Mitt ROMNEY BROKE THE REPUBLICAN SPELL
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Cassius, “Julius Caesar,” Act I, Scene II, William Shakespeare, First Folio, 1623 (revised).
The Republican formula for electoral victory since 1952 has been based upon a gimmick. Republicans have promised, at times implicitly, at other times explicitly that whilst their Party is controlled by and operated in favor of the rich, the mighty, and the privileged, ordinary folk may be admitted “in diesen heil’gen Mauern” by simply voting Republican. Mesmerized by the magnet of lucre, the average Joe, who has never been able to turn five into ten, like a man enticed by the local three-card Monte game, suddenly comes to feel, during the fall of the year, like he could do just about anything: even turning ten into twenty does not seem so far-fetched. Just depress the conservative lever or fill in the G.O.P. blanks on the ballot and that dream can be yours. No sooner will you have voted than the richest person in your neighborhood will whisper into your ear the secret of success, the horse sure to win the race, the stock tip to make a killing in the Market; yours will be the magic formula that will transform your life into one resembling the privileged existence of a Pasha; six winning lottery numbers will belong to you, and you alone.
The reality, you will find, is more like the experience of being invited “for a drink” by a millionaire. Everyone is smiling. The rich person and his or her spouse are tenderly solicitous of your tastes. The small talk, while you wait for your drinks, is very small, indeed. The drinks arrive, and they are very, very good. The rich people curiously draw a bead on the level of the drink in your glass. As the glass is emptied, they broaden their smile, rise, erase the smile, and obviously preparing to turn their backs, one of them coos “We must do this again, sometime,” and you are effectively dismissed. Elsa Maxwell once summed it all up by observing, “Cocktail Parties are for people not good enough to ask to dinner.”
Republicans are not stupid. They know that the vast majority of voters they have deluded into thinking that voting Republican will make them “good enough to ask to dinner” will be met with bad fortune, disappointment, and if they don’t watch out, being taken for everything they have by Bain capital and all the other little aches and Bains. So Republicans have traditionally offered a fallback position. By traducing minorities, they guarantee the consolation prize of allowing disillusioned voters to believe that they are at least better off than those _________s, over there. The key signal that this entire apparatus came apart in the national elections of 2012 has been the hair-raising spectacle of Republican sore losers and their bootlickers continuing to insult minorities days after the election was over. Some are still in a state of denial, because not only don’t their rank and file believe they are superior to minorities, the Party’s movers and shakers are confronted with the reality that they, themselves, are vastly inferior to the people they thought to offer up as scapegoats. Calling those who voted against them “takers,” they have simply drawn attention to the fact that the biggest taker, nay, the biggest phony of them all was Karl Rove.
The Republicans lost the knack of it because they nominated a candidate, Mitt Romney, who wasn’t even seeded in the game. The problem was not Mitt Romney’s money, per se. Ordinary people really do not begrudge the wealth of successful businessmen. This is America, and there really is no such thing as someone having too much money. It is the CONSPICUOUSNESS of that money which drives away voters because they cannot identify with such rich people, even in their imaginings. Secret accounts in the Cayman Islands and Switzerland? Most of us couldn’t find the Cayman Islands on a Rand McNally map! An eighty-seven thousand dollar tax deduction for a dancing horse? Fourteen percent taxes on twenty-million dollars – and the Republicans say even that is just too much for those hot house flowers to bear; it should have been nine percent! Ironically, Romney’s hiding ten years of his taxes actually drew more attention to his class distance than disclosing untold billions ever would have done.
The last time Americans became this aware of the need to redistribute income there had been a bank panic in 1893 and an ensuing depression. As a People, we learned that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, one eighth of our populace owned seven-eighths of all of the nation’s assets. The process of wealth redistribution took many years. It included passage of legislation banning anti-competitive business practices, including monopolies, trusts and cartels. Some regulation of stock trading was enacted by the states (“Blue Sky Laws”) even before the New Deal and the establishment of the SEC. Railroads were regulated, as were the production and distribution of drugs, meat and other foods. Most importantly, a Constitutional Amendment was adopted allowing the federal government to levy personal income taxes, which was designed explicitly to redistribute income rather than simply defray the cost of government. And you know what spurred all these reforms? The people had become sickened at the conspicuous consumption of the new millionaires. Even as now, it was plain that for all of their economic contributions, those robber barons were draining a far greater proportion of wealth than was commensurate with their entrepreneurial success.
And you know who were largely responsible for the initial phases of the new progressivism of the eighteen nineties until the election of Woodrow Wilson in 1912? REPUBLICANS!
Oh, yes, there was also the fortuitous unforeseen rise of Theodore Roosevelt. TR was making progressive noises as Governor of New York and in speeches around the country. So after William McKinley’s first Vice President died, a fearful Republican leader, Mark Hanna, believing the Vice Presidency to be a political dead end, engineered Teddy’s nomination in 1900. At McKinley’s Second Inauguration, in 1901, Mark Hanna said, “I’ve come to see Teddy take the veil.” Two months later, McKinley was shot, Teddy became President, and under both Teddy and his sometimes somnolent successor, William Howard Taft, the country experienced more progressive reform, than had been seen since Lincoln. Had this not happened, it seems to me not too much to say that William Jennings Bryan might have been elected President in 1904 or 1908 (or both), and the Republican Party would have been interred by 1912. [Ed. Note: Bryan ran in 1896, 1900 and 1908. He demurred in 1904 to the inevitability of TR – in 1904 the Democrats nominated Judge Alton B. Parker about whom nothing was or is known.]
Now I don’t expect John Boehner to stick a sabre up his gluteus maximus and call himself “Teddy Roosevelt.” On the other hand, I do want to offer the Republicans a chance to drop that foolish nonsense of promising voters vast individual riches and propose genuine reforms, including a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents, income redistribution, and greater environmental protection, if for no other reason than to see the reinvigoration of a genuine and progressive two party system for the rest of the 21st Century.
Harvard Hollenberg is a writer and an appellate attorney in New York City.
© Copyright Harvard Hollenberg 2012. All rights reserved.