Quote of the Day

[Content Note: Hostility to consent; wedge politics; scapegoating.]

"I cannot convince my Republican colleagues that one of the best ways to eliminate abortions is to ensure access to contraception. ... What happened to the Republican Party that I joined? The party where conservative presidential candidate Barry Goldwater felt women should have the right to control their own destiny? ... What happened to the Republican Party that felt that the government has no business being in an exam room, standing between me and my patient? Where did the party go that felt some decisions in a woman's life should be made not by legislators and government, but rather by the women, her conscience, her doctor and her God?"—Republican Oklahoma State Representative Doug Cox, in an op-ed for the Oklahoman. [Please note that the op-ed uses appropriative language. Also: Not only women are in need of access to a full spectrum of reproductive healthcare.]

Aside from the fact that not everyone believes in god(s), and "a woman" and "her conscience" are not separate entities, Rep. Cox is making some good points here about how his party has turned into a bunch of anti-science, anti-healthcare, anti-woman, anti-anyone-with-a-uterus collection of facts-hostile, body-policing, god-bothering garbage nightmares!

But! Ha ha BUT! Come on, Representative Cox. You and I both know what happened to the Republican Party.

The Republican Establishment—the people who flatter themselves by claiming to be the intellectual wing of a party that depends on the exploitation of an intractable streak of anti-intellectualism among its key demographic, the people sophisticated enough to not personally be offended by LGBT folks and people of color and feminists, but unethical enough to exploit such bigotries nonetheless—have lost control of their base. After decades of fear-mongering, scapegoating, and wedge issue politicking, they're left with a seething conglomeration of intolerant bullies whose stubborn refusal to evolve ideologically is matched in astonishing obduracy only by their unjustifiable hatred.

And now many of the very architects of that carefully courted and cultivated hatred have the unmitigated temerity to express sadness and frustration at its expression! Snort.

The Tea Partiers get a lot of the blame, which is only partly right: Despite its bullshit origin story about grassroots activism, the Tea Party is a corporate-funded conservative creation explicitly designed to maximize political power by exploiting violent prejudice. The Tea Party wing of the Republican Party is just the latest, and most overtly branded, iteration of the ever-expanding Southern Strategy: For longer than I have been alive, the Republican Party has deliberately, cynically, and unapologetically fanned the flames of that hatred, which served as the fuel for the base's single-minded crusade to protect their privilege and thus the rationale for voting Republican—the party who promised to "protect tradition."

"Tradition" is the kind of word that appeals to people for whom the world is changing more rapidly than they can comfortably adjust, who are too busy to or socially discouraged from reading or thinking about things too much, who have heard some things about how feminists are responsible for the breakdown in the family and gays want to redefine marriage and immigrants are taking all the good jobs. "Tradition" is a word that plays well with people who can't be bothered to examine anything too closely, or were never taught how to properly think, how to analyze and assess information in a way that teases out the truth.

And it's an even better word for speaking to the unabashed bigots of the base, obliquely reassuring them that they're right to hate women and gays and brown people, those three separate monolithic groups of faceless enemies, and implicitly promising them they'll be protected from the onslaught of the radical hordes. America's great tradition of conferring undeserved privilege on you won't fail. Not on our watch.

That has been the sacred covenant between the Republican Party and its straight, white, patriarchal, Christian supremacist base for a generation: Vote for us, and we'll protect you.

And so they voted. And, in the process, they gave away their standard of living, their children's education, their jobs, their civil liberties, their national security, their environment, and their economy—all in exchange for the gossamer promise of a return to a time that never happened in a country that never really existed.

The Republican Party has traded again and again on the conjured idea of an American golden era, circa 1945 to 1960, after boys who were ripped from the arms of their virginal sweethearts and sent to another continent to fight a great war against tyranny and despair, had returned home as men, as heroes, and set to work, every last one of them, making babies with doting wives and grabbing the American Dream with both hands in the dawn of suburbia. Scientists in white lab coats and square, black-framed glasses toiled away to make American astronauts the first on the moon, and to fill all the pretty new homes behind perfect white picket fences with fancy, new-fangled household gadgets to make life easier and more fun. Teenagers hung out at sock hops and neon-lit diners, girls longing for lavaliers and boys wondering how to get laid. Elvis' pelvis was considered a scandal, and Marilyn Monroe a bombshell. Dad had a pension and the promise of a gold watch at the end of a long career with a single firm, and Mom had a Frigidaire. And everyone was happy.

Vote for us—and we'll give you that.

It's an empty promise built on an illusion, carefully constructed to conceal that America's so-called golden age was imperfect like any other, and perhaps even more so than most. Half a million of those boys who went off to war never came home—and some of them weren't boys at all, but men, who left wives and children with desperate struggles in the place where their husbands and fathers had been. Some who had come home were never the same, their bodies or minds damaged beyond real repair. Women who had been called to duty in factories or faraway lands were forcibly driven back into domesticity, segregation was a legal fact, every gay or bi woman and man had a closet of hir very own, mental illness was treated with lobotomies, McCarthy was on his Communist witch hunt, and we fought an all-but-forgotten war in Korea for three years and lost over 35,000 soldiers. There were back-alley abortions, and the KKK, and Elvis and Marilyn both died of drug overdoses.

The Republican promise has always had the very same flaw as their policies: It is contingent on pretending that the complexity and complications of human existence, and the flaws of humankind, don't exist.

The Republicans have held out this chimera to their base—this Leave It to Beaver bullshit—as if the typical family once was, and should be again, a model of white Christian perfection that never fought, never struggled, never suffered. And never had to be subjected to interactions with people of color, or LGBT folks, or any women besides Mom and maybe a nice lady to help sons take out books on the Boy Scouts from the local library. They have held it out as if it has actually been, and as if it could be again.

And they did so even knowing that the fantasy of this nonexistent perfect America is the very thing that created the beloved "traditions" of racism, sexism, and homophobia in the first place. It has been the dangling enticement of a happy family, supported by a single secure and well-paid job, in which no one is wracked with disillusionment, dispossession, or a lack of opportunity—an invitation to join for which most Americans are never given the chance to RSVP—which created the resentment and scapegoating that are the foundations of social conservative traditionalism.

"BOOTSTRAPS!" shouted the Republican Leadership, as they deregulated consumer protections and dismantled workers' rights. "BOOTSTRAPS!" shouted the GOP's Corporate Masters, as they relocated the bootstrap factory to China. The barrel-chested barons of a new Gilded Age stood astride the bodies of those who had been condemned to less fortunate fates, singing the praises of Social Darwinism and bellowing about the superfluity of a social safety net, declaring without a trace of irony, "The government never gave me anything!" as they deposited their million-dollar checks from their latest no-bid Defense Department contract then headed off to Tiffany's to get The Little Woman a bauble with their fat tax returns. "BOOTSTRAPS!"

And when working hard failed to deliver on its enticing promises, and the only thing the Invisible Hand gave its working class believers was the finger, the promise-makers deflected accountability to the targets of that attentively nurtured hate. If it weren't for progressives... If it weren't for feminists and gays and illegals... If it weren't for that dark-skinned president...

People who bought into the narratives of self-determination, of rugged individualism, of bootstraps, the uniquely American myths of achievement and goodness in Manifest Destiny and Social Darwinist and Prosperity Gospel morality tales, who believed that shit, were left with nothing but impotent anger—and, having been encouraged to make no social contract, to depend on no one but oneself, to hoard all the rewards of the success that bootstrapping was supposed to yield and share naught, they were then left with no one to blame but themselves when it all went wrong.

Which, obviously, wasn't going to do.

Fortunately, even though wealth and opportunity and security failed to trickle down, blame did not. And the promise-makers who quickly said, "Don't look at us!" were happy to provide to their disaffected base a road map to where their ire should be directed.

Now the Republicans are stuck with the result—their revolting (in every sense of the word) base, who still believe, and must, lest they face their complicity in having been left with naught but their biases, that the responsible party for their struggles, their disaffection, their undefined but keenly-felt fury, is those people, not the Grand Old Party who promised them something better in exchange for their votes.

The political leadership taught their base too well whom to blame for what ails them, and thus cannot now move them from their fixed gaze and finger-pointing, even as it isn't helping the party anymore—and stands likely to hurt the party for the foreseeable future. They sowed the seeds of prejudice for decades, and now they reap nothing but the only crop such seeds can yield.

It would be amusing, if only the rest of us weren't stuck with the result, too.

And even as the conservative elites whinge grimly about the rabble whose greatest fear is liberals overrunning the perfect, lily-white, patriarchal Christian nation that only exists in their fever-dreams and RAISING THEIR TAXES, they're trying to rehabilitate George W. Bush, the Platonic Ideal of the Modern Conservative, the Golden Boy of the current incarnation of the Republican Party—a corporate shill with the demeanor of a country bumpkin, who could hold together the unholy alliance between Big Money and Big Religion, standing at the altar and giving the blessing to the grim marriage between the gullible bigots who pledged to march in lockstep with anyone who promised to protect the children from illegals and feminazis and kissing boys, and the business interests who sought to get rich off those rubes before sending their jobs overseas.

Even as they lament the radicalization of their increasingly extreme base, they foment it at every opportunity. Because it's the only way they know how to win.

Which is still the Most Important Thing.

Despite their affected mystification, Republicans know exactly what happened to their party. And they're going to keep exploiting that extreme and volatile rage as long as they can, even though a principled party would denounce this three-ring circus of unfettered bigotry before it's too late. If it isn't already.

"What happened to my party?" wonder the vanishing moderates of the Republican Party, shaking their heads gravely and publicly wringing their hands, before shuffling off to wash them of any responsibility.

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