Republicans Redux: The Masses are Asses
The month of November, in any US presidential election year is always an interesting melange of victory and defeat, affirmations and soul-searching, rebirth and post mortem. Winners are anxious to consolidate their gains and get to work and losers get serious about figuring out a way to win next time.
This year, is particularly entertaining because, if they are to be believed, Republicans were “shell-shocked” by their loss—an interesting choice of metaphor in itself. If anyone in this country were suffering the effects of a “siege mentality,” my first guess at “who” would not be the GOP.
Nevertheless the conservative punditocracy have slogged their way through about three of the stages of grief, and now, apparently, it is the turn of the Right-thinking pseudo-intellectuals to weigh in with their Sober and Serious recommendations for the path forward. So far, their ruminations and prescriptions are remarkable for their unremarkability and, at this point, I’m not expecting many surprises beyond the Court Martial and banishment of Grover Norquist which, truth be told, is exceptionally overdue. Only in the Republican party of the last half of the 20th century could such a tiresome little martinet have held such sway.
And, of course, Norquist himself is symptomatic of what has gone so terribly wrong with the Cult of Republican ideology—a pathology so virulent and advanced that there is little hope that its host will actually survive. But for those who come after, there are definitely lessons to be learned.
One of the predominant themes during this past election was the mostly honest bewilderment of a large portion of the electorate who found themselves either wondering or asking out loud “how can they say that? how can they repeat that lie? do they think we’re stupid enough to buy that idea? how can they make proposals and refuse to give details? do they actually believe these things that they are touting? do they think these sexist, agist, racist, elitist things they say are OK with the rest of us?
Americans may be brasher than most but their very brashness endows them with pretty effective BS thresholds and Republicans, in 2012, were passionately flip-flopping, lying, counterintuitive, anti-empirical acrobats of a kind not seen in these parts before. And enquiring minds want to know: what is this all about?
Here’s a theory: Today’s Republicans have survived, long past their ideological sell-by date, because they have a cult mentality. From the time of the first Red Scare (1917 - 1920), through the Cold War Era and the domestic paranoia of McCarthyism the Republican party has thrived on an “Us vs.Them” mentality. And the “Them” has always been the “masses” - i.e., “the masses are asses” attributed to America’s Founding Elitist, Benjamin Franklin and famously trotted out by Karl Rove to regale the 2006 commencement of the Graduate School of Political Management of George Washington University. Most recently, Mitt Romney had his “masses are asses” moment in what he believed was a donor “safe house” when caught on tape uttering his famous “47%” line.
The “masses are asses” is nearly one hundred years of Republican dogma in a nutshell and explains, handily, their stolid intellectual laziness and cavalier moral bankruptcy. Republican ideology is contrarian and there is nothing easier than being contrarian (ask any two-year-old). One needs only to suss out what a majority of mankind think or express then profess the opposite: if the masses voice concern about income inequality, contrarians say “nonsense, try harder”; if the masses are weary of needlessly sending their children to die in pre-emptive wars contrarians shout “treason” and “unAmerican”; if the global scientific community believes that the planet has a climate change issue, contrarians say “junk science!; if too many innocent people are getting shot up by assault weapons, contrarians say “don’t leave home without ‘em.”
See how easy (and eerily familiar) that is?
So. One might ask “why would relatively intelligent, well-educated people buy into such clap-trap?” Any ten-year-old can tell you: “to feel important and to get their way.”
Contrarianism allows its adherents to feel privy to special knowledge, available to only a select few and, at the same time, allowing them to avoid the frustration and rigor required to deal with facts, science, data and real world dilemmas, by ignoring them. Who wouldn’t want to join that club? As a matter of fact, like most cultic belief systems, real questioning, investigating and theorizing are taboo to the GOP.
Indeed, Republicans’ institutional constructs like think tanks and policy research centers are designed to affirm and entrench beliefs rather than exploring alternatives. Even when non-partisan studies reveal chinks in the contrarian armor, retribution is swift and final, as in the recent squashing of a non-partisan study of GOP Tax Policy by the Congressional Research Service (carried out by a Republican) that demonstrated that there is no link between Upper Income Tax Cuts and job creation. A very inconvenient truth . . .
Republicans have a habit of accusing Democrats, especially those who attended old schools on the East Coast, of “elitism.” But no one group in this country is more elitist than Republicans who idealize an American ruling class made up of upper-class educated white, heterosexual, Christian males and the white, heterosexual, Christian working-class males who aspire to be received into the cult. The rest of the unruly hordes of “your tired, your weak, your longing to be free? well, they’re a nuisance, but nothing voter suppression can’t help to contain.
Conservative intellectuals will always presume that the truth is what the masses don’t and can’t grasp. And lies, like WMDs in Iraq, are necessary evils to persuade the rest of us to follow along against our interests. Republicans have a cultic belief that the means justify their ends because they, and they alone, know what’s best for America and the petty emotions and scruples of the “masses of asses” are merely an obstacle set in the path of their singlehanded attainment of American Supremacy.
These are some of the reasons why “Otherness” is such a predominant theme in conservative discourse. What is not Republican is “other.” Barack Obama is something “other” than Republican Americans and, therefore, unacceptable as their President. Even Mitt Romney was ultimately “other” to the conservative establishment by virtue of his historically moderate tendencies and his religion. Ergo, Republicans never gave him their full-throated support. His value to the cult was that he wanted to be “one of them” and was willing to shamelessly spout the cult’s dogma and restore them to the seats of power. Of course, since he failed at shedding his “otherness” and bringing the election home, Republicans threw him under the Romney bus at the first stop off the campaign trail.
This “otherness” is, of course, an addictive feature of a cult mentality. A cultist must constantly measure his/her superiority against the “others’” inferiority by repeating, over and over, “you” think this way because you are swept away by mass thinking, whereas I, the intellectual elite, know that exactly the opposite is better. This is the mentality that allows Republicans to legislate against the common good because, if the masses want it, or need it, it must be bad for the country (and them). It also explains why they never examine or own the havoc they wreak and why they repeat the same disastrous failures over and over again and blame the consequences on someone else.
After fifteen minutes of soul-searching, Republicans are now anxious to blaze new trails without the stink of defeat adhering. So it is that we now have reached the stage where the pseudo-intellectual conservative apologists descend from their roosts to console Republicans that, even if Democrats won the election that doesn’t make them right, it just proves, once again, that the “masses are asses.”
Exhibit A: In which spoiled white gadfly and all-round dilletante, Jonah Goldberg, tells the rest of us what’s what with the black electorate from his exalted position as Grand Wizard of the Cult of Contrarianism. Goldberg is beside himself over the fact that Republicans have been unjustly tarred with the brush of racism:
Now, the cynical motivations behind this relentless drone of slander and stupidity are too numerous to count. Such moral bullying makes white liberals feel better about themselves. It scares moderates and centrists away from the Republican Party, and it no doubt helps dissuade wavering blacks from even thinking about giving the GOP an honest look. Obviously, it helps boost black voter intensity on Election Day. It also does wonders to stifle journalists terrified of having their racial bona fides questioned in any way. And it helps a feckless left-wing black political class explain away their own failures. Racial slander is like duct tape: There’s no limit to what you can do with it.
Any serious attempt by the GOP to win black votes won’t involve Republicans copycatting liberal policies. It will require going over the heads of the black and white liberal slanderers to offer a sincere alternative to failed liberal policies on schools, poverty, crime, etc. The more effective that effort, the more the GOP will be called racist.
When Romney, whose father marched with Martin Luther King Jr. [ed. pulleeeze], spoke to the NAACP, Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast dubbed him a “race-mongering pyromaniac,” primarily for using the term “Obamacare”—a term Barack Obama used himself [ed. in self defense].
Just imagine the desperate, pathetic attacks in store for a more effective Republican.
Give me a moment, please. Jonah’s panic attacks always give me pause . . . and I sincerely believed that I’d never have to hear the Romney-MLK myth again in my life.
Exhibit B Comes from the frantically flapping windmills of Ross Douthat’s mind who is recently despairing of the ignorance of the body politic as evidenced by the inconceivable re-election of Barack Obama (i.e., the masses are asses):
This is an inescapable aspect of democratic culture: no matter what reason tells us about the vagaries of politics, something in the American subconscious assumes that the voice of the people really is the voice of God, and that being part of a winning coalition must be a sign that you’re His chosen one as well.
Liberals look at the Obama majority and see a coalition bound together by enlightened values — reason rather than superstition, tolerance rather than bigotry, equality rather than hierarchy. But it’s just as easy to see a coalition created by social disintegration and unified by economic fear.
Consider the Hispanic vote. Are Democrats winning Hispanics because they put forward a more welcoming face than Republicans do — one more in keeping with America’s tradition of assimilating migrants yearning to breathe free? Yes, up to a point. But they’re also winning recent immigrants because those immigrants often aren’t assimilating successfully — or worse, are assimilating downward, thanks to rising out-of-wedlock birthrates and high dropout rates. The Democratic edge among Hispanics depends heavily on these darker trends: the weaker that families and communities are, the more necessary government support inevitably seems.
Sounds like he’s musing about a different species, doesn’t it? Homo subhumanus?
Want to entertain a really sobering thought? this is the younger generation of Republicans who have another 30-40 years on the clock . . .
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll have myself a bucket of adult beverage to prepare myself for the reconvening of the 2012 Lame Duck Congress.
Categories: Politics •