I’m reading Thomas Frank’s Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right. Great book! Depressing.
It tells the vivid story of how right wingers were able to quickly recover from the disasters of the Bush Administration and to reinvent themselves by 2010 as the saviors of the middle class. In short, Republicons had crashed the economy and corrupted and bankrupted government, but they were able to lay the blame on Democrats, who got a shellacking in the 2010 midterm elections.
Frank’s book inspired me to summarize the Republicon con game.
The entire conservative movement is based on a brilliant con scheme. Conservatives corrupt, mismanage, and bankrupt government, enriching themselves and their friends with public funds. Then they blame Democrats and Big Government for the resulting mess — for example, for the sub-prime crash and subsequent bailouts. They can get away with it because they have enough money and control of media to market their lies and to convince low information voters to vote against their own self-interest. Their analysis contains a germ of truth: government is corrupt — yeah, it’s corrupt because Republicans and their conservative Democratic allies made it so and do everything in their power to keep it that way.
The Republicons are masters of propaganda. They construct vivid, compelling alternate universes, populated by imaginary demons who must be battled to the death. Frank shows in detail how right wing agitators such as Glenn Beck portray Obama and government as eager to take away peoples’ rights. According to them, average Americans are the victims of these faceless bureaucrats and left wing ideologues who are intent on destroying everything that made America great. In particular, if only America returned to a truly free market, unencumbered by taxes and regulation, then true freedom and prosperity would return. It was government regulations and bailouts that caused the sub-prime crash, according to this narrative, just at was FDR’s New Deal that (allegedly) worsened the Depression.
The right wingers have explicitly adopted the vocabulary, images and methods of leftist radicals, to pretend to be the saviors of the People. The victims who deserve sympathy and protection are the entrepreneurs and capitalists who create jobs. Leftists are the ones who are out to take away your money and give it away undeserving, lazy people and corrupt corporations. The Tea Party patriots and their Republican allies will save America from Big Government and the Left who are socialist or fascist, or both. Socialized medicine is the biggest bugaboo for the Right, though the health care plan that Obama settled on was close to the one that the Heritage Institute had earlier proposed and that Mitt Romney implemented in Massachusetts.
This upside-down narrative is a pile of steaming crap, but they make it just believable enough that lots of low information voters buy into it. The Republicons are so good at acting outraged. They’ve convinced tens of millions of Americans that their imagined worlds are real. Even when their ideas lead to disaster, they are able to blame their ideological opponents.
And if the GOP are unable to convince enough voters to believe their narrative, well, then they just steal elections.
The Democrats have not done a good job at holding them accountable or refuting the propaganda.
Which is why the failure of the Obama Administration and the Democratic leadership to prosecute Bush Administration crimes doomed the Democrats to ineffectiveness. Progressives were correct to be so concerned about impeachment. Failing to prosecute meant failing to expose the truth and failing to educate the public about who’s to blame. It set the stage for the GOP revival. Looking forward meant looking forward to GOP control of the House in 2011 — and possibly of the White House in 2013.
By 2008, the GOP leviathan had been severely wounded. It was brought back to health by the Democrats’ “bipartisanship.”
So much for being nice.
Perhaps we need to recruit the power of Hollywood and entertainers and poets and novelists to market our version of reality — the realer version! Eventually, reality will win — for example, with climate change. But the sooner the better. (I’ve considered building a Museum of Accountability.)
I think there are five pillars enabling the Republicons to get away with their con game:
- Money (the military-industrial complex, Wall Street, Koch brothers, corporate funding of elections, revolving door in D.C., concentration of wealth, drowning Uncle Sam in a bathtub of debt)
- Media and marketing (Fox News, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, the Wall Street Journal, think tanks)
- Alliance with social conservatives (abortion, gay marriage, guns, etc)
- Organization and motivation (millions of right wing shock troops are passionate about working for the cause)
- Willingness to lie, steal, and bully.
Perhaps one can add a sixth pillar: the stupidity and ignorance of the average voter.
And a seventh pillar: the ineffectiveness and disorganization of the “liberal class” as a counterweight to the Republicons. Too many Democrats are compromised by money. Labor unions are weakened. And universities and the media are bought out.
It’s gonna take many years to fix.
I want to concentrate on marketing our version of reality (item #2 above). This will chip away also at items #3 and #4. Liberal religious folks should directly target #3 by showing how Republicon policies are inconsistent with basic tenets of morality.