When the Republican party convenes in Florida on Tuesday, it will be walled off from Tampa citizens and the concerns of the general public by phalanxes of state troopers. But inside the convention center itself, the Republicans’ agenda is so extreme it is stratospherically removed from the needs of ordinary Americans. Tea party supporters, backed by funds from maverick billionaires, have commandeered the delegates and are making it difficult for the Republican establishment to control their message – a throwback, extremist platform designed to slash and burn the middle class standard of living and devastate the poor by ending Medicare while giving a free pass on taxes to the new plutocratic super-rich.
Dana Milbank reports that the conference will consider “a study of whether to return to the gold standard, a call for auditing the Federal Reserve, positions denying statehood to the District [of Columbia] but seeking to introduce more guns onto its streets, a provision denying women a role in combat, and others calling for a constitutional amendment that makes tax increases a thing of the past and for a spiffy new border fence — with two layers!”
The furor over the comments by Todd Akin, the Republican nominee for Senate in Missouri – who claimed that the female body had ways to shut down pregnancy in cases of “legitimate” rape – conceals the fact that his views are identical to the party’s program. Frank Rich points out: “The truth is that Akin is typical of today’s GOP, not some outlier; only a handful of the House’s 241 Republican members differ at all from his hard-line stand on abortion. … Akin’s sin in the eyes of GOP grandees has nothing to do with his standard-issue hard-right views — it’s that he gave away the game by so candidly and vividly exposing how extreme those views are in an election year.” Akin was able to garner enough support from the Republican base to successfully defy the party leadership and stay in the Senate race.
While the Republican coalition is united in opposition to Obama, insiders believe the party will split apart after the election when it faces real issues. Juan Cole published a piece by Paul Guzzo detailing the fears of the local party in Tampa, where the convention is taking place. One Republican insider explained that Tea Party supporters realized they had to support other issues than just that of government spending, but “rather than supporting ‘real issues,’ they latched on to crazed theories such as the Agenda 21 conspiracy (the Teabagger belief that the U.N. is trying to deprive people of property rights by forcing them to live in cities). The Pinellas County, Florida Tea Party Movement’s succeeded in getting fluoride removed from its drinking water on the belief that fluoