious, the racists and the non-racists. In fact, when described accurately, the various camps of "Republicans" under that tattered tent appear to be less and less a political party and more and more a melange of "perpetual tantrums" that would do Trotsky proud were it the other side of the aisle. The tantrum is about equity and fairness in an iniquitous and unfair world. It is about a moral position that really does not exist. It is a fable, brought up short by the daily lives of those who preach it, dreamed of by the modest souls for whom the real present is so far in "the future" that their heads swim. Their moral position is that society creates moral hazards, like parents do when they fight, divorce, and show all the signs of being human. Morally hazardous civic behaviors-defined as the Democratic ethos-is an easy target because it is so fundamentally uncertain. Certainty resides only in rigid authoritarian postures where national government is strict and virtuous, a state of affairs that could only exist behind closed doors and Cheneyesque secrecy.

The issue of moral hazardry points but to one national leader and it is not Bobby Jindal, the governor of wretched Louisiana. It is, of course, Sarah Palin who inherits whatever bounty this current Republican obsession with moral certitude brings. Palin is the bete noir of the Democrats, the Republicans think. They have already agreed among themselves that only Sarah can save them from fractious dissolution. She does this by being "a morally certain person," playing to the utmost fear of the Republican masses, uncertainty itself. Within this view is the Apocalypse; the belief that end-times are near and that, if you have not been good up to now, this is basically your last chance to purchase a halo and learn how to wear it correctly.

For those Republicans who tend to dismiss the Apocalypse, the imagery nevertheless is fortuitous and easily managed for political purposes. After all, what could go wrong with a strategy that chastens people into being more righteous? What indeed! What could be better than a public strategy that tugs at the administration to keep it from doing all that it could do, which has the deniability that outright lies and misrepresentations can easily assist-the deniability of virtue and righteousness? Who but the Republicans lies about being righteous! And, of course, the effect is to dull the point of the administration's program, to make it less and less effective, a failure, one which the Republicans "had nothing to do with."

The strategy might work if the Democrats and particularly their leader do not move smartly over to Phase Two of post-partisanship. Phase Two is to abandon broadcast bi-partisanship and go entirely for targets of opportunity-the moderates and secularists. The idea is to make it quite plain that the Palin Plan is not secular, not rational, not ever going to be effective, and her movement is just a disjointed smattering of Republican politicians exploiting the moral gullibility of the frightened people.

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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) a long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese (more...)

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