Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Republican Party: From Diabolical Masterminds to That Urine-Soaked Guy on the Bus Mumbling Incoherently About Gummy Bears

I know: Duh.

But I just wanted to reiterate the utter lack of logic and rational thought that's infesting the GOP and its constituents these days. In the past, most of the party's disjointed, ill-conceived, or just plain machiavellian ideas came from up top - Milton Friedman, the father of fiscal conservatism; economist Grover Norquist, the 80s trickle-down Reaganites; the gentle souls over at The Heritage Foundation, Newt Gingrich, the architect of the 90s Republican Revolution; and the warmongering Neo-Cons of the Bush administration. The first step was seizing power. From Thomas Frank's The Wrecking Crew:
"First, we want to remove liberal personnel from the political process. Then we want to capture those positions of power and influence for conservatives. Stalin taught the importance of this principle. He was running the personnel department, while Trotsky was fighting the White Army. When push came to shove for control of the Soviet Union, Stalin won...With this principle in mind, conservatives must do all they can to make sure that they get jobs in Washington."
So, for all you flag-waving, pendant-wearing patriots out there, the post-Goldwater conservatives owe much of their success to a communist dictator who committed genocide against his own people. I'm assuming back then that Norquist and other GOP operatives didn't roll this strategy out at a series of town hall meetings.

Overall, much of the Republican policy devised over the past, say, 30 years, has been hard-sold to the American public based on the promise of fiscal solvency.

These policies - unfettered free market capitalism, supply-side economics, and systemic deregulation - we were told, would be implemented based on sound economic principles. Let individuals, rather than the government, take responsibility for their own wealth or poverty, Republicans said, for only the individual truly knows what's best for her or himself. The truly industrious and innovative will inevitably rise to the challenge, regardless of their race, class, or ethnicity. And let companies work outside of the government's clenched grip of regulation, for true competition and innovation accelerates when freed from the oppressive scrutiny of the government's watchful eye. In other words, let the markets decide which businesses succeed or fail.

But those paying attention since the advent of voodoo economics have observed these conceptions to be patently absurd. For one thing, socioeconomic status continues to be the biggest determinant in whether or not an individual is materially successful. The indigent are rarely given the tools during childhood necessary for them to later flourish into the industrious leaders our society demands. It's next to impossible to compete in the professional job market when you're 18 and still reading at a fourth-grade level.

We've also witnessed the litany of calamities that deregulation - or insufficient regulation - can yield, as evidenced by the abysmal fallout from no-bid war contracts, sub-prime mortgage loans, credit default swaps, and massive seven-and-eight-figure payouts to Wall Street bank executives. Competition is all well and good (for the most part), but when financial juggernauts like Goldman Sachs engaged in market manipulation and securities fraud, no one was there to say this. From Matt Taibbi's "The Great Bubble Machine," an exceptional investigative piece from Rolling Stone:
The bank (Goldman) might be taking all these hideous, completely irresponsible mortgages from beneath-gangster-status firms like Countrywide and selling them off to municipalities and pensioners - old people, for God's sake - pretending the whole time that it wasn't gradeD horseshit. But even as it was doing so, it was taking short positions in the same market, in essence betting against the same crap it was selling.

In other words, Goldman was hedging its bets against a market they essentially created. And, because they're Goldman Sachs (ooh, ahh!), everyone blindly bought into it. Everyone.

In the same piece, Taibbi emphasizes that Goldman has been sued and penalized numerous times over the years, which has had zero impact on its highly unethical banking practices, since the penalty fees - usually in the neighborhood of $100 million or so - are loose pocket change compared to the ridiculous amounts of cash the firm has been raking in from exploiting so many loopholes in the financial markets, many of which the SEC itself wasn't even aware of. Problem is, the Securities and Exchange Commission is the regulatory agency primarily responsible for taking market raiders like Goldman to task. Oh, but they didn't completely comprehend what Goldman was doing - so they claim - so I guess it's okay.

To further explain the lack of effective oversight, the SEC, along with the last three presidential administrations, have been lousy with former Goldman execs. Reagan once said, "The best minds are not in government. If any were, business would steal them away." False.

The thing about Republicans is that, when they're in the minority, government is bureaucratic, ineffectual, even Orwellian. But when they're running the entire show, rather than continuing their harsh critique of big government, we hear a lot of this.

Next, when thousands of ailing Americans were being summarily dropped from health insurance roles due to "prior undisclosed conditions," for years the only person who would even give them the time of day was a portly firebrand filmmaker from Michigan.

From the L.A. Times comes a piece about insurance giant Wellpoint's modus operandi toward patients crippled by severe illnesses:
But documents obtained by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and released today show that the company's employee performance evaluation program did include a review of rescission activity.

The documents show, for instance, that one blue Cross employee earned a perfect score of "5" for "exceptional performance" on an evaluation that noted the employee's role in dropping thousands of policyholders and avoiding nearly $10 million worth of medical care.

How charming. At this point, I'd like to take a moment to come up with a list of the most loathsome categories of human beings on the planet. This is an extremely intricate process, so I won't bog you down in all the minutia of how I determine my findings. Here it is: Top 5, worst comes first.
  1. Puppy rapists
  2. Nazis (the German ones from WWII, as opposed to the ones currently infiltrating the Obama administration)
  3. These guys
  4. Private health insurance company claims adjusters
  5. The Taliban
That's right, people: A guy who will slice off your right ear for playing techno music is likely responsible for fewer deaths than Chip over at Blue Shield with the troll pencils and the "I Love Dachsunds" screensaver.

And finally, there was the "I'm With Stupid" Administration's stubborn refusal to put the regulatory clamps down on the biggest environmental polluters on the planet.

Now, I'm not suggesting that these expedient, ignominious, or just plain idiotic policies are things of the past. Without question, they'll return in some incarnation once the Republicans are firmly entrenched in our government again. What I am saying, though, is that now progressives have a whole new element to deal with: The batshit insane.

It's true. Instead of cloaking horrendous policy in brilliant propaganda campaigns and then applying pressure downward, onto the Great Unwashed, the Republicans are now a party that seemingly receives its cues from the most gullible, ignorant, reactionary, and paranoid of society's cognitive bottom-dwellers.

It's almost as though the intellectual line between right-wing demagogue and unemployed World War II grenade enthusiast has been completely eradicated. Unconvinced? Fine. Then how about a nice multiple choice quiz to prove my point.

For the following questions, choose the individual that uttered each quote over the past 2 weeks.

1. "This provision may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia if enacted into law."

a. The fella who lives out of a tent in the abandoned lot across the street from Kragen because he "refuses to pay taxes that are just going to be used for welfare and health care for illegals."
b. Your brother-in-law, Dave, a recent convert to Jews for Jesus and the current president of the Whispering Meadows homeowners association
c. House Republican Leader John Boehner

2. "We should not have a government plan that will pull the plug on Grandma!"

a. The guy pacing in front of Ralph's, clad in a fatigue-colored leotard, who constantly warns shoppers of the impending apocalypse
b. Your former college roommate Doug, who, at 35, just quit his job and moved back in with his parents because he "wants to spend more time doing his art."
c. Republican senator Chuck Grassley

3. "The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgement of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system in downright evil."

b. An unemployed, clinically insane gun enthusiast
c. All the above

Here are your answers: 1. c 2. c 3. c

For me, this is something to watch closely in the months leading up to the November mid-term elections. Right now, the loudest voices in the GOP are coming from the most irrational and intellectually lazy segment of the party. Maybe the rest of the conservatives are ceding the pulpit to these crazies for the purpose of instigating more action among the right wing electorate for the purpose of thwarting Obama's agenda. Or maybe the party has actually morphed into a safe haven for right-wing extremists, racists, religious zealots, and unbalanced xenophobes - both among its leaders and throughout its constituency. Either scenario is equally disturbing and prompts me to wonder if Canadian winters are really all that bad.

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Stop the Inanity. by Brock Cohen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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