|Reagan's economics heralded a fundamental shift in the distribution of wealth in the United States [GALLO/GETTY]
San Pedro, CA - Karl Rove was infamous for the strategy of attacking the strengths of political opponents, rather than their weaknesses. The 2004 Swiftboat attack on John Kerry, a genuine war hero, was the classic example of this. (Rove was equally infamous for hiding his dirty work.)
But Rove's strategy was actually not as novel as it might seem. It was deeply rooted in the psychology of projection - what's commonly known as "the pot calling the kettle black". After all, it wasn't just that Kerry was a war hero, but that Bush was both a draft-dodger (kept out of the war by privileged connections) and a deserter on top of that (he skipped out on even his minimal Air National Guard duties, but was then fraudulently discharged as if he'd met all his requirements). As Glenn Greenwald clearly demonstrated in his 2008 book, Great American Hypocrites, there is an entire parade of prominent rightwing "heroes" in the mould of actor John Wayne, whose heroics were mere puffery, while the degenerate immorality they decry in others is usually all too abundantly real in their own private lives.
The individual psychology behind this is fascinating - but not really the point I want to address today. I only wish to bring it up because it sets the stage for discussing a similar phenomenon at the group/institutional level: the wholesale failure of the GOP as the so-called "Daddy Party".
Attention has been riveted of late on the GOP's War on Women, and Mitt Romney's almost 20-point gender gap trailing President Obama. And of course, Republicans have responded in Rovian fashion by trying to blame Obama and the Democrats for waging the "real War on Women". All this is right out front for one and all to see.
But the real story of the post-Bush United States is the GOP's failure as the "Daddy Party". Oh, sure, the GOP still does much better with men - even though that barely gives Romney any edge at all in some of the latest polling. But the Daddy Party/Mommy Party dichotomy was never just about the gender balance of supporters. As Larry Sabato, a quintessential establishment sort, explained back in 2008:
|"Look, when you analyse parties, you need to think of them this way: The Democratic Party is the mommy party, and the Republican Party is the daddy party. Now, you and I both love both our mothers and fathers, right? But they play different roles in many families. The mother is loving and caring and takes us back in and provides the safety net. The father is the disciplinarian - tough love. He makes us face up to hard realities, at least in many families. Well, the mommy party is the Democratic Party. The daddy party is the Republican Party. And I think if you look at the economy, you look at the housing, the mortgage crisis, a whole wide range of things, you'll find that the parties fulfill these images."
Why daddy should be such a soft touch for millionaires and billionaires, Sabato never really does explain. It's just the way the pundit class thinks. But even more fundamental than the two contrasting roles in the family are the underlying gender stereotypes: men are tough, objective, reality-oriented; women are soft, subjective, and wish-, fantasy- or romantically oriented. And this is the level at which the crumbling myth of the Daddy Party comes most clearly into focus.
Not only has the GOP lost any claim to objectivity or reality-orientation, the form of masculinity it has come to exemplify is precisely that of an adolescent - or even a pre-adolescent - acting out in response to its failure to mature along the pathway to male adulthood. In the extreme, it has even appeared to break down into mere temper tantrums - as when Congressional Republicans threatened to stop paying our bills in the name of "fiscal responsibility".
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This is a rather sweeping claim, so let me flesh it out for you with broad, yet clearly definable examples, three traditionally male-gendered ares where the GOP has massively failed in the past several decades: economics, the military and science. The GOP's economic failure was staggering - the worst decade of economic performance since the Great Depression, culminating in greatest economic crisis since that same earth-shattering event. The failure was somewhat obscured by the weakness of the Democratic Party in at least two senses - first, the degree to which the Democrats have adopted much of the Republican economic folly as their own, and second, the related failure of the Democrats to articulate a forceful critique of the Republican failure. Yet, even despite this, the failure is unmistakable - as will be sketched out shortly.
There is a similar situation with respect to GOP military failure, but the weakness of the Democratic alternative and critique is even more significant in obscuring that failure. Finally, the Republican's lost grip on science is obscured in a somewhat different way: it's obscured in part because of a much more sweeping erosion of trust that infects almost the entirety of US culture. Yet, despite the various obscuring factors, which have largely prevented the GOP from paying the sort of political price its actions warrant, there can be little doubt that these massive failures have occurred.
The economic failure of the 'Daddy Party'
First, in the realm of economics, the financial crisis and the Great Recession have largely served to obscure the fact that GOP policies before the recession began were already an historical disaster, in large part because they represented a continuation and intensification of failed policies adopted earlier under presidents Reagan and Bush Sr. From the end of World War II to the early 1970s, Democratic economic policies prevailed, and the large-scale indicators were strongly positive: the US debt-to-GDP ratio declined dramatically, prosperity was so broadly shared that the gap between rich and poor narrowed, growth was both high and sustained, recessions were brief and mild.
After a turbulent decade in the 1970s, a new pattern emerged under Reagan: growing debt-to-GDP ratios, prosperity concentrated at the top with stagnant or falling wages for the broad middle, slower and less-sustained growth, longer and more-intense recessions increasingly characterised by "jobless recoveries" of longer and longer duration. To be sure, there were external factors involved. International economic competition intensified significantly. But since the rich did better than ever, the outcome was clearly policy-driven to a very considerable extent.
