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Cat Out of the Bag

William Kristol, over at the conservative Weekly Standard, summarized the staff’s reaction to the Republican presidential primary debates as: “Yikes.” He quotes a “bright young conservative” who puts it less succinctly but more eloquently: “I’m watching my first GOP debate…and WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!”


Liberals have known this for decades. Too many democratic candidates have been too polite to put it so bluntly, but honest liberals have been saying so for a long, long time. There’s a reason for this. Two, really.

The Republican party has enjoyed the ascendancy for a generation, thirty years of policy by and for big money. Thirty years of financial deregulation, increasingly regressive tax structure, dismantling of social programs, and deficit spending to fund military adventures that benefit big corporate donors. The multiple, interlocking crises we face are largely a product of this big money policy. Yet the Republican line remains that we can only fix the problems with more deregulation, more regressive taxes, more dismantling of social programs, and, of course, even in this massive debt crisis, more war. More war on terrorism, more war on drugs, more war on immigration… If the Republican platform sounds crazy, that’s because it is crazy.

Not by coincidence, then, has the Republican party embraced faith-based politics—by which I don’t mean religious politics, although that has played a large role as well, but policy rooted in faith and not thoughtful reflection. (Faith, for example, that private enterprise is more efficient than government program.) Much of any party’s base pursues politics by faith, but the Republican party has made it the core of their strategy for thirty years or more: packing appointive offices with loyalists like “heckuva job Brownie” instead of effective administrators, embracing a bunker mentality like the war on terror, campaigning on fear and hate and wedge issues like homosexual marriage, equating dissent with treason, replacing journalism with editorial commentary like Fox “news,” playing to fringe elements like the birthers, jeering at expert knowledge like scientific evidence of global warming…anything to replace critical examination with gut reaction, usually mislabeled “common sense.” In an environment where doctrinal purity is more important than truth, cynical, self-serving bastards rise to the top…but so do genuine crazies. If the candidates sound crazy, then, in at least a couple cases, it’s because they are crazy.

What bothers me, then, about complaints like “yikes” and “we sound like crazy people” is not that they’re wrong; they are quite correct. What bothers me is that they don’t recognize the problem. The rest of Kristol’s article, including an endorsement of Chris Christie, makes it clear that he’s still behind the union-busting, tax-cutting, corporate welfare agenda of Republicans. If this is the first Republican debate for the “bright young conservative,” Republicans have been pushing this same agenda literally all his life. No, the complaints only center on concerns that none of the available candidates will successfully carry this dangerous, destructive agenda yet again to the general public. They should instead be pausing to realize that when a speaker sounds like crazy people, it’s probably because (1) he’s defending the indefensible, or (2) he is crazy people.

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