Tuesday, September 18, 2012

On becoming the monster

So the 'verse is all a'twitter because Mitt Romney was caught on a hot mike saying this when he thought only friends were in the room:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.
Now, for sure, part of this is rock-solid political truth: each of the two major parties has a core of base support that the other campaign isn't even shooting to win over. The exact numbers ebb and flow -- I haven't heard anything remotely close to 47% for the Democrats from a source I trust with numbers -- but the principle is sound.

What's outrageous here is the conflation of a few demographics here:
(1) the Democratic Party's base;
(2) the fraction of the adult U.S. population who paid no federal income tax last year; and
(3) the fraction who are "dependent" on the government for their livelihood (that is, those who benefit from social insurance and safety-net provisions, which the Right has successfully renamed "entitlements").

These three groups are very, very distinct, though certain sectors of the Right-Wing Sound and Fury Machine have been pushing the conflation for a while now. I think Brad Delong has a very important point here:
The most fascinating thing about Romney is that he has fallen for a fake statistic created by the Wall Street Journal editorial page as what they call "boob bait for the bubbas"--something that they hope low-information voters will hear, get outraged about, and vote Republican.
What's critical here isn't merely that the statistic Romney's using doesn't say what he thinks it says... that happens to everyone sometimes. It's that the Right-Wing narrative frame was supposed to be about snookering the median voter into voting for the guy who values what they value and the party which takes away everything they value and replaces it with cheap Chinese crap.[1]

Look, there's the Religious Right wing of the GOP, and the leaders of that wing are mostly true believers, if sometimes also hypocrites who enjoy the company of rentboys. And then there's the "foreign policy" wing, which means followers of Leo Strauss, the purveyors of the Noble Lie in the service of getting all the rest of us in line. The basis of this foreign (and domestic) policy is, of course, the enrichment of the American or not-inarguably-foreign business classes at the expense of the 99% at home and of any vestige of self-determination abroad.

But the biggest story in the American political scene, the story of the current generation of big-C-Conservatives, is that they have forgotten that the Noble Lie is a lie. They have forgotten that while the dude on the street is supposed to think of the federal budged like a household budget, the ones who actually get power are supposed to know better. They have forgotten that while we're supposed to think Russia is the enemy and the Wolverines are the heroes, the guys and gals in power are supposed to be ruthlessly out for US interests, and that means putting pressure on our "friends" (read: clients) and not just on nations we don't even have formal diplomatic relations with. They've forgotten that while the kids in schools are supposed to be creationists and Exxon is supposed to be able to do whatever they want wherever they want, the halls of power need to be also preparing for the day when the atmospheric CO2 is 450ppm, the Maldives no longer exist, and the ocean's salinity has dropped far enough to disrupt the flow of tuna to the heartland.

And they're supposed to know that the WSJ's class internecine warfare is just divide-and-conquer rhetoric -- and have people on hand to talk a Presidential candidate out of the carefully crafted bullshit. Or, you know, only nominate people skilled enough in parsing media narratives to have read that play straight from the huddle.

Instead, we have Mitt Romney, and a Congress whose largest single bloc, regardless of which party has the majority of each house, will almost certainly be straight-up-consumers of narratives designed solely to obfuscate reality and ensure the impotence of American self-governance.

[1] This is not entirely fair. The Democrats are, in the main, also fans of economic policies that result in cheap Chinese crap. However, the Democrats have put some real policies in place in the last four years resulting in Americans being employed in the making of both cheap crap and durable worthwhile investments.

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