Two undercurrents of the Republican Convention jumped from the stage so blatantly they became the white elephant in the room: the irony that the Republicans were running as a party of change, and the championing of bubba-hood over intelligence as qualifications to lead this nation.
Sen. John McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and the subsequent convention rhetoric used to promote her nomination and lash out at the Democrats with partisan rancor, showed just how far the G.O.P. has sunk in its election strategy.
In a country that used to seek “the best and the brightest” to lead our nation, Republicans recently have chosen candidates who have ranked at the bottom of their classes academically (Bush and McCain) and rely frequently on personal beliefs, rather than accepted facts or critical review of performance, to make decisions that are crucial for the nation’s future.
Bush’s appointment of Donald Rumsfeld as head of the Defense Department and his willingness to keep him in place in the face of abysmal failure and a ruinous foreign policy for the first five years of his presidency, for example, were disastrous. Similarly, his decision to ignore the evidence that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and instead invade Iraq, while taking the focus off of capturing Osama bin Laden and defeating the Taliban, has been costly and counterproductive.
History will show that Bush was ill-informed on numerous issues and slow to make corrections because of his lack of intellectual curiosity and his detachment from the details. If he had a preconceived notion on an issue, according to several books on his presidency, he simply didn’t want to hear contradictory information. McCain and Palin, each in their respective ways, show similar inclinations. Equally disconcerting, even as Bush, McCain and the Republicans denounce elitism in the campaign, for the six years they controlled Congress and the White House they showered the rich with tax loopholes and tax cuts while tossing crumbs to the middleclass and poor.
The hypocrisy between the Republicans’ actions and their campaign rhetoric is so blatant that it is almost inconceivable the American voter would not immediately see they were being played as fools and reject the party in a landslide. And, yet, the public has been quick to identify with their stated goals and objectives. They like the sound of what the Republicans claim, even if those policies go against what they believe.
What the Republicans have counted on is a bubba-mentality that dismisses policy and hones in on character assassination as the meat and potatoes of their strategy. Forget policy, just demean the opposition; don’t worry about the truth — during the campaign and while in office — voters won’t pursue right from wrong and the rightwing media will repeat it often enough that some of the mistruths will stick.
This anti-intellectual backlash feeds a national resentment — primarily among Republicans and conservatives — toward those who are the best and brightest of our presidential candidates. It’s a cultural trait that has been developing since Spiro Agnew’s nonsensical attacks on Democrats during Richard Nixon’s discredited presidency, and is heard repeatedly on today’s right-wing broadcasts. The political comments in this vein are nasty, vicious and appealing to those Americans who have the perception, as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman said in a recent column, that “Democrats look down their noses at regular people.”
This perception is based on no evidence (and is contrary to what the Democratic Party works toward), but is fueled by the Republican Party’s caustic rhetoric. (A quick read of the speeches of the Republican Convention versus the speeches of the Democratic Convention — easily found at www.addisonindependent.com — says much of each party’s character. Without a doubt, the G.O.P. was far more partisan, angry, demeaning and derisive of the opposite party; but don’t take our word on this, read the speeches yourself.)
“What the G.O.P. is selling, in other words, is the pure politics of resentment; you’re supposed to vote Republican to stick it to an elite (class) that thinks it’s better than you.” That same attitude became a personal cult around George W. Bush, Krugman continued, that “celebrated his anti-intellectualism and made much of the supposed fact that the ‘misunderestimated’ C-average student had proved himself smarter than all the fancy-pants experts. And when Mr. Bush turned out not to be so smart after all, and his presidency crashed and burned, the angry right… became, if anything, even angrier.”
What’s so outrageous is that McCain — a wealthy Washington insider whose family has been part of the elite for decades — is pretending he isn’t part of the privileged establishment and that Obama is.
Outrageous, that is, until you understand that words don’t mean anything to this party of Bush and McCain. Words are simply used to mislead and confuse, to cover-up mistakes and attack others by being dismissive. It is the opposite of McCain’s promise of ‘straight talk’ and makes one think that whatever the G.O.P. is selling — peace, unity, more jobs or cheap gasoline — will be the opposite of what their policies will deliver. That, at least, is how it’s been these past eight years and there’s no credible evidence to think it would be different under McCain.
Angelo S. Lynn