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“We Did Build That”: The GOP Identification Of Self Worship With Virture

I was pretty much focused on the speeches in Tampa last night, and less on the videos and other trappings, and so didn’t write about the overarching theme of “We Did Build That.” It was, as the New York Times’ Bill Keller noted, pretty odd to see a retort to something Barack Obama actually never said become the dominant theme of the convention dedicated to ousting him from power.

But the one honest thing about this theme and its power among conservatives is the righteous indignation it arouses. Wealthy people, and even some not-so-wealthy people often become furious at the suggestion that their “success” is not purely and simply a tribute to their moral superiority and hard work. The flip side of this calculation, of course, is that people who aren’t so successful are not so virtuous and/or are lazy. When Virtuous Republican Businessman was putting in that extra hour of labor, Lazy Democratic Looter was asleep, or having sex, or doing something else unvirtuous. Or so goes the mythology.

This identification of “success” (i.e., wealth) with virtue, ancient as it is, has always laughably defied common human experience. The hardest working people on earth are those who are literally working to keep from starving. Relatively few of them live in the United States to begin with, and those who do are rarely Republicans. And pride over one’s “success,” particularly if it is expressed via conspicuous wealth, has been the target of stern warnings in virtually every major religious tradition.

It has taken many decades of laborious revisionist work for the devout, scripturally literalist adherents of the faith whose God and Savior was quoted as saying, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,” to become uninhibited enthusiasts for earthly success and wealth, and despisers of the “undeserving” poor. It’s the same revisionism, of course, that makes it possible for the Roman Catholic Vice Presidential Nominee of the Republican Party to fondly view Ayn Rand as an “intellectual influence,” instead of someone whose books any Christian should abjure like a Black Mass—someone whose fondest desire was to wipe both religion and altruism from the face of the earth.

But such thoughts do not seem to trouble the delegates in Tampa, for whom Paul Ryan is their true leader for decades to come, their very own Ronald Reagan.

I’ve spent a lot of my life around the non-college educated white voters who seem to be the only “swing voters” the GOP is concerned about at the moment, and while a lot of them do indeed tend to “kick down” and resent the “undeserving poor” they view as too lazy to work, they don’t automatically admire the very wealthy—their own bosses, for example—as paragons of virtue. So I suspect this whole “We Did Build That” theme is basically for the emotional benefit of the GOP base and its donors. It says a lot that at a National Convention their hurt feelings must be so lavishly propitiated. And it is about “hurt feelings,” as TNR’s Leon Wieseltier suggests in his savage takedown of Paul Ryan and his intellectual pretensions today:

It is no wonder that Ryan, and of course Romney, set out immediately to distort the president’s “you didn’t build that speech” in Roanoke, because in complicating the causes of economic achievement, and in giving a more correct picture of the conditions of entrepreneurial activity, Obama punctured the radical individualist mythology, the wild self-worship, at the heart of the conservative idea of capitalism.

“Self-worship” is an apt term for people who have all the material abundance anyone could hope for in this life, but still burn with resentment at the “lucky ducky” working poor who don’t have federal income tax liability, and are insulted at the very idea that they owe something back to their community. I hope they enjoyed their evening of self-congratulation last night. To mention another saying by Jesus Christ with respect to self-regarding “godly” folk: “They have received their reward in full.”

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 29, 2012

August 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Secret Weapon Is Us”: You Didn’t Build It, Mitt Romney, We All Did

The Republican National Convention opened by smacking President Obama with the theme “We Built it.”

To pound that message, Republicans turned to a Delaware businesswoman, Sher Valenzuela, who is also a candidate for lieutenant governor. Valenzuela and her husband built an upholstery business that now employs dozens of workers.

Valenzuela presumably was picked to speak so that she could thunder at Obama for disdaining capitalism.

Oops. It turns out that Valenzuela relied not only on her entrepreneurial skills but also on — yes, government help. Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog group, documented $2 million in loans from the Small Business Administration for Valenzuela’s company, plus $15 million in government contracts (mostly noncompetitive ones).

In a presentation earlier this year, Valenzuela described government assistance as an entrepreneur’s “biggest ‘secret weapon.’ ”

Someone has set up a parody Web site, using the name of Valenzuela’s company, First State Manufacturing, to mock the Republican message. The site, FirstStateManufacturing.com, declares, “Thank God government was there for me.”

In short, the Republicans are inadvertently underscoring the point that President Obama was expressing in his “you didn’t build that” comment in July. Obama noted then that “if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.” He pointed to public investments in roads and bridges that enable businesses to flourish, and then he inelegantly added, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”

Fox News erupted in outrage, selectively editing the clip to confirm Republican prejudices that Obama doesn’t understand the private sector. This fits into the Republican narrative that business executives are heroic job creators when they aren’t held back by regulations and taxes imposed by quasi-socialist Muslims born in Kenya.

Democrats tried to highlight a flaw in that narrative when they released a new ad pointing to Mitt Romney’s outsourcing of jobs and telling him, “You didn’t build that — you destroyed it.”

Yet to me, that Democratic line of attack on Romney as a serial job destroyer feels unfair. Sometimes the way to save a company is to cut labor costs or outsource jobs, and almost nobody wants to ban trade or overseas production even though they can cost jobs.

What is fair is to observe that the Republicans’ claim that they are the great job creators is a fiction.

Prof. Robert S. McElvaine of Millsaps College examined employment data for the 64 years from the beginning of Harry Truman’s presidency to the end of George W. Bush’s. He found that an average of two million jobs were created per year when a Democrat was president, compared with one million annually when a Republican was president.

More pointedly, and unfortunately for Romney, business executives have only a mediocre record when transferring their skills to government. In the last great economic mess, this country was led by a Republican who had been stunningly successful in business: Herbert Hoover. Hmm. More recently, President George W. Bush staffed his cabinet with C.E.O.’s who had been stellar in the private sector — and that didn’t work out so well, either.

Obama’s point about our shared undertaking was made last year, more eloquently, by Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat running for Senate:

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody!” she said. “You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you all were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. …

“You built a factory, and it turned into something terrific or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

In short, taxes don’t just smother. They can also fuel growth — when they’re invested in highways or the Internet, in colleges or early childhood education. They can create opportunities, as they did for Sher Valenzuela.

Or for Romney himself. He built his Bain empire partly because he was smart and hard-working, but also because of a great education and because of tax breaks for debt financing. Tax loopholes helped him build his fortune, and other loopholes gave him the low tax rates to retain it.

If the Republican convention wishes to highlight and explain Romney’s success, it should have a moment of silence to honor our infernal tax code.

Who built this country? Entrepreneurs, yes. But so did schoolteachers and railway construction workers. Doctors and truckers. Scientists and soldiers. You didn’t build it, Mitt Romney — we all built it.

By: Nicholas D. Kristoff, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 28, 2012

August 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Ghosts Of Dixie”: In Modern GOP, The Old South Returns

The Republican ticket may hail from Massachusetts and Wisconsin, but Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan head the most Southernized major U.S. political party since Jefferson Davis’s day. In its hostility toward minorities, exploitation of racism, antipathy toward government and suspicion of science, today’s Republican Party represents the worst traditions of the South’s dankest backwaters.

No other party in U.S. history has done such a 180. Founded as the party of the anti-slavery North and committed to deep governmental involvement in spurring the economy (land-grant colleges, the Homestead Act, the transcontinental railway), today’s GOP is the negation of Abraham Lincoln’s Republicans. It is almost entirely white — 92 percent, compared with just 58 percent of Democrats. It is disproportionately Southern — 49 percent of Republicans live in the South vs. 39 percent of Democrats.

The beliefs of the white South dominate Republican thinking. As the white share of the U.S. population shrinks and the Latino share rises, Republicans have passed draconian anti-immigrant laws and opposed legislation enabling immigrants brought here as children to gain legal status. They also exploit racist resentments in a way not seen since the Willie Horton spot of 1988. Consider the Romney campaign’s ads falsely attacking President Obama for gutting welfare reform. “Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job,” proclaims one such commercial. “They just send you a welfare check.” Obama’s plan, as several media fact-checking monitors have noted, does nothing of the sort. The spot clearly seeks to resurrect the kind of resentment of African Americans that the GOP exploited back in the days when welfare was a major program. The Romney campaign has evidently concluded, since virtually its entire pool of potential voters is white, that it must rouse the sometime voters among them with such expedients — which explains why it is running more of these ads than any others.

In the anti-government column, the Ryan budget, which House Republicans enthusiastically adopted, would cut taxes disproportionately on the wealthy and halve the share of spending on every domestic, non-entitlement program. It would decimate education, transportation and funding for college students and scientific research. It would bring the nation down to the developmental level of the anti-tax, anti-public-investment Southern states of yore.

The ghosts of Dixie — of the Scopes Trial and the underfunding of public education — also pop up in Republicans’ willful resistance to science and, more broadly, simple empiricism. Global warming? Evolution? Homosexuality’s causation? How babies get made? Find a robust scientific conclusion and you can find a significant number of Republicans — adducing pseudo-science and faith — who oppose it.

What’s remarkable is not that a significant number of Republicans harbor these beliefs but that these beliefs have come to dominate the party. Veteran politicians of the more pluralistic GOP that was around as recently as half a decade ago, including Orrin Hatch and Romney himself, have had to repudiate their past as thoroughly as China’s communist apparatchiks did during the Cultural Revolution. An empiricist? Not me, buddy.

But how is it that the South has come North in today’s GOP? The fact that Barack Obama is our first black president coincides with the United States’ transformation from a majority-white nation to a multiracial country no longer destined to remain the world’s hegemon. Augmented by an intractable recession rooted in a crisis of capitalism, this epochal shift has summoned the shades of racial resentment. To the extent that Republicans can depict government as the servant of this rising non-white America (precisely the purpose of Romney’s ads), the South’s antipathy toward government can find a receptive audience in other regions.

This transformation of the GOP has also been spurred by the Southernization of the economy. The U.S. economy’s dominant sector is no longer the unionized manufacturing of the Northeast and Midwest, whose leaders included such Republican moderates as George Romney, and whose white working-class employees were persuaded by their unions to back Democratic candidates. Instead, the economy is dominated by a mix of the low-wage, nonunion retail and service sectors, and by high finance, which has shown itself fiercely opposed to regulation and taxation, happy to reap and shield its profits abroad at the expense of U.S. workers, and willing to invest plenty in a party that does its bidding.

That party is meeting in Tampa this week. Cut through its self-justifying rhetoric and we’re left with a GOP whose existential credo is, “We’re old, we’re white and we want our country back.” The rest, as the sages say, is commentary.

 

By: Harold Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 28, 2012

August 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Strategy Of Deception”: Romney Complains While Using Race To Divide The Nation

On the eve of his nominating convention, Mitt Romney complained to USA Today about the “vituperative” and “dishonest” assaults on his character by the Obama campaign and its surrogates. “Isn’t it sad?” asked the Republican candidate. “The White House just keeps stepping lower and lower and lower, and the people of America know this is an important election and they deserve better than they’ve seen.”

This whining hardly becomes the politician who dispatched his Republican rivals with multi-million-dollar barrages of attack ads. There is some truth to his complaint that Obama’s campaign is trying “to minimize me as an individual, to make me a bad person, an unacceptable person,” but that is precisely what he did to Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum on the road to Tampa. The Republican primary season was the most vicious in memory – and committees backing Romney led the bloody pack, spending more than two-thirds of their money on negative advertising.

What he is doing now, however, is arguably much worse. And again it is the kind of political behavior that shames the memory of his father George.

What’s truly sad – for a country that hurdled an important barrier four years ago – is that Romney and his aides are running an increasingly racialized campaign, seeking to capture a supermajority of white voters, because they can see no other pathway to victory. Some analysts estimate that the Republican ticket cannot win the White House without at least 61 percent of white voters – a significantly higher percentage than voted for John McCain in 2008.

