Over at TAPPED yesterday, Garance Franke-Ruta asked a compelling question: how, exactly, can we really expect to hold Bush and his minions accountable for their serial acts of misgoverment? And over at TPMCafe, Mark Schmitt responded by making a strong argument that today’s Republicans escape accountability because, well, they don’t really give a damn what anybody thinks about them other than on general election days.Maybe I’m just consumed with anger at the administration and its congressional allies right now, but I think Mark’s basically right. Most of these people have no concept of “accountability”–in terms of short-term performance, long-range consequences, the judgment of history, or even public opinion. Their only benchmark is progress towards their own ideological goals, which are “starving the beast,” destroying the very possibility of meaningful bipartisanship, radicalizing permanent institutions like the judiciary, the military and the corporate sector, and keeping Americans afraid of the world and each other. That’s why they’ve relied so heavily on abuse of power; it’s the only way to perpetuate their power without compromise or accountability. And that’s why they are so uninhibited by most considerations of truth or decency. In fact, I would argue that their most important tactical consideration has been to destroy the possibility of accountability by short-circuiting all the signals whereby a healthy society normally judges its leaders. Any source of objective measurement has been systematically discredited as inherently ideological: scientists are secularist fanatics; the media are elitist liberals; the judiciary is full of anti-Christian activists; the opposition party is anti-American. We’ve all had much fun with the conservative characterization of “liberals” as “reality-based,” but it’s no laughing matter: the essence of Rovism is to eliminate any zone of rational persuasion and force Americans to pick sides in an identity politics of real and perceived privileges under imaginary assault. Years ago, a friend of mine from Alabama observed that what bugged her about Republicans as people is that they had the subtelty and sensitivity of hammerhead sharks. So the question is: how do you fight a hammerhead shark, particularly a wounded hammerhead shark? Clearly, you can’t go very far negotiating or reasoning with this kind of beast; you just become chum. But I don’t put a lot of stock in the reigning opinion of so many Democratic bloggers that the answer is to become sharks ourselves. I’ve always opposed the idea that Democrats can win a selfishness competition with the GOP, offering our government benefits versus their tax cuts; they’ll win every time if voters are asked to conduct a personal cost-benefit analysis of what they think they are “getting” for their tax dollars. Nor do I believe, in the end, we can out hate them or out thug them; even if that course was not morally repugnant, it’s politically self-defeating; the ultimate sell-out to Republican values.So if we do not happily cooperate with the GOP in reducing all politics to our team versus their team, and our “truth” versus their “truth,” to what higher standard can we appeal? And that gets back to the problem of accountability in an age with few uncontested facts and no credible referees to keep a score card.Our task can be summed up as this: we have to rebuild accountability, brick by brick. That requires relentlessly putting forth a message that reminds Americans of their real and tangible interests, individual and collective, and then measuring GOP governance, and GOP candidates, accordingly. This effort will naturally involve presenting Democratic alternatives to meet the accountability standards we propose, which means dealing aggressively with entrenched (if generally false) negative stereotypes about our own party. And ultimately, the “accountability moment” will indeed have to happen at election time, or sufficiently in advance of election time to convince Republicans they are at risk not only of losing seats, or losing power, but losing a political argument with epochal consequences, just as they did during the Great Depression. The good news is that the whole Republican identity politics game is a house of cards based on the perception that Bush and the GOP are competent stewards of a threatened status quo ante of moral certainty, economic growth, and American power. Iraq and Katrina–and perhaps the impending cascade of ethical disasters–could damage those perceptions and greatly aid a Democratic effort to remind Americans of what their government should actually stand for.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
Reading through the ambiguous to vaguely positive remarks made by Republican pols about the historic auto workers strike, one of them jumped off the page, and I wrote about it at New York:
One of the great anomalies of recent political history has been the disconnect between the Republican Party’s ancient legacy as the champion of corporate America and its current electoral base, which relies heavily on support from white working-class voters. The growing contradiction was first made a major topic of debate in the 2008 manifesto Grand New Party, in which youngish conservative intellectuals Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam argued that their party offered little in the way of material inducements (or even supportive rhetoric) to its emerging electoral base. Though Douthat and Salam were by no means fans of Donald Trump, the mogul’s stunningly successful 2016 campaign did follow their basic prescription of pursuing the economic and cultural instincts of white working-class voters at the expense of doctrinaire free-market and limited-government orthodoxy.
