16 March 2012

Accentuate the positive! Eliminate the negative!

There's a sadly charming naivete in Cal Thomas's latest lament for the Republican party. It may seem strange to see a hectoring moralist like Thomas complain about Republicans acting like hectoring moralists, but his argument does make sense. Given the public's small faith in politicians' ability to govern anything, Thomas asks quite reasonably why Republicans think voters would assume them capable of carrying out a moral reformation. He also advises some Republicans to regulate themselves before proposing to regulate the country's morals. But his main point is that Republicans have blundered into a trap by suddenly going nuts about sexual morality again. Thomas thinks the GOP can win this fall with a strong dose of old-time Reaganite optimism. He'd like Republicans to publicize "people who have embraced Republican principles and whose lives are better as a result." He means poor people who've enriched themselves, in case you were wondering, not the rich who've gotten richer. He offers theoretical examples but doesn't think to name a specific name. I'm not saying that he couldn't find anyone if he tried, but it would make his argument stronger if he could offer Republicans specific people to promote. In any event, this quibble of mine doesn't really answer Thomas's unanswered question. Why do Republicans seem to prefer to go on about sin and immorality instead of pitching an allegedly proven better way of life? The answer is more obvious than Thomas probably wants to admit. Republicans are a judgmental lot -- as are Democrats, albeit in a different key. More to the immediate point, Republicans and Tea Partiers in particular probably feel that the country is in a bad way because of bad decisions made by multitudes of people, for which those multitudes have not begun to suffer enough. My hunch is that many if not most Republicans are looking for a reckoning through which all their opponents will learn the error of their ways in as forceful a fashion as possible. They want to see people suffer -- they may believe that there's no morality in force unless people suffer. Putting it another way, they want to see people pay for what they (not the innocent Republicans) have supposedly done to the country. Emphasizing sin and sexual morality as Rick Santorum has done is just the point of the spear. For these Republicans the "dependency" that Thomas himself decries but believes can be overcome easily is a sin for which the dependent -- also seen as parasites upon the productive -- should suffer until they're presumed ready to learn the lessons Thomas would teach today.

Cal Thomas himself is well aware of how the judgmental impulse can lead you across the line of propriety. He crossed the line himself earlier this year in the heady environment of C-PAC, when he declared Rachel Maddow and the entire MSNBC crew the best arguments for the contraception he normally opposes. He had the basic decency to realize the vicious hypocrisy of his remark and went out of his way to apologize to Maddow privately and in print without the drama of Rush Limbaugh's more recent apologies. At his best, he knows that there's something wrong with the Republican mentality even as he insists that they're right on matters of policy and ideology. To an extent, he's already done the "physician heal thyself" bit. But applying the remedy to the Republican party as a whole may require more than Thomas can prescribe.

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