Romney’s remark about his birth certificate in Michigan last week can be generously discounted as a clumsy attempt at humor, rather than a calculated slur. Growing up in the bigoted environment of the Mormon Church, he may be sufficiently obtuse not to realize that “birtherism” is a racist movement. But that wouldn’t excuse his vile advertising, which is clearly designed to stoke white resentments with false attacks on White House welfare and health care policies. The overall theme, as Thomas Edsall, Chris Matthews, and other analysts have charged, could hardly be clearer: Obama is taking Medicare money away from hard-working whites to give cash and medical care to indolent blacks.

There is no truth to those insinuations, as anyone who spends ten minutes to investigate will discover. Yet we have long since learned that a strategy of deception can succeed if it confirms existing fears and prejudices. America is neither a post-racial nor a post-partisan society, and there are certainly voting blocs, particularly among older whites, whose underlying beliefs make them more receptive to the Republican lies about Obama.

Romney may deplore discussion of his tax returns and business career, although he has used precisely those same questions to raise doubts about Republican rivals in the past. But when he falsely accuses the President of undoing welfare reform “to shore up his base,” he is trafficking in the racial ugliness that disfigured his church for a century. Having claimed that he marched with his father for civil rights, he has a special responsibility to rein in the nastiness of his minions.

If not for the sake of simple patriotism or pride, Romney should abandon the racial messaging to protect his own legacy. More than 20 years ago, Republicans won a presidential campaign with a blatantly racial appeal. The men responsible – Roger Ailes, Larry McCarthy, the late Lee Atwater, even the first President Bush — will never quite transcend that “Willie Horton” moment when opportunism overwhelmed decency.

Neither will Mitt Romney.

 

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, August 28, 2012

August 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“RNC Ladies’ Night”: GOP Appeal To Women Is About Tokenism

As I previously reported, the Republican National Convention—in the hopes of softening the party’s well-deserved reputation for being hostile to women—scheduled many women speakers on Tuesday night. So when I ventured onto the floor this evening, I tried to ask influential Republican women about the challenge their party faces among women voters. Their answers varied widely, and demonstrated that, other than constantly changing the subject to the economy, they do not have an answer.

The most useless attitude for Republican women to adopt is one of pure self-delusion. Despite years of women mostly favoring abortion rights, some Republican activists simply assert that women are opposed to them. Republicans don’t have to worry that their platform’s call to ban all abortions will turn off women, Jean Turner, the president of the Ohio Federation of Republican Women, told me. Why is that? “Women know what life means,” she explained. “Women have babies.”

Some Republican women are not so certain. Charlotte Rasmussen, the former president of the Wisconsin Federation of Republican Women, embodies the conflicted discomfort that many Republican women feel on reproductive issues. On the one hand, she thinks it should be ignored because the economy is more important and the law is in the hands of the Supreme Court. On the other hand, she is against abortion, but she does not know if exceptions should be made. “I don’t want to talk about abortion,” she said. The reasons she offered are that “it’s a controversial issue,” and women are more concerned about the economy. Rasmussen thinks “abortion is not an issue,” because “it’s not going to change.” What she means is that Roe v. Wade is unlikely to be overturned, although, “I’d be fine with it being overturned.” Rasmussen also believes that “every abortion is bad.” But does that mean she agrees with the GOP’s stance that a girl who is raped by her father should not be allowed to have an abortion? “I’m not sure,” she said. “It’s not an issue I’ve had to deal with so I don’t want to comment on it.” That’s not a winning message for women who are concerned that Republicans are insensitive to issues women’s health.

The best explanation for the Republican platform plank on abortion actually came from a woman who disagrees with it, Karen Dove, a delegate from Florida. “If you look at party platforms, Democrats say partial birth abortion is good,” she said. Democrats, of course, don’t actually say any abortion is good, but it’s true that the party has not come out for banning so-called “partial birth” abortions. “Would most Democrats say partial birth abortion is OK?” asked Dove rhetorically. “I don’t think so.” Her point, which is fair insofar as it goes, is that both parties have to cater to their interest groups, even if the resulting platform statements are not supported by most party members. “We have a big contingent that thinks abortion is wrong in every case,” noted Dove. “Every party has to cater to people who come out and vote. On both sides you have extremes.” Analytically, this is accurate. But, if the next time Dove goes out canvassing in her neighborhood and a woman who answers the door says she is thinking of voting for Mitt Romney but just can’t get behind that abortion plank, Dove’s answer is unlikely to fully reassure her.

