Calhoun’s Can(n)ons for August 31, 2012
The demagogue is one who preaches doctrine he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.
Are you kidding me? That’s all I could think of as I watched hour after hour of the brain-scrambling Republican convention. Are you kidding?
True, when someone starts out with a lie, it’s always fun to see where they’re going to go from there without constantly stepping in it, unless they’re a Republican and stepping in something as mundane as a “lie” has apparently ceased to be a concern anymore.
But three days of cynical mendacity combined with collective amnesia turned the convention into one long Saturday Night Live Emily Latella skit. You remember Emily, Gilda Radner’s loopy old lady who kept getting things wrong, but that didn’t stop her from steaming off into outrage about some misperceived topic, like “violins in the street.” When corrected that it was “violence, not violins,” she would squint unrepentantly at the camera and blithely change the subject.
Only the Republican Party is no loopy, addled Emily. Instead, what was on tap was a convention cynically built around a lie – the repeated and deliberate misstatement of a reference made in one of President Obama’s speeches. In that speech, while the President lauded individual enterprise, he also pointed out the obvious: Success isn’t strictly singular, that businesses benefited from communally built infrastructure and the “that” in “you didn’t build that,” reference was to “bridges, roads, etc.” which were built by taxpayers.
True, it was an awkward sentence, but the meaning was absolutely clear to anyone not language challenged. Or a political party willing to disgracefully take that clear meaning out of context, twist it into a lie, brazenly plaster signs saying “We Built It,” all over the convention center and make that lie the singular leitmotif on the lips of almost every speaker at the podium. And even though they had to know it was a lie, they spoke it anyway. Which raised an awful question: Who could possibly trust anything those guys say?
But that wasn’t the worst of it. What became truly creepy was the collective willingness of everyone to go down the memory hole. (It’s the internet age: does no one google FactCheck anymore?) This signal amnesia wasn’t just hypocrisy, like Delaware businesswoman, Sher Valenzuela, who lauded her “I Built It” successful business but “forgot” to mention it was aided by $2 million in (government funded) SBA loans and $15 million in (government funded) contracts. Or the parade of “I Built It” governors crediting their state’s recovery on their own singular efforts while ignoring the GM taxpayer bailout and all those Washington stimulus checks they happily cashed. (Talk about a gaggle of serpent-toothed ingrates chewing the hand that fed them.)
No, this was not run of the mill hypocrisy at work, but a profound disconnect from the historical record, the factual narrative. Listening to speaker after speaker spin their tales was like reading a complex historical novel from which Republicans had redacted any reference to their role in that story. Down the memory hole they went, bemoaning the terrible state of affairs while utterly ignoring their part in creating the crisis and/or making the crisis infinitely worse. There is a reason this Party-of-No, Do Nothing, Republican-led Congress is so loathed by the voters. On day one of Obama’s election, Republican Senator McConnell clearly stated that his party’s one over riding goal wasn’t jobs or helping American workers retool or working across the aisle to set things right, but to get rid of Obama – throw the bum out of the bar, in the inelegant parlance of Speaker Boehner. And it was the lock-step Republicans, monkey-wrenching Tea Partiers and a gaggle of Democratic hacks that brought pointless pain to millions of ordinary Americans caught in the crossfire of their spite, their destructive policies, fantasy math, and the overriding political strategy that keeping the country in dire straits would mean a guaranteed Republican win in 2012.
All of which went missing for three nights of astounding amnesia and false narratives. That’s not normal hypocrisy, that’s pathology. And while you can campaign on lies and rabbit hole history, you can’t govern that way.
Which is why, when Paul Ryan, the fresh-faced Leave It To Beaver veep nominee stood before the American people and repeated that foundational lie, a lie he had to know was false, then fell down the memory hole of “fake facts,” and Mitt Romney slid from a sweet, smiley-faced wish list of unsupported platitudes and into irresponsible, bellicose war-talk, and we were left with Anne Romney telling us we should “trust Mitt,” well, my only response had to be, “Are you kidding me?”
Then my head exploded.