19 November 2012

Scapegoating Romney; or, the GOP exorcises itself

Whatever credit Mitt Romney had been given since Election Day for grace in defeat has been largely lost since he was quoted blaming his defeat on "gifts" that President Obama gave potential voters in the forms of various programs and benefits. Interestingly, he's faced the most scorn and condemnation from within the Republican party, from people presumed to be to his right. On television yesterday, George Will found the "gift" quote damning proof that Romney "despised" the American people, and even the likes of Newt Gingrich, who has also insisted lately on greater inclusiveness within the GOP, see it as clinching Romney's unworthiness. This is all very strange. I certainly expected the right-wingers to dogpile on Romney, but I expected a repeat of their damnation of Sen. McCain; a complaint that the candidate had not been authentically conservative enough to attract the hidden majority Republican diehards believe in desperately. But when you protest against Romney's blaming his loss on "gifts" to voters from the liberal welfare state, you are not attacking the Man From Bain from his right. Wasn't Romney saying what Republican conservatives actually believe? Isn't it their opinion that government spending makes people dependent on Democratic politicians and grateful to them on Election Day? You know it is, but some Republicans realize that there has to be a better way than Romney's of expressing their principled opposition to this system. Condemning Romney this weekend, Will said that the candidate's problem was less that voters didn't like him than that voters felt that he didn't like them. In the end, Romney the distrusted moderate is the hater, not all the other Republicans of more obvious prejudices. By throwing him on the bonfire, Republicans hope to begin convincing voters that the party itself doesn't hate poor people, without changing its actual agenda one perceivable jot. It is probably true that the GOP should never run a candidate like Romney again. He was too obviously a plutocrat rather than the sort of businessman that the party's numerical base identifies with. In attitude the post-Goldwater Republican party has always more closely resembled the ambitious, competitive and perhaps socially anxious climber rather than the old-money types evoked by the Occupiers' misguided political scapegoating of the 1%. Romney really wasn't of the base, not just because of his uncertain ideology or heretical faith, but also because he was privileged in a way hardcore Republicans don't identify with. Their self-made pride comes with a perception that no one has ever done anything for them, that they've never gotten breaks that others get, unless they make their own luck somehow. There may well have been an undeclared class war within the Republican party that both sides -- Romney's friends and enemies -- projected onto the general public by accusing Democrats of waging class warfare and appealing to envy. After this month's defeat, that class warfare seems to have broken the surface. How else shall we explain Republicans accusing Romney of class hatred merely for regurgitating standard Republican rhetoric? Why jump to the conclusion that Romney despises ordinary Americans unless they've suspected all along that Romney despises them? Well, at least they know how it feels to be despised. It could be a step in the right direction.

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