Grand Old Party: Wacky Is the New Normal

Photo: Brendan McDermid /Reuters

Photo: Brendan McDermid /Reuters

In contemporary US politics, reality is whatever the eye of the beholder wishes to ignore. Though the art and science of spin has expert practitioners on both sides of the congressional aisle, Republicans seem particularly adept at working the facts to fit their preferred view of the world, as often as not derived from fair-and-balanced Fox News – itself of course nestled at the very epitome of antagonistic journalism.

Point-man of the Republican Party’s offensive against Obamacare, former Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) christened the health care act a “budget-busting job-killer”. In fact, for much of 2011 and 2012 Mr Boehner used that phrase on average every two minutes while a guest on talk shows and newscasts. He repeatedly predicted that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 would “bankrupt” the nation, thus setting the shrill tone of a shouting match that is still ongoing as the US moves towards its election season.

The allegations are doggedly maintained even in the face of inconvenient truths. In its latest employment report, the US Department of Labor announced that some 271,000 jobs were added to the economy in October, marking 68 consecutive months of job growth that got over 13.5 million people (back) to work. Never before in recorded US history has the job market continuously expanded over such an extended period.

“The maverick entrepreneur showcased his smarts when he slammed the recently proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a free trade agreement between twelve countries bordering the Pacific Ocean – over China’s “currency manipulations”, not quite realising that the Chinese are not part of the pact.”

Similarly, the rather timid Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act – also signed into law in 2010 and since then better known as Dodd-Frank – was vociferously derided by the Republican collective as the root of all economic evil. The full might of the GOP was promptly mobilised to defend the beleaguered bankers of Wall Street with Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Michele Bachman investing almost savagely against the “assault on job-creators”. Dodd-Frank merely aims to discourage banks from again endangering the public purse by engaging in predatory financial practices.

In yet another flight of conservative fancy, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan regularly predicts doom and gloom over the encroachment of environmental legislation on the sacrosanct freedoms of US enterprise. Formerly a dedicated disciple of Ayn Rand and her objectivist philosophy of ulterior selfishness, Mr Ryan now seeks solace in the works of Thomas Aquinas. However, he has apparently not yet gotten to the bit where the philosopher priest condemns the laws of supply and demand as immoral[i]. Mr Ryan derives particular pleasure from blasting the “job-crushing over-regulation” imposed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which he holds responsible for driving up prices. It has not come to the speaker’s attention that the US job market is rather buoyant while inflation continues to hover around zero.

Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney famously claimed that addressing the perceived excesses of the Obama Administration – repealing Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, cutting government spending, and reining in the wicked tree-huggers of the EPA – would soon drive unemployment levels down to under six percent. Even though Mr Romney lost the election and the Republicans failed to impose their agenda, the US jobless rate dropped to 5.0% in October.

With a line-up of wannabe presidents that reads like a veritable who’s who of assorted crackpots, the Republican Party seems determined to alienate all but born again voters. Leading the pack, for now, is real estate tycoon Donald Trump who considers himself exceptionally smart and everybody else exceedingly dumb. Heavy on rhetoric and light on substance, Mr Trump lives by soundbites. With an attention span as short as his temper, the businessman is perhaps best known for his enthusiastic firing of people in the US version of the television franchise The Apprentice.

During the fourth Republican debate, Mr Trump again suggested the building of a wall along the US/Mexican border to stem illegal immigration. He also reiterated his intention to throw some eleven million undocumented aliens over that wall. The maverick entrepreneur showcased his smarts when he slammed the recently proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a free trade agreement between twelve countries bordering the Pacific Ocean – over China’s “currency manipulations”, not quite realising that the Chinese are not part of the pact.

Other Republican hopefuls fared little better. Enumerating the federal agencies he would shutter, Senator Ted Cruz expressed an interest in closing down the Department of Commerce twice over. The gaffe bore an eerie resemblance to Rick Perry’s hilarious performance in 2011 when the Republican candidate pompously declared that he would immediately eliminate three federal departments. However, when queried, Mr Perry could only remember the names of two departments to be axed. Aiming to oblige with a helping hand, fellow contender Mitt Romney kindly suggested the Environmental Protection Agency whereupon Mr Perry memorably exclaimed: “EPA there you go” before acknowledging that was not it.

Not to be outdone, another contestant for the Republican nomination, Ben Carson eagerly shared his knowledge about the pyramids of Egypt on national television, explaining that the structures were erected at the behest of Joseph, the 11th born of the Israelite patriarch Jacob’s 12 sons and consultant to Senusret II, the fourth pharaoh of the Twelfth Dynasty. Foreseeing a famine, Joseph suggested building pyramids to store grain. At least, that is what Mr Carson makes of it in a remarkable rewrite of history. The retired neurosurgeon took some convincing but eventually acceded, albeit reluctantly, that the pyramids may indeed have been built for other than grain storage purposes.

Amongst the lesser Republican candidates are birthers such as Andy Martin whose claim to fame includes suing the State of Hawaii for the release of President Obama’s birth certificate and Michael Bickelmeyer who proposes to deploy an orbital weapon platform that concentrates solar power and sends it to earth as a lethal beam capable of killing a single person or frying an entire country. Eric Cavanagh, somewhat of an oddity as a self-described progressive Republican, is courting the religious right with his proposal to levy a 100% surtax on all forms of porn. With his idea to scrap all taxes on liquor, Mr Cavanagh hopes to appeal to an altogether different constituency.

While the outer left field is an entertaining addendum to mainstream politics, and usually makes the business of choosing leaders a bit more palatable as well, the GOP is slowly becoming an asylum for oddballs, certified or otherwise. Mr Trump, a serial abuser of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and competent only at playing a broken system, is but a clown beset by megalomania. He is the polar opposite of Socrates’ wise man who humbly recognises that he knows nothing.

The other frontrunner, Ben Carson – as many of his fellow Republicans blinded by faith – may have been a brilliant neurosurgeon at John Hopkins; he also is an intellectual midget with no discernible knowledge of world affairs, only a modest grasp of economics, and on social issues a throwback to a bygone era not far removed from the Puritans.

In a worrying sign that normal doesn’t cut it any longer on the right, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina – the lone woman vying for the GOP nomination and arguably the only one without wacky ideas – doesn’t stand a chance. Too boring.

Hillary it is then. The alternative is just too scary a thought.

[i] Thomas Aquinas – Summa Theologiae: “Of Cheating, Which Is Committed in Buying and Selling.”

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