We all know that in the last 3 years, the GOP has changed. As if Bush/Cheney weren't bad enough, we now have the entire Republican Party taken over by crazed tea partiers.
I think that was sparked by John McCain's nomination of Sarah Palin. It was a move of desperation. Prior to that time, McCain had been known as a "moderate Republican" and the right wing of the party had been captured by folks like Mike Huckabee, who was seen as a fringe candidate. Once McCain won the nomination, instead of moving to the center (he was already there), he needed to shore up his base. Thus the Palinization of the GOP began.
In the wake of the country's disillusionment with Bush/Cheney, the Republicans needed some fuel to stoke their weakening fires and so they seized on the Tea Party momentum...fanning the flames. Now they are beholden to the extremists.
It has changed the discourse coming from the Republicans. We are seeing the end of what David Roberts called "post-truth politics."
For decades Republicans have single-mindedly pursued a few core goals: reducing taxes on the wealthy, dismantling the post-war social welfare state, and freeing corporations from regulatory restraints. Sometimes that has meant short-term compromises and half-measures, sometimes it's meant exploiting culture war resentments, sometimes it's meant a pose of moderation (compassionate conservatism). Very often -- almost always -- it's meant couching the agenda in other terms, since it is, if you poll it directly, wildly unpopular with the public. Americans want to tax the rich more, protect entitlement programs, and put tighter rules on corporations.
Republicans thus talk about "taxes" and "spending" and "regulation" in the abstract, since Americans oppose them in the abstract even as they support their specific manifestations. They talk about cutting the deficit even as they slash taxes on the rich and launch unfunded wars. They talk about free markets even as they subsidize fossil fuels. They talk about American exceptionalism even as they protect fossil-fuel incumbents and fight research and infrastructure investments.
In short, Republicans have mastered post-truth politics. They've realized that their rhetoric doesn't have to bear any connection to their policy agenda. They can go through different slogans, different rationales, different fights, depending on the political landscape of the moment. They need not feel bound by previous slogans, rationales, or fights. They've realized that policy is policy and politics is politics and they can push for the former while waging the latter battle on its own terms. The two have become entirely unmoored.
Want an example of how that kind of obfuscation is over? Just look at how open Republicans are now being about ending things like Social Security and Medicare. In a post-truth politics era, they sold the ending of Social Security as "privatization." In other words, they weren't going to end it - just hand it over to Wall Street. And they knew better than to even talk about changing Medicare.
Then came Paul Ryan's plan to voucherize Medicare. Yep, they just came out and put a plan on the table that would essentially do to Medicare what privatization would do to Social Security.
But now they're starting to talk about the real end-game...ending those programs. You have folks like Rick Perry suggesting they're unconstitutional. And this week, we saw the "reasonable" guy who is the Republican's hope for the future, Mark Rubio, say the most outlandish thing I've heard about these programs.
These programs actually weakened us as a people. You see, almost forever, it was institutions in society that assumed the role of taking care of one another. If someone was sick in your family, you took care of them. If a neighbor met misfortune, you took care of them. You saved for your retirement and your future because you had to. We took these things upon ourselves in our communities, our families, and our homes, and our churches and our synagogues. But all that changed when the government began to assume those responsibilities. All of a sudden, for an increasing number of people in our nation, it was no longer necessary to worry about saving for security because that was the government’s job.
I guess Rubio is too young and/or ignorant to have bothered to look back and see why these programs were created in the first place...because seniors in this country WERE NOT SECURE. Family, neighbors, and other institutions were not able to provide that. As Volsky points out in the linked article, prior to Medicare and Social Security, about half did not have hospital insurance and one in four were living in poverty.
For a long time, this kind of thing didn't need to be said because the majority of Americans know this and support these programs. Republicans, who have always wanted to get rid of them, needed to hide these kinds of sentiments or they'd never get elected to anything more than dog catcher.
But now the flood gates are open and they're telling us something that is at least closer to the truth. I suppose we could suggest that's a good thing. In reality, the choices in front of us as voters have never been more clear.
It seems that in 2012, we're going to need to go back to making the case that FDR did in his 1944 inaugural address:
It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
Or as President Obama said just a couple of months ago:
From our first days as a nation, we have put our faith in free markets and free enterprise as the engine of America’s wealth and prosperity. More than citizens of any other country, we are rugged individualists, a self-reliant people with a healthy skepticism of too much government.
But there’s always been another thread running through our history -– a belief that we’re all connected, and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation. We believe, in the words of our first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves...
Part of this American belief that we’re all connected also expresses itself in a conviction that each one of us deserves some basic measure of security and dignity. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, hard times or bad luck, a crippling illness or a layoff may strike any one of us. “There but for the grace of God go I,” we say to ourselves. And so we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which guarantee us health care and a measure of basic income after a lifetime of hard work; unemployment insurance, which protects us against unexpected job loss; and Medicaid, which provides care for millions of seniors in nursing homes, poor children, those with disabilities. We’re a better country because of these commitments. I’ll go further. We would not be a great country without those commitments...
The America I know is generous and compassionate. It’s a land of opportunity and optimism. Yes, we take responsibility for ourselves, but we also take responsibility for each other; for the country we want and the future that we share...
To meet our fiscal challenge, we will need to make reforms. We will all need to make sacrifices. But we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in. And as long as I’m President, we won’t.
That's the past we stand on as Democrats and the future we'll fight for in 2012 and beyond.