Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

09 January 2013

Fear and Age


The monicker “GOP” for the Republican Party is no longer apt.

The party is no longer grand. Instead, it’s small, selfish and mean-spirited. It is old, about which much more later.

But it’s not really a political party. It’s a collection of single-issue extremists. Except for obsessing over the deficit and trying to cut it too quickly, far sooner than the experts recommend, it has no coherent plan or program.

The nearest thing the GOP has to a platform is vague and squishy bumper stickers like “more freedom” and “less government.” Selfishness—cutting spending on infrastructure and social necessities without raising taxes—is not a plan. At least it’s not a rational plan that accounts for cause and effect.

Pundits looking at the recent election’s demographics attribute all this to race and ethnicity, old whites versus rising younger minorities. But skin color is just on the surface. What lies beneath?

Probe deeper, and you find age a much more powerful indicator of the GOP’s present and better predictor of its future without real reform. Despite Mitt’s virtuoso salesmanship, people under 30 preferred Obama by a 23% margin. That’s a slightly greater margin than in Lyndon Johnson’s never-surpassed landslide victory over Barry Goldwater in 1964. [click on year tab “1964”]

Why was that so? Well, there’s always the Occam’s Razor answer: Obama was the best candidate.

But why did older whites prefer the less qualified candidate? Are they all racists? Ask them, and most will tell you “no.” Of course there was and is plenty of unconscious racism, expertly exploited by Fox and Rush.

But it’s hard to believe that skin color is the whole answer. To better approach the truth, you must look at how college dropout Karl Rove managed to assemble a majority for George W. Bush, likely the stupidest man ever to become our president.

Did Rove have a coherent rational plan for our national future? Did he have a blueprint for economic success, what business people call a “business plan”?

Not at all. What he had was a blueprint for success in electoral politics. It had nothing to do with policy.

Rove’s blueprint was based on emotion, not reason. He relied on analysis of cause and effect only in an emotional sense: manipulating people’s votes by pushing their hot buttons. Rove won for Dubya by instilling fear in a large segment of the electorate, precinct by precinct. And the fear he instilled was based almost entirely on isolated single issues.

Rove spooked the religious right with fear of rampant abortions. He raised fanciful specters of religious freedom morphing into suppression of religion. He cowed families into thinking that gays marrying each other and teaching children would subvert children’s sexuality and somehow impair marriage generally. He scared small-town and small-state people with fears that Washington would control their schools and take away their Bibles and guns. And he spooked everyone with the fear that people speaking Spanish on the streets and in supermarkets would conquer our nation peacefully and destroy our culture.

Rove did not act alone. In all this fear mongering, Fox and Rush and other loudmouths were his eager handmaidens.

When President Obama mentioned small-town people “clinging” to guns and religion, he misspoke only in one respect. Their clinging was not a cause, i.e., an intrinsic demographic characteristic. It was an effect. It was a conscious and deliberate aim and the outcome of Karl Rove’s narrow electoral strategy.

In the years since 2000, the GOP has discovered and exploited new sources of fear. The attacks of 9/11 and Dubya’s “war on terror” gave it not only the first real national war on a noun, but Islamophobia as well.

Here Rove was hardly original. In exploiting fear of Islam and Muslims, Rove just copied the blueprint drafted for Communism by Joe McCarthy and perfected by Richard Nixon.

There is no fear so durable or manipulable as the fear that your peaceful neighbors and compatriots are secretly your enemies. It worked for the GOP during the Cold War, and it nearly worked again in 2012.

Other sources of fear came with the decline of American manufacturing and the Crash of 2008. China, Rove told us, was taking away our jobs. So were Mexican immigrants. The poor and hungry masses that our Statue of Liberty once welcomed with open arms were going to destroy our culture and take the food from our tables. It was them or us. All this false fear distracted Americans from the real cause of their discontent: rampant gambling by unregulated bankers .

But the politics of fear has two problems. First, it is irrational; it ignores consequences and fails to consider cause and effect.

