09 January 2012
Class warfare in the Republican primaries
Newt Gingrich has been condemned by many self-styled conservatives for questioning Mitt Romney's business practices and complaining about the influence of wealth in politics. Now, it seems, Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman are joining the class-warfare chorus from the party supposedly opposed on principle to class warfare. They seem to have forgotten all the reassurances from the apologists for corporate donors, all the comforting recollections of elections when the richest candidate didn't win. Romney is unconsciously goading them with supracontextually provocative remarks like his admission today that he likes "being able to fire people." The context was from a consumerist perspective, though admittedly "fire" is not quite the right word. He was expressing his preference for a system where individuals could switch health insurers more easily -- "firing" those that provided poor service -- but the sound bite is sure to resonate, as reporters are predicting, from now until November. The quote seems unobjectionable to a Republican, but Romney himself remains objectionable to many in the GOP, and the resentment expressed on the campaign trail is nakedly hypocritical. Envy does not appear to be exclusive to liberals and Democrats, and maybe what they've been accused of feeling, and what some Republicans feel now, isn't really as simple as envy after all. More to the point, not only the poor envy the rich; hence the confusion regarding Wall Street within the Tea Party movement. Historically, Republicans have been inconsistent in a consistent way. They don't want to be dragged down by the poor or the politicians, but they don't like it any better when accumulated wealth and privilege stand in the way of their own advance. They are the people most fond today of quoting John F. Kennedy's dictum that life is unfair, but what Republicans seem to mean, regardless of Kennedy's meaning, is that everyone but me cheats -- and that entitles me to do what I have to do. Party primaries are sometimes educational; it's when people of one party confront each other, rather than presenting a united front against the enemy, that the people and the party show their true faces to the world.