And, as I predicted, the appeal to women was about tokenism, not substance. It worked on some of the delegates. Mia Love, the black mayor of Sarasota Springs, Utah, and a Congressional candidate spoke, early Tuesday evening. Shortly thereafter I spotted Deidre Harper, a Colorado delegate, sporting a Love campaign button because she was so impressed by Love’s speech. “It’s great to see a black woman in Utah [running for Congress as a Republican],” said Harper. “I think that’s a question you hear about Republicans: there aren’t blacks or Latinos [in the party.] But from what I’m hearing, in high offices there are more blacks and Latinos than among Democrats.” A cursory glance at the Democratic and Republican Congressional delegations will show that to be wildly false. But Republicans seem to have at least convinced themselves that minorities are well represented in their ranks.

Rebecca Kleefisch, the politically adept Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin, was by far the best at shifting the abortion question to safer territory. Kleefisch deploys an ostentatiously modest demeanor to present herself as a down-to-earth soccer mom. “The president does not dictate the priority list of American women,” Kleefisch told me. “It’s insulting and irritating that [Obama] thinks he can tell women that birth control and abortion are their top priorities. Women value their personal relationships, their families and making ends meet and having enough left over to fill up their tank to take their kids to soccer practice.” After that hokey, broad brush shtick that presumed all women are middle class suburbanites with children, Kleefisch asserted, “Women are done with the president throwing a blanket of generalizations over my gender.”

Ultimately, Kleefisch argues, “The Barack Obama presidency is expensive, and we can’t afford him any more.” This might work with some female swing voters when unemployment and gas prices are high. It’s not a long-term answer as to how the anti–women’s rights party can appeal to women.

The speeches from the dais were condescending to women, if they mentioned them at all. Here, for example, was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s sole reference to gender equality in his keynote address: “My Mom, who I lost eight years ago, was the enforcer. She made sure we all knew who set the rules. In the automobile of life, Dad was just a passenger. Mom was the driver.”

The night featured several women who are notable solely for being married to a male politician. Ann Romney was introduced by Lucé Fortuño, the First Lady of Puerto Rico. Fortuño was clearly chosen just because she could deliver her first line: “I am the proud mother of 20-year-old triplets, a practicing attorney, a proud Latina and a die-hard Republican!”

Ann Romney’s address was filled with such treacly pabulum, that it is worth quoting at length:

Sometimes I think that late at night, if we were all silent for just a few moments and listened carefully, we could hear a great collective sigh from the moms and dads across America who made it through another day, and know that they’ll make it through another one tomorrow. But in that end of the day moment, they just aren’t sure how.

And if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the women sighing a little bit more than the men. It’s how it is, isn’t it?

It’s the moms who always have to work a little harder, to make everything right.

It’s the moms of this nation — single, married, widowed — who really hold this country together. We’re the mothers, we’re the wives, we’re the grandmothers, we’re the big sisters, we’re the little sisters, we’re the daughters.

You know it’s true, don’t you?

You’re the ones who always have to do a little more.

You know what it’s like to work a little harder during the day to earn the respect you deserve at work and then come home to help with that book report which just has to be done.

You know what those late night phone calls with an elderly parent are like and the long weekend drives just to see how they’re doing.

You know the fastest route to the local emergency room and which doctors actually answer the phone when you call at night.

You know what it’s like to sit in that graduation ceremony and wonder how it was that so many long days turned into years that went by so quickly.

You are the best of America.

You are the hope of America.

There would not be an America without you.

Tonight, we salute you and sing your praises.

The notion that such meaningless gibberish would convince women to toss their interests aside in the voting booth is offensive. Many of the other women speakers, such as South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Representative Cathy McMorris-Rogers (R-WA), simply did not mention women at all. Rather they stuck to the evening’s message of “We built it,” a rejoinder to the apocryphal quote by President Obama that business owners didn’t build their companies. If undecided women were watching the RNC on Tuesday to see if they would be given any meaningful support on issues of gender equality, they were surely disappointed.

 

By: Ben Adler, The Nation, August 28, 2012

August 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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