Even though Clinton largely accepted the constraints of Reagan/Bush economic ideology, he did raise taxes, and this had a dramatic impact in beginning the budget-balancing process. Economic growth strengthened and broadened as well. But even those at the very top did significantly better under Clinton than they would under Bush, as I showed in an August 2009 Open Left diary about the Bush economy.
The broadest measure of economic performance - and the one that's most directly felt by ordinary US citizens - is that of household income, which the Census bureau breaks down into quintiles, plus those at the 95th percentile (those making more money than 95 per cent of all households). Under Bush, household incomes for the vast majority of those in the US were stagnant or declining from 2001 to 2007 - the year before the Great Recession hit. For example, households at the 20th percentile saw their incomes fall from US $21,046 to $20,291. But even households at the 95th percentile only crept up insignificantly from $176,257 to $177,000 - and their incomes actually slipped several thousand dollars for three straight years before rising again. Such were the spectacular results of the Bush tax cuts.
How bad was Bush's record? To find out, I compared Bush's record to Clinton's, taking the income levels in 2001, applying the Clinton-era income growth rates, and comparing them with the actual income growth (or decline) rates under Bush. By this measure, every income group lost income under Bush, ranging from $18,988 lost by households at the 20th percentile to $135,049 lost at the 95th percentile.
But the uber-wealthy made out like bandits, right? Er, not so much. I also looked at super-high income data from the IRS compiled by Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez. It turned out that Bush's buddies in the one per cent were the biggest losers of all. Those at the bottom of the one per cent lost $622,022 under Bush, those at the bottom of the 0.1 per cent lost $4,834,752, and those at the bottom of the 0.01 per cent lost a whopping $41,993,216. From top to bottom, the GOP's economic policies of the Bush era were an unmitigated disaster - even before the financial crisis hit. Strike one against the myth of the "Daddy Party".
"A less hostile, less militaristic form of engagement with China could have been quite beneficial ... but the GOP's obsession with military power, and contempt for diplomacy meant that a more reasonable alternative was never even on the table."
The military failure of the 'Daddy Party'
In the military realm, the Bush era saw at least four major failures. First, the failure to protect the US from the worst single attack on the civilian population in our history - 9/11. It's understandable that immediately after the attack people would rally around the president. But more than a decade later, it's nothing short of amazing that people still don't seem to hold Bush and the Republicans in general responsible for the 9/11 attacks that happened on their watch, and happened despite advanced warnings that they casually ignored. Such is the power of myth over reality. But that's only the first military failure.
Second, was the failure to respond by defeating those who attacked the US on 9/11 - or even making that a priority. Most amazingly, Bush not only said publicly that he wasn't really interested in capturing or killing bin Laden, he went ahead and dismantled the unit that was tasked with hunting him down. Then, when Obama finally did what Bush had given up on, Republicans as a whole found it impossible to give him credit, with many insisting instead that credit should go to Bush-era interrogations using torture. But if Bush got the key information using torture, then why didn't Bush get bin Laden? The mythmaking Bush apologists never say.
The third Bush-era military failure was a multi-part fiasco of staggering proportions:
- the prosecution of a pre-determined military plan (the invasion of Iraq) that...
- had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack (except to use it as a deceptive excuse), which...
- failed in its basic mission - to enhance US security - and...
- resulted in years of unforeseen military conflict which...
- substantially strengthened another US adversary in the region - Iran.
But the fourth Bush-era military failure dwarfs all the failures cited so far. These first three are all relatively straightforward and obvious, despite intensive propaganda efforts to the contrary. But the fourth failure requires some knowledge of what the GOP's initial military plans actually were, in order to grasp how spectacularly they failed. And these plans have largely been ignored, obscured and forgotten.
They are, however, relatively easy to discover. They were laid out by the neocons who drove Bush Administration policy in its early years in a September 2000 paper from the Project for a New American Century, titled "Rebuilding America's Defenses", in which the threat of terrorism was barely mentioned in passing. The overall goal was global military dominance that would last for another 100 years, and taking over Iraq was a key part of securing the Middle East within that larger framework. "While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification," they wrote, "the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein".
However, the PNAC neocons were well aware that China posed a much more serious long-term challenge to US power, and so the Middle East was more a stepping-stone than an end in itself. The fact that the US has gotten completely bogged down in the Middle East, while China has largely been left alone to expand its influence without significant challenge, represents the fourth major failure of GOP military policy in the Bush era. Rather than forestalling China's rise as a world power, the neocon's military recklessness has actually hastened China's rise, also facilitated by the Bush-era economic disaster that has severely undermined the leadership status of the US.
This is not to say that it would have been a good thing for the neocons' policy to succeed. The plan was a disaster both in conception and execution. A less hostile, less militaristic form of engagement with China could have been quite beneficial, with much better chances of success. But the GOP's obsession with military power, and contempt for diplomacy, meant that a more reasonable alternative was never even on the table. Strike two against the myth of the "Daddy Party".
