by Ted Rall
Soviet citizens had to be Kremlinologists, studying subtle linguistic and tonal shifts in state propaganda, noting the seating order of party leaders at official functions, in order to predict the future direction of their lives.
So too are we Americans. Without any way to really get to know our politicians—their press conferences and interviews are too infrequent and carefully stage-managed, unchallenged by compliant journalistic toadies—we are reduced to reading signals.
Even to an alienated electorate, the tealeaves are easy to read on the Republican side.
Between Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his Republican running mate, his team of Dubya-rehash economic advisors (because that worked out so well) and Tea Party favorite Chris Christie as keynote speaker at this year’s Republican National Convention, the Republican Party is in danger of doing something that seemed impossible just a few months ago: strengthening support among the liberal base of the Democratic Party for President Obama.
Of course, disappointed lefties will not soon forget President Obama’s betrayals: Guantánamo, drone wars, and oh yeah, jobs. But those progressives who previously threatened to sit on their hands or cast votes for a third party, are reconsidering, weighing disgust against gathering terror as they read the signals from the gathering storm in Tampa.
Romney, who abandoned his history as a centrist Massachusetts Republican to run as a bona fide right-winger, chose to balance his newfound extremism with Paul Ryan, an even-more-right-winger. Ryan is a vicious, overrated ideologue whose greatest achievement, his theoretical budget proposal, paints a picture of America as a dystopian hell where an infinitely funded Pentagon wages perpetual war and the top 1% of the top 1% party earn tax cuts while the elderly and poor starve or succumb to treatable diseases, whichever kills them first. (In the media today, this gets you lionized as “smart,” “wonky,” and “an intellectual heavyweight.” Ryan = Sartre.)
Lest you wonder whether the Ryan selection is an anomaly, wonder not—from Christie to the stump speeches to the men first in line to join a Romney cabinet, everything about Team Romney screams Tea Party, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Ayn Rand minus the cool atheism and elitism.
My real concern is that Romney’s gangbusters right-wing extremism lets Obama and the Democrats off the hook.
If all Democratic strategists have to do to attract progressive voters is to frighten them with greater-evil Republicans, when will people who care about the working class, oppose wars of choice, and whose critique of government is that it isn’t in our lives enough ever see their dreams become the party platform? In recent elections, liberals often only voted for Democrats out of terror that things will get even worse. That’s no way to run a party, or a country.
If I were advising Romney, I would tell him that cozying up to the lunatic fringe of American pseudo-conservatism is not a prescription for victory in November given that the outcome hinges upon seducing that small percentage of independent and swing voters who will decide the election. Ryan isn’t as crazy (or bold) of a choice as Sarah Palin, but what Republicans appear to be casting aside is the fact that conservatives will vote Republican regardless of who is the vice presidential running mate or, for that matter, who is the Republican nominee for president. Lack of enthusiasm among the base wasn’t Romney’s big problem, it was Obama’s.
The deficit may or may not represent a looming existential threat—unemployment and the environment are more urgent—but “take your medicine” austerity isn’t much of a sales pitch, especially when two-thirds of the people are already feeling squeezed. Voters reward candidates who present an optimistic vision, a future in which they see themselves richer, happier, and with fuller, more lustrous hair.
The fact that Romney can’t manage to put forward a credible economic program doesn’t help. Because his entire campaign is predicated on the argument that he’s the economy guy and knows how to fix it, he needs to cough up a plan.
Ted Rall is a columnist, cartoonist, author and independent war journalist. He is the winner of numerous awards and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His new book is The Book of Obama: How We Got From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.