Have I mentioned recently how much I enjoy receiving e-mail from the Republican National Committee? Though they’re never a box of chocolates, I never know what I’m going to get. Sometimes the e-mails read like they’re written in English-esque gobbledygoop. Other times, the RNC’s e-mails appear to originate from a universe one step removed from a phildickian mindfuck. Still other times, I am sure they’re written by InSoc because they are so platitudinal that they’re utterly devoid of meaning.
With that in mind, let’s ponder this morning’s missive from Molly Donlin, RNC Deputy Political Director.
I need you to to answer one quick question, Allyn.
Our victories have given Republican in office the opportunity and power to pass meaningful legislation.
Now we are asking the supporters who secured our victories to tell us which principles you want our Republican leaders to protect.
Which conservative principles are most important to you?
- Balanced Budget
- Health Care
- National Security
Now, that’s an interesting list, and I have thoughts on many of these topics. These “principles” all sound fine, and I can’t think of any American who would say that any of these ideas are unimportant. But do my thoughts line up with the GOP’s thinking? With that in mind, I clicked through to the survey page.
And I quickly saw that my thoughts on these topics did not match, in any way, the GOP’s thinking. For each topic, they had a one-sentence description of what the Republican Party stood for.
Take the Constitution. “Our Constitution should be preserved, valued, and honored.” Reading this, it occurred to me that the GOP fetishization of the Constitution treats the Constitution in the same way Muslims treat the Qu’ran — it is the unchangeable, living word of their deity (the Founding Fathers for the GOP fetishists, Allah for the Muslims) and anyone who disagrees has committed a grievous offense against Republicanism or Islam. The thing is, I think those who wrote the document the GOP fetishizes would be absolutely horrified by the worship of the Constitution.
Or the Economy. “We need to start growing America’s economy instead of Washington’s economy so that working Americans see better wages and more opportunity.” I’m genuinely at a loss for words as to what this means. One remarkable feature of the Obama economic recovery is that public sector jobs (“Washington’s economy”) have declined rather than grown. In no previous economic recovery has public sector employment declined. Republicans have said for years that they want to downsize government (“Make it small enough to drown it in a bathtub,” in Grover Norquist’s famous phrase); Obama has actually done it. George W. Bush didn’t downsize the federal government. Ronald Reagan didn’t downsize the federal government. Barack Obama actually has.
That said, it’s not clear to me at all what the connective tissue between downsizing the federal government and wage growth on Main Street is. Adjusted for inflation, wages have been stagnant since Richard Nixon’s presidency. Productivity increases, wages remain flat. It has been this way for forty years. I don’t see anyone, Democrat or Republican, offering any policy that will induce wage growth and see the productivity gains filter down. It pains me to say this, but there may be no policy that will manage this. It’s entirely possible that stagnant wages and a declining middle class is the historical norm rather than the exception. The libertarian economist Tyler Cowen argued in a recent book that Americans need to face facts and recognize that for many Americans social mobility and the middle class lifestyle simply isn’t realistic or achievable. I don’t know what the remedy is, but I doubt very much that tax cuts are part of that remedy.
Security is interesting. “Keeping America safe and strong requires a strong military, growing the economy, energy independence, and strong borders.” Do we need a strong military to defend our vital national interests? Yes, no argument there. “Growing the economy” — yes, that’s a national security issue; one need look no further than the Bonus Army after the First World War for an example of how a stagnant economy and unemployment pose a security threat to the nation. We’ve seen in the Arab Spring that a lack of economic opportunity is more than capable of destablizing governments, if not toppling them altogether. “Energy independence” — I’ve said time and again that we need an Alternative Energy Manhattan Project; if we cut our dependence on foreign oil, or oil altogether, then we no longer have vital national interests in unstable regions like Venezuela or the Middle East. And, let’s be frank, these areas would become more stable in our absence; they would have to resolve their problems on their own, without the United States acting as an outside influence. As for “Strong borders,” our borders seem to be sufficiently strong.
Or Healthcare: “We need to start over with real healthcare reform that puts patients and their doctors in charge, not unelected bureaucrats in Washington.” This is an example of the “English-esque gobbledygoop” I was talking about. This doesn’t mean anything. “We need to start over” implies a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, but it can’t mean that because it wants to replace the Affordable Care Act with “real healthcare reform,” and the Affordable Care Act was, in fact, “real healthcare reform”; the individual insurance market was broken, and the ACA put standards on the market that put it within reach for millions who were frozen out of it. If private industry is failing and hurting consumers as a consequence, as the health insurance industry was, then government has a moral obligation to step in and protect its citizens from that industry by regulating its practices. That is, by definition, “reform.” Now, there are things that can be done to improve the Affordable Care Act, like fix the clergy loophole or the unclear wording on who is eligible for insurance subsidies, but the GOP seems to want something totally different and better than the Affordable Care Act. In that case, the only place to go is a single-payer system.
I have the feeling that my thinking on these topics doesn’t match the GOP’s. I haven’t seen Molly Donlin or Reince Priebus argue for single-payer health care or an Alternative Energy Manhattan Project. I don’t see them arguing for plans that would address income inequality and the wage gap. I don’t see them defetishizing the Constitution; they offered to sell me a copy they would send to the President if I donated money a few months ago. What I do see is Molly Donlin and Reince Priebus using a bunch of buzzwords — “Economy,” “Education,” “Veterans,” “Healthcare” — and using them in a platitudinal way that doesn’t mean anything.
They want to pass “meaningful legislation.” I want to see the plan. I want to see something concrete, something debated, something that can withstand scrutiny in the marketplace of ideas. I can value any of these, but tell me what you want to do with it. You control both houses of Congres. Tell me how you want to govern.
As Coldplay put it: “Give me real, don’t give me fake.”
Can you do that, Molly Donlin and the Republican National Committee? Can you give me real?
Or are you going to spend the next two years whinging instead of doing anything at all?