The science failure of the 'Daddy Party'
Once upon a time, Republicans were quite friendly to science. In his new book, The Republican Brain: the Science of Why They Deny Science, which I recently reviewed here at Al Jazeera English, author Chris Mooney points out that mid-20th century Republican President Dwight Eisenhower was enthusiastically pro-science, actually instituted the office of science adviser to the president, and spoke fondly of "my scientists".
"The flip side of the absence of scientists in Republican ranks is the dominance of religious conservatives and business interests with overlapping hostility to scientific truth."
But your grandfather's GOP is barely a distant, hazy memory now. Today, according to a 2009 Pew poll, just six per cent of scientists identify as Republican, compared with 55 per cent Democrat and 32 per cent independent. With "leaners" included, scientists split 81/12 between Democrats and Republicans compared with 52/35 among the public at large, Pew reported, adding: "Majorities of scientists working in academia (60 per cent), for non-profits (55 per cent) and in government (52 per cent) call themselves Democrats, as do nearly half of those working in private industry (47 per cent).
The flip side of the absence of scientists in Republican ranks is the dominance of religious conservatives and business interests with overlapping hostility to scientific truth. The resulting hostility shows up in multiple fields, as Mooney's first book, The Republican War on Science, showed, citing examples including stem cell research, climate change, missile defence, abstinence education, product safety and environmental regulation. More fundamentally, his new book explores the cognitive factors leading conservatives to oppose science - not just rejecting its findings, but rejecting the ways of thinking that science depends upon. Despite their presence, such cognitive factors are not strictly determinative in Mooney's view - the historical, cultural and political environment matter as well. But those environmental factors are similarly inclined to make conservatives - and the party they dominate - profoundly hostile to science.
A stark indication of what this means was the House Republican's destruction of the Office of Technology Assessment under Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995. The OTA was established in 1962, and provided objective evaluations of technological issues for Congress in crafting public policy. It provided a model that was copied by national and sub-national legislative bodies around the world. In November, as Gingrich was momentarily surging in the polls, Bruce Bartlett, a top economic adviser to presidents Reagan and Bush I, wrote a scathing critique of Gingrich's penchant for destroying institutional expertise, "Gingrich and the Destruction of Congressional Expertise", which provides a wider political perspective on what was involved. In it, he wrote:
"He [Gingrich] has always considered himself to be the smartest guy in the room and long chaffed at being corrected by experts when he cooked up some new plan, over which he may have expended 30 seconds of thought, to completely upend and remake the health, tax or education systems.
"Because Mr Gingrich does know more than most politicians, the main obstacles to his grandiose schemes have always been Congress’ professional staff members, many among the leading authorities anywhere in their areas of expertise.
"To remove this obstacle, Mr Gingrich did everything in his power to dismantle Congressional institutions that employed people with the knowledge, training and experience to know a harebrained idea when they saw it. When he became speaker in 1995, Mr Gingrich moved quickly to slash the budgets and staff of the House committees, which employed thousands of professionals with long and deep institutional memories....
"In addition to decimating committee budgets, he also abolished two really useful Congressional agencies, the Office of Technology Assessment and the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. The former brought high-level scientific expertise to bear on legislative issues and the latter gave state and local governments an important voice in Congressional deliberations."
"There were many in the Democratic base who were calling for accountability. Accountability for Bush-era war crimes ... for torture ... for lying us into war ... for economic disaster ... for massive Wall Street fraud."
Bear in mind, the man who wrote that was a former top staffer, not for Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi, but for Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush. He wants nothing to do with the sort of anti-science politics that's become dominant in the GOP today - and, in fact, figures prominently in the chapter on economics in The Republican Brain. The process of destroying expertise within Congress has left lasting damage.
One natural result has been to empower special interest lobbyists, who found it easier and easier to advance their own "expert" studies as the basis for their legislation. It's not the only factor, by any means, but in the realm of science and technology policy, plain old money-grubbing corruption has played a major role in laying the so-called "Daddy Party" low. Strike three against the myth of the "Daddy Party".
Holding 'Daddy' accountable
Three years ago, when Barack Obama took over as president, there were many in the Democratic base who were calling for accountability. Accountability for Bush-era war crimes. Accountability for torture. Accountability for lying us into war. Accountability for economic disaster. Accountability for massive Wall Street fraud. Accountability for all the elites who had spent the previous eight years driving the US into the ground.
Oh, no. Obama told us. That might be emotionally satisfying for the moment. But it would not be responsible. We needed to look forward, not back, he told us. We needed to come together, not continue fighting.
But guess what? Conservative Republicans continued fighting anyway, just as we knew they would. In their own grandiose fantasies, they still think they're "Daddy", and they still think the "Daddy Party" never ends. The United States hasn't been destroyed enough, yet. They still want another round.
Someone needs to cut them down to size. Send them to jail. Give them a good long time out. Let them finally come to terms with their own monumental inadequacies. Someone needs to tell them that it's time for them to grow up. In a democracy, that's what ordinary citizens are for.
Paul Rosenberg is the Senior Editor of Random Lengths News, a bi-weekly alternative community newspaper.
You can follow Paul on Twitter: @PaulHRosenberg
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.