So it’s not surprising that Trump and an assortment of other Republicans have expressed varying degrees of sympathy for the unionized autoworkers who just launched a historic industry-wide strike for better wages and working conditions. But there was a conspicuous, even anachronistic exception among nationally prominent GOP politicians: South Carolina senator and presidential candidate Tim Scott. As NBC News reported:
“It’s the latest of several critical comments Scott has made about the autoworkers, even as other GOP presidential candidates steer clear of criticizing them amid a strike at three plants so far …
“’I think Ronald Reagan gave us a great example when federal employees decided they were going to strike. He said, you strike, you’re fired. Simple concept to me. To the extent that we can use that once again, absolutely.’”
Scott’s frank embrace of old-school union bashing wouldn’t have drawn much notice 40 or 50 years ago. And to be clear, other Republicans aren’t fans of the labor movement: For the most part, MAGA Republicans appeal to the working class via a mix of cultural conservatism, economic and foreign-policy nationalism, nativism, and producerism (i.e., pitting private-sector employers and employees against the financial sector, educational elites, and those dependent on public employment or assistance). One particularly rich lode of ostensibly pro-worker rhetoric has been to treat environmental activism as inimical to the economic growth and specific job opportunities wage earners need.
So unsurprisingly, Republican politicians who want to show some sympathy for the autoworkers have mostly focused on the alleged threat of climate-change regulations generally and electric vehicles specifically to the well-being of UAW members, as Politico reported:
“’This green agenda that is using taxpayer dollars to drive our automotive economy into electric vehicles is understandably causing great anxiety among UAW members,’ [Mike Pence] said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“Other Republicans followed suit, with a National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesperson calling out Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin — Democrats’ favored candidate for the state’s open Senate seat — for her Thursday vote allowing state-level limits or bans on gas-powered cars as choosing her ‘party over Michigan.'”
More strikingly, Trump, the 2024 presidential front-runner, is planning to hold an event with Michigan workers at the very moment his GOP rivals are holding their second debate next week, notes the Washington Post:
“While other Republican candidates participate in the Sept. 27 event in California, Trump instead plans to speak to more than 500 autoworkers, plumbers, electricians and pipe-fitters, the adviser said. The group is likely to include workers from the United Auto Workers union that is striking against the Big Three automakers in the country’s Rust Belt. The Trump adviser added that it is unclear whether the former president will visit the strike line.
“Trump’s campaign also created a radio ad, to run on sports- and rock-themed stations in Detroit and Toledo, meant to present him as being on the side of striking autoworkers, the adviser said.”
There’s no evidence Trump has any understanding of, much less sympathy with, the strikers’ actual demands. But in contrast to Scott’s remarks endorsing the dismissal of striking workers, it shows that at least some Republicans are willing (rhetorically, at least) to bite the hand that feeds in the pursuit of votes.
Meanwhile, the mainstream-media types who often treat Scott as some sort of sunny, optimistic, even bipartisan breath of fresh air should pay some attention to his attitude toward workers exercising long-established labor rights he apparently would love to discard. Yes, as a self-styled champion of using taxpayer dollars to subsidize private- and homeschooling at the expense of “government schools,” Scott is constantly attacking teachers unions, just like many Republicans who draw a sharp distinction between public-sector unions (BAD!) and private-sector unions (grudgingly acceptable). But autoworkers are firmly in the private sector. Maybe it’s a South Carolina thing: Scott’s presidential rival and past political ally Nikki Haley (another media favorite with an unmerited reputation as a moderate) famously told corporate investors to stay out of her state if they intended to tolerate unions in their workplaces. For that matter, the South Carolina Republican Party was for years pretty much a wholly owned subsidiary of violently anti-union textile barons. Some old habits die hard.
One of the useful by-products of the current wave of labor activism in this country is that Republicans may be forced to extend their alleged sympathy for workers into support for policies that actually help them and don’t simply reflect cheap reactionary demagoguery aimed at foreigners, immigrants, and people of color. But Scott has flunked the most basic test threshold compatibility with the rights and interests of the working class.