During the Cold War, the politics of fear (of Communists) not only wasted enormous sums on world-destroying quantities of nuclear weapons. In October 1962, it nearly extinguished our species.

The fears that Rove incited to win elections have had no such dire consequence, at least so far. But they have made governing harder. They’ve destroyed social cohesion and turned Americans against each other. They’ve produced gridlock in Congress. They’ve conditioned a class of arrogant GOP House freshmen who think they know all the answers and won’t listen to anyone, even senior leaders of their own party.

But worst of all, Rove’s fears have undermined the very values that once made the GOP “grand.” Its greatest leader was its founder, Abraham Lincoln, who fought our bitterest war to keep our country whole. He also fought to realize the ideals of Thomas Jefferson (a Democrat)—that all men are created equal.

But that credo doesn’t jibe with fear and hate. It’s hard to think of others as equal when you are taught to fear and hate them.

Rove-inspired fears of immigrants and foreigners even undermined a key pillar of GOP economic policy, freedom of trade. Progress in WTO talks has nearly stalled, and our rate of ratification of bilateral free-trade agreements has slowed.

If Republicans want to know why, they should look in the mirror. Then they should listen to what members of their very own Frankenstein monster, the Tea Party, actually say. While these worthies are bashing free trade, immigrants and foreigners generally, plus refighting the Cold War, foreign nations are absorbing the values that we and the Brits taught and making deals without us.

The policy of fear is not just bad policy. Any soldier can tell you that fear kills clear thinking and makes any situation worse. In the long run, it’s also bad politics.

Why? Because fear is a facet of age, not youth. What we oldsters fear youth sees as bland fact or opportunity. They don’t fear the Chinese; they study Mandarin. African-Americans don’t scare them. They’ve listened to “black” music all their lives; they follow and emulate brilliant leaders like the President and Cory Booker. They admire Oprah Winfrey’s accepting nature and generosity of spirit. They don’t fear Hispanics in America; they learn Spanish, study the history of our Western Hemisphere and dance and eat salsa.

Since its last reasonable president (the senior Bush), the GOP’s political program has been based on fear. But like a bad flu, fear is self-limiting. The smart wise up, and the inculcated true fearers eventually die off.

Of course the GOP can continue to invent new reasons for overblown fear, just as it “pivoted” from Communism to Islam. But if it does so, it will continue to play best to aging native whites—aging because youth is fearless, and native whites because minorities, foreigners and immigrants are the inevitable targets of manipulated fears.

Out of all the GOP-spawned fears over the years, only fear of immigrants has a semblance of rationality. If we close the doors of immigration, our population will continue to age, and the transition to majority-less demographics will take longer. We will look more like senescent Japan for longer than otherwise.

That might give the GOP a slightly longer lease on its now pointless life. But it’s hardly the fate that the youngest and once most energetic major power deserves.

Youth or age. Optimism or fear. These are choices that the GOP has made wrongly for a generation. Without fundamental reform it, like an old soldier, may just fade away, in an inescapable demographic landslide.

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5 Comments:

  • At Sat Jan 12, 02:48:00 AM EST, Blogger Warren Kim said…

    Dear Professor Dratler,

    I never knew of your strong political positions. I am your former student, Warren Kim, of Richardson School of Law. I see that we have both grown older -- sure like we are the only ones. I wish I could meet you again, as I tried so hard to make you proud of me, that you taught me well. I am still in Hawaii, after working around the globe in infrastructure projects. I wish you well and happiness in 2013. I am home, with my family on a Friday night. Of all the law professors, I aspire to be someone you could say that you imparted a spirit for learning. I hope you, and your family well. I agree with almost everything you wrote on your blog. The Republican is no longer a viable alternative, but a hodge podge of extremists who are most upset that we have turned away from Bush to a mix-raced president. Aloha Professor Dratler. Your student, who still think of you after 20 years.

    Warren Kim

     
  • At Sat Jan 12, 02:26:00 PM EST, Blogger Warren Kim said…

    The Old Guard fear of Communism, as an alternative economic model has fueled much of the inefficient and waste by the United States. The Cold War, and the war on Communism in different theaters in South America, Central America, and Asia may have been for naught, because the viable alternatives are presently shown by U.S.'s closest allies in Europe and Australia.

    They have shown that some form of Socialism may be a superior form of government and economic system. Adam Smith has always warned us about the motive and drive of the wealthy, and Karl Marx had brilliantly laid out the inherent difficulties of Capitalism. When banks can trade on derivatives, and hedge funds can bet on currency implosions, this is a far cry from the butcher, the baker, and the candle stick maker as envisioned by our earlier economists. Most of the politicians are attorneys, and they are trained to defend their position to the last, using half truths, and erroneous interpretations of the facts that on the surface may be palatable. This is not only accepted, but is imposed on them as a duty. Perhaps the older Chinese officials were right to place engineers as stewards of the government, instead of well paying lobbyists that we have in the U.S.

     
  • At Fri Jan 18, 09:37:00 AM EST, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.

     
  • At Fri Jan 18, 09:39:00 AM EST, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear Warren,

    What a delight to hear from you after all these years!

    For a retired professor, there is little as sweet as hearing from old students. That’s a large part of the “psychological pay” of teaching.

    I, too, would like to meet and hear of your work on infrastructure projects. As you probably know from reading this blog, I think there is little more important, especially when the projects involve renewable energy or conservation. We only have one planet, and we’re far too busy pillaging it.

    I was in Honolulu briefly last May (on a cruise) and met with some of my old colleagues from the law school and the bar. We had a long lunch at Cafe Sistina, and it seemed like little had changed. The traffic was worse than I had remembered; only my knowledge of the side streets got us back to the dock on time. H1 was a big parking lot.

    You expressed surprise about my interest in politics. When I knew you, I watched and voted but had little direct involvement. That all changed in 2004, when it dawned on me that the country I was born into and loved was being pushed down a steep incline. Kerry’s campaign was the first in which I did more than contribute small amounts of money.

    After door-to-door canvassing in that campaign and a brief but ineffectual stint as a poll monitor in 2008, I settled on doing what I think I do best: contributing larger amounts of money and writing this blog. It’s got a small but apparently loyal readership, and I’m pleased to see you’re now a part of it.

    I’m a few days behind in replying to your many comments, but I’ll work through them in chronological order and eventually get to them all. I treasure each one, plus the knowledge that you remember me fondly after twenty years. The feeling is mutual.

    Warmest regards,

    Jay

     
  • At Fri Jan 18, 01:11:00 PM EST, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear Warren,

    On your second comment, I couldn’t agree with you more.

    I’ve already written several posts on the futility of the Cold War from the participants’ perspectives (the US and Soviet Russia). The shortest and most readable is this one, which links to the others.

    The Cold War was not just a gargantuan waste of money, time and resources for both sides. It was also decisively counterproductive. It held Russia’s economy back for decades. Now it’s holding ours back, as we suffer from our own “Soviet Period” of mindless ideology, in our case from the right wing.

    The Cold War also arrested the rest of the world’s development. China, Latin America and even Africa only began to leap forward after it ended.

    As for your comment on attorneys, I agree wholeheartedly, although I was one for some 34 years. The older I get, the more I “relapse” into my former role of scientist/engineer, trying to solve problems rather than argue about them from a predetermined position.

    That effort—toward solutions, not argument—is really what this blog is all about. It’s a form of penance on my part for spending so much time doing what I had to do to earn a comfortable lifestyle.

    Society gets what it rewards. Just as so many turned to law from more productive fields in my generation, so the next generation turned to investment banking.

    Now China is engaged in building massive universities to challenge ours. Somehow I don’t think law or investment banking will be high on its academic agenda.

    Best,

    Jay

     

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