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

01 June 2015

How the GOP can Win

[For an important recent post thanking President Obama, click here. For a short note on a surprising media police-kill “death clock” click here.]

1. Come back to reality
2. Stop aggrandizing bullies
3. Stop bashing the little guy
4. Make some real proposals to improve people’s lives
5. Dump Dubya

Already there are so many GOP candidates for president in 2016. There are even more to come, with new “surprises” like George Pataki likely every month.

Why? Are the GOP’s prospects for winning in 2016 so good, or are the candidates so bad? Is the party hoping to exploit “variety” and “consumer choice” to overcome defects in its entire product line? The answer, of course, might be a combo: maybe the many candidates long to lead a party that has utterly lost its way back to general credibility and eventual presidential success.

The GOP has gone wrong in so many ways it would be impossible to list them all. It has deviated so far from what once began as the Party of Lincoln that no one from the nineteenth or most of the twentieth century would recognize it today. Created for demagoguery rather than practical governance, its modern ideology has weakened our nation beyond measure.

But most of the party’s flaws are corollaries or consequences of a few fundamental failures, which you can count on the fingers of one hand. Whether or not the GOP tries to fix them, they will be prominent features of the Dems’ attack ads, beginning soon. Here are the five biggest things the GOP must do to have a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning in 2016:

1. Come back to reality. Denying reality is seldom a good long-term strategy. Denying that smoking causes cancer and heart disease worked for tobacco companies for about four decades. Then the stonewall dam broke. Now they are under assault by five implacable enemies: the desire to live, the desire to be healthy, regulation, taxes and rising prices.

Maintaining several denials at once exacerbates the problem. Today, the GOP denies, among other things: (1) global warming, (2) the failure of “trickle-down” economics, (3) our gross and growing economic inequality; (4) the rampant use of excessive force in policing, especially against minorities; (5) the suffering and exploitation of undocumented immigrants; and (6) the role of minority rule in governmental dysfunction.

As I wrote in my never-given matriculation speech, “Liars usually lie about more than one thing. . . . As a liar says more and more things you know are not so, you begin to lose credulity and identify the speaker as a liar or propagandist.”

Our over-propagandized population is beginning to reach that point. As it does, national success for the GOP reality deniers will be easier and easier for Dem attack-ad makers to deny.

2. Stop aggrandizing bullies. What is the face of the GOP today? Is it moderates like Jon Huntsman, Jr., George Pataki, or even Jeb Bush? Not hardly.

The faces that come to the mind while thinking “GOP” are the media bullies (Rush, Joe, Pat and Sean), the moral-self-righteousness bullies (Sanctorum), the my-way-or-the-highway bullies (Perry, Christie), and the real-life international bullies, including Dubya, Cheney, That Idiot Rumsfeld and McCain. (McCain, by the way, graduated in the lowest one-half of one percent in his class at Annapolis and was nearly expelled for fighting. Although he did some good things later, today his answer to any international difficulty is sending in the Marines.)

For the last decade or so, aggrandizing bullies has been in the ascendance, at least among the population of big guys who enjoyed terrorizing little guys on the playground in grammar school. But even if we were not those little guys ourselves, most of us didn’t like watching them terrorized. Many of us fought the bullies, singly or together.

Sooner or later, we Yanks will rediscover that we don’t like being bullied or watching bullies in action. Sooner or later, Dem ad makers will learn to translate those visceral feelings from our playground days into votes. When that happens, the GOP had better be ready with campaigns based on something other than bullying, fear and hate.

3. Stop bashing the little guy. Taunting and jeering the little guy can work for a while. A lot of us like to look down on someone, especially when we’re ashamed of ourselves or of our own lot in life. So dividing voters by race, ethnicity, religion and class has been a winning strategy for a long, long time. It’s as old as Caesar.

But that strategy does have problems. First, it can get wearisome. Second, it becomes less effective as more and more of our middle class slips into unemployment, poverty and even homelessness. As that happens, each of us has fewer people left to look down on. We each begin to recognize looking down as the cruel self-delusion it really is.

Third, looking down doesn’t actually accomplish anything. It just divides us and pits us against each other. All it does is delay the resolution of real problems, thereby conflicting with Point 4 below.

Fourth and finally, there’s always a risk that the ones looked down on will band together in a voting bloc, or in a revolution. Didn’t almost everyone but older white male Christians vote in substantial majorities for Obama in 2012? The “bully bloc” will be even more vulnerable when a woman, namely Hillary, runs in 2016. Men admire women for—among many other things—seldom being bullies.

Some day, the GOP will have to stop blaming blacks for racism. It will have to stop blaming undocumented immigrants for the abject failure of our national immigration policy since Ronald Reagan’s amnesty. It will have to stop blaming the poor for their own poverty. It might even have to stop blaming the uneducated, along with testing and Common Core, for their ignorance. Why so? Because, in our electronic age, we’ve got them all doing the blaming on video, repeatedly and incessantly.

Once upon a time, we Yanks had a worldwide reputation for favoring the underdog. Can a single generation of Fox propaganda change that strong and empathetic cultural trait? The campaign of 2016 is going to find out, as it contrasts America’s traditional culture with the GOP’s current “kick-‛em-when-down” pathology.

4. Make some real proposals to improve people’s lives. You’ve got to hand it to Fox and the other GOP propagandists. For three-quarters of a generation, they’ve convinced us Yanks that simple mantras—lower taxes, less regulation, more privatization—will bring us Nirvana.

Somehow, things haven’t turned out that way. These simplistic nostrums have been fine for the 1%. But for the rest of us, they’ve made things steadily and noticeably worse. They’ve brought us inequality and injustice exceeding those of our own Gilded Age and nearly matching those of pre-revolutionary France.

Some day, a majority of voters will emerge sleepily from its Fox-induced trance and begin to look around. They will see how our eleven grave national problems have festered, on the average, for over a generation. They will begin to ken that the GOP mantras haven’t even begun to solve them. They will start wondering, as practical Yanks have done ever since our Founding, “what specifically can we do to improve our prospects?”

Then they will recall the GOP’s 50 attempts to repeal Obamacare, without any plausible substitute, and none again as the Supreme Court threatens to rip the six-year-old effort to shreds. Slowly voters will come to know that today’s GOP, to put it mildly, is a party of simplistic ideology, not problem solving. They will begin to understand that the discord between the GOP’s business wing and the Tea-Party monster it itself spawned is not just a passing spat, but a fundamental divergence.

How quickly this happens will depend upon how clever the Dems are. Hillary will be on the prowl for what, due to age alone, must be her last non-incumbent campaign. And Bernie will be beholden to no one but his own conscience. So the GOP is unlikely to get a free pass. It had better come up with some real, specific solutions to do something, and downplay its useless, well-worn mantras and its relentless sowing of discord.

5. Dump Dubya. George W. Bush, aka “Dubya,” was undoubtedly the worst president in a century or more. Among many other things, he got us into two unnecessary wars, failed to bring the perpetrators of 9/11 to justice, presided over the worst financial collapse since the Great Depression, bailed out the banks that had caused it, and couldn’t speak his own native tongue fluently or coherently (although he did speak a little Spanish).

In their hearts, the GOP elite know this. How do we know they know? They failed to invite Dubya, their most recent president, to their party convention in 2012. More than that, for most of the past six years Dubya has been silent and invisible, no doubt on the stern advice of so-called “political operatives,” who know what most voters quite rightly think of Dubya.

Once upon a time, Jeb Bush was the clear frontrunner in the GOP field for 2016. No longer. He fell from grace by fumbling a simple but vital question about his brother’s performance in office, regarding the blunder of our interminable War in Iraq. Until November 2016, his waffling will appear in full video in attack ads supporting his GOP rivals and Democratic opponents. If not a coup de grace for Jeb, it’s the next most fatal thing.

If GOP pols have any sense left, they will have to find some way to come up with the right answer to that question. The next time any GOP pol answers it as Jeb did the first time, every reporter in the room should stand up and chant in unison: “If Dubya was so good, and if his most disastrous decision was so right, why didn’t he appear at all at your 2012 convention? Why wasn’t he a featured speaker, as is traditional for honored past presidents of both parties?” If those present have any shame at all, they will answer with a blush, whose pinkness mobile devices will capture for posterity.

No, the GOP can’t win by embracing Dubya. The party will have to run away from him as if he were an amiable demon, which he appears to have been. Only then can it regain a semblance of credibility and the trust of the American people, let alone in the absence of any sensible, specific policy.

* * *

This essay, of course, is a two-edged sword. In the unlikely event that the GOP takes its advice, the GOP might actually work its way to a close victory. More likely, the Dems will sharpen their own propaganda and learn how to win more decisively in a demagogic world. They will do so by making ordinary voters feel, deep in their guts, how long and hard the GOP has betrayed them.

What better stuff of visceral rejection than the stuff the GOP has done wrong for a generation? What better source of unthinking revulsion than harmful head-in-the-sand fantasy, bullying, kicking the little guy when down, doing nothing, and making believe a vile naked emperor, aka “the Decider,” had clothes? What better exposition of GOP misfeasance and malfeasance than juxtaposing images of California’s record drought, the flooding of Texas, the fatal heat wave in India, and further heat waves no doubt due this summer with GOP pol after GOP pol denying or belittling global warming?

Forget abstractions. Forget policy. Any Democratic candidate for president should be able to win against any Republican just by pushing the recent moral atrocities of the GOP and its propaganda deep into voters’ guts.

So let’s have a free-for-all of visceral video! Let’s use all our wasted Citizens United money to fight fire with fire. Then maybe, just maybe, by 2020 we can overrule Citizens United by constitutional amendment, abolish or cut down filibusters, the Hastert Rule, and Senate holds, and get back to being a serious democracy again. Isn’t that a consummation devoutly to be wished?

Footnote 1. Readers of this blog may wonder why I consistently refer to George W. Bush by his nickname “Dubya.” There are two reasons. The first is to distinguish him from his father, who was a far better president and is a better man in every way, even in his dotage.

The second is to recognize Dubya’s well-reported habit of assigning nicknames to everyone with whom he comes in contact. That habit is a crude and obvious means of establishing social dominance despite self-evident defects in intellect and character. It’s far more appropriate to a fraternity president than to the leader of a great nation.

In our golden age, general and statesman George Marshall insisted that FDR, although president, call him “Mr. Marshall” as a sign of respect. Marshall was right. Mutual respect among leaders reflects our deepest beliefs and traditions. We have a society without a monarch and without hereditary nobility. We are all supposed to be equal. Our president is but the first among equals and subject to our laws and customs.

With the possible exception of Dick (Torquemada) Cheney, Dubya appears to have little respect for anyone else. He has trampled our traditions of equality and mutual respect, not to mention checks and balances. He has demeaned the office of president and dishonored everyone who previously occupied it. Therefore I think it proper to turn his puerile tool of social dominance against him.

Like everyone else in our egalitarian society, a president must earn respect. He or she does that in part by good judgment and wise action and in part by showing others respect when due. As president Dubya failed utterly on both counts.

Footnote 2. Recent weather events demonstrate how rapidly global warming is accelerating and how little even Dems ken the risk. The freak climate and climate-related weather events noted in text all occurred before June 1. Summer begins June 21. And as I have noted before, and recent studies have confirmed, even last winter’s heavy snows and freak cold snaps were counterintuitive but direct consequences of rapid global warming.

The “Death Clock” of Kills by US Police

A minor theme on this blog has the general uselessness of our mainstream Yankee media. This post sets out the few useful alternatives, while these (1, 2, and 3) describe our Yankee media’s recent precipitous decline.

The problem is not just lack of hard-hitting investigative journalism, although there’s not much of that anymore, either. It’s any journalism recognizable as such. Organization, brevity, balance, and relevance, not to mention headlines and leads that match the story and hard punches where appropriate—all are lacking in what once were our leading national print media.

So it comes as no surprise that a leading British newspaper, The Guardian, has done something that not a single one of our Yankee rags thought of doing during the last year of rampant police killings of unarmed citizens. It has published an ongoing, online tally of people our US police kill.. It lists the killings, along with each victim’s race, photograph, the circumstances of the killing, other basic statistical information, and the state of occurrence. Oklahoma, number 28 by population, is number one.

Damningly, no US government agency, let alone any US news source, has yet collected this information. Upon an inquiry into how common are killings of unarmed civilians (like those that reached epidemic proportions this summer), the normal response has been “We don’t keep those numbers, we don’t know.” Yet we keep close tabs on every remark, facial expression, and fart of our numerous clueless pols and dissipated celebrities.

Gossip over substance! Yes, indeed. Isn’t that precisely what we might expect from some third-world country in Asia or Central America?

Thank you, thank you, The Guardian and its editors, for reminding us Yanks what journalism and modern civilization are like.



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