Republican panic about the size of the Federal deficit is wildly inconsistent with their plea to continue Bush-era tax cuts for the rich. Nonetheless they keep harping on both themes. It's emblematic of Republican faith-based politics; they believe we're too dumb to notice their schizophrenia.
For thirty years GOP faith-based ideology has played on a single seductive theme: it's possible for Americans to have it all - guns and butter; low taxes and robust governmental services; cheap energy and a healthy environment - without paying the tab. Republicans promised the political equivalent of manna from heaven. And the Party faithful bought it.
The Republican dumbing of America began in the Reagan presidency when conservative economic ideology began to dominate American political discourse. The Reagan hymnal featured three tunes: helping the rich get richer will inevitably help everyone else, "a rising tide lifts all boats;" markets are inherently self correcting and there's no need for government regulation; and the US does not need an economic strategy because that's a natural consequence of the free market. The cornerstone notion was that crucial policy choices carry no price tag; there's no need for sacrifice. Over time, faith supplanted reason.
The modern apostle of the Republican creed was George W. Bush. At the onset of his "war on terror," Bush didn't ask Americans for broad sacrifice: he didn't ask us to conserve gasoline or to donate blood or do any of the things previous Presidents have requested in time of war; he suggested we go shopping.
Bush's disdain for sacrifice and thoughtful discourse warped the American psyche. While the average citizen was keenly aware of Bush's "war on terror," they had no role to play when the "threat level" was elevated from yellow to orange or red. Widespread anxiety made voters more malleable and helped Republicans win the 2002 and 2004 elections.
Republicans infantilized Americans. Conservatives argued that US policy depended upon information that the average citizen didn't have access to and, if they did, wouldn't understand. In the process "In God We Trust" became "In Bush We Trust." Dumb got dumber.
As US voters regressed, increasing numbers turned to biased information conduits such as FOX NEWS for guidance. Starting in January of 2009, using conservative media outlets and national spokespeople who weren't afraid to lie, Republicans launched a five-part disinformation campaign:
1. The Federal Government caused the financial crisis. Rather than Wall Street greed and lax Bush-era financial regulations, 2008's financial meltdown was caused by governmental policies that forced lenders to give money to unqualified venders.
2. The Obama Administration lavished massive bailouts on financial institutions and the auto industry. Rather than acknowledge that the bailouts occurred at the end of the Bush Administration, Republicans blamed them on Obama.
3. Obama's stimulus package accomplished nothing beyond increasing the national debt. Rather than acknowledge that the stimulus package kept the US from sliding into a terrible depression, Republicans pointed to the fact that the unemployment rate was higher than the Obama Administration anticipated and used this as the basis for labeling the stimulus a failure.
4. Government cannot do anything to solve the unemployment crisis; the solution will have to come from the private sector, businesses have to start hiring. Rather than acknowledge that the Obama Administration saved hundreds of thousands of jobs through the stimulus package and loans to automakers, Republicans claimed there was no impact.
5. The only way to increase the number of jobs is to reduce taxes. Republicans rejected the positive accomplishments of the stimulus package and lied about the employment impact of tax cuts for the rich.
While there's a clear distinction between Republican and Democratic economic policies, many voters continue to sing from the GOP hymnal because they've been infantilized. They only truth these citizens know is that preached by FOX NEWS and their local Republican operative. These are the same people who believe Barack Obama is a Muslim, who claim he's not a citizen, or who don't believe that Hawaii is a state. They're mad as hell and blame the Party in power without understanding the salient details of the debate about US economic policy.
Republican voters aren't dumb in the sense that they lack intelligence. They are childlike because they let others - conservative media personalities - do their thinking for them. They accept Republican arguments on faith because they've been conditioned to do that. (By the way,white voters who frequently attend church are overwhelmingly Republican; in 2008 74 percent of voters who described themselves as White, Evangelical/Born Again voted for John McCain.)
So the November 2nd elections aren't just about which Party should control Congress. Or whether our economic policy should be predicated on government spending or massive tax cuts. Or who is a "true" Christian. It's an elemental choice between unquestioning faith in FOX NEWS oracles or individual common sense. A choice about how dumb Americans are willing to be.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.