Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The New GOP Playbook: Atlantic City-style

Yesterday morning, sometime around 4:15am, just after the Caesar's Palace bar stopped serving drinks (is that even legal in a gambling environment?), myself and my two Atlantic City companions were approached by a man who had been asleep in the chair next to us. He'd been repeatedly woken by security since sleeping is, obviously, not permitted. He then decided to maintain his awake state by starting up a conversation. This 44-year-old man---let's call him Jerk-off (too on the nose?)---quickly announced to us that he was from Pennsylvania and was in marketing and sales. Within seconds of talking with him I already knew my next addition to the new GOP Playbook.

Rule #2: Get rid of this guy.

Now I realize it's perilous to make broad statements about the GOP based on anecdotal evidence. And I realize it's even more perilous to do so if that anecdotal evidence was obtained at an Atlantic City casino bar at 4am. Fine. Even so, there was something about this guy which I found oddly representative of many Republicans I meet. In a nutshell, Jerk-off was adept at essentially one thing: regurgitating sound bytes from conservative talk radio. To his credit, his manner of speaking was not venomous like the Limbaughs and Savages of talk radio. He did make an unintentionally racist remark about one of my friends, but he meant no harm by it. He was absurdly ignorant, but he was perfectly amiable. And the key word there is "ignorant." This man was not stupid. Like many voters who we sometimes like to broadly paint as "stupid," Jerk-off knew stuff...and has, I believe, the capacity to learn even more stuff. What Jerk-off did not possess, however, was the desire or ability to make rational connections between the stuff he knew and the stuff he simply believed.

At first, my group was entirely disinterested in engaging with him. We were more interested in finding a place to get another round, so we dispatched one of our crew to scout for a possible source. Jerk-off started with a boilerplate rant about how nobody in Congress gives a damn. Okay. Congress is an easy target and generalized anti-Congress statements are always fashionable no matter what party you belong to. He also spoke about the government being unfair when it came to his family's business. Again, even without knowing the facts behind his grievance, complaining about governmental interference in business is pretty standard fare---even if perhaps more of a GOP issue. He tipped his hand, however, when he began to single out Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania senator who recently switched parties from Republican to Democrat. It wasn't long before two memes, one old and one new, began to penetrate the conversation.

The old meme was "John Murtha wants to hug the terrorists." He actually said this. The new meme is "Nancy Pelosi should not be third in line for the presidency." These are, evidently, the main concerns of the day. The Murtha comment was really just an awkward segue into discussing the war on terror---specifically the closing of Guantanamo and the possible relocation of the 240 detainees to American soil. His argument, such as it was, was that moving the detainees here to US prisons would make us less safe by giving terrorist cells the "gumption" to carry out domestic suicide bombings. When pressed to explain the connection, he simply repeated his argument and said I was too young to understand. After I then explained that, logically, terrorists would be less likely to bomb if our country begins to treat the detainees with the basic human rights we'd previously denied them, he tried to wiggle away by claiming it's not necessarily what he believes.

The fear mongering the GOP has engaged in with respect to moving detainees to US prisons is abhorrent. It's one thing to insist on having a clear plan in place first---something that Obama, admittedly, has yet to unfurl---but it's quite another to cynically manipulate people's passions and fears for political gain. This man truly believes that moving the terrorists here will make us less safe, yet not one credible argument can be made that supports that conclusion...nor can he elucidate why he believes what he believes. But it works. The fear mongering, at least on this non-issue issue, has most definitely worked. Even the Democrats crumbled last week and joined the Republicans en masse in rejecting President Obama's request for a paltry $80 million to close Guantanamo.

His second main point, one which I largely conceded, is that Nancy Pelosi pretty much sucks. I hate Nancy Pelosi, but I mostly despise her because she gives people like Jerk-off an opportunity to focus on yet another non-issue. Pelosi has not been charged with any crime and chances are slim she committed anything worse than a nuanced massaging of the facts. I don't approve of it in the least---if in fact that's what she did---but isn't it a bit desperate to call for her head? To worry about her being the third person in the line of succession? As I recall, Tom DeLay was also once third in the line of succession. And, unlike Pelosi, DeLay did commit crimes. But whatever. It's all moot...except that I had to take 20 minutes to explain why it's all moot. I had to explain that if the Republicans showed 1/10 the passion for solving our economic woes as they do in trying to crucify Pelosi, there'd be a lot more people interested in what the GOP has to say.

In the end, I felt somewhat sad by the whole exchange. This guy wasn't a bad guy. He was polite. He loves his country. I suppose I'm more angry with the talk radio hosts and TV pundits who hammer home basic, overly generalized memes without the appropriate explanation. I have no problem with people who believe something opposite of what I believe. I do have a problem, however, with people not being able to explain why they believe what they believe. This guy was clearly in that category. Quite frankly, I'd like to think my logical and calm approach to fisking his arguments might've turned him a bit. Probably not, but given that I don't think he's actually a right-wing ideologue, I think it's possible.

So, what's the real thrust of this new rule? Get rid of people in the GOP who can't explain why they believe what they believe. If you're a Republican, challenge one another. Make your internal ideas stronger before your run out into the real world and oppose the party in power. Michael Steele's ready to fight, but I think the GOP should fight amongst themselves some more to root out the people who just don't know what the fuck they're talking about. Get them to believe ideas without the fear mongering. Get them to believe ideas without focusing on irrelevant, albeit easy-win issues. Talk it out. Use logic. Use facts. Make your voters passionate about ideas, not about things they can fear or hate. This guy is giving your party a bad name. Fix him or rebuke him.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Fix him or rebuke him." -- This applies to Islam and their fanatics as well. Good luck with both their houses.

May 31, 2009 at 7:13 AM  
Blogger Kraig Smith said...

Yeah, you're right--good point. Both have a rotten minority which is poisoning the whole, and both have failed to stand up to them in any meaningful way.

May 31, 2009 at 9:47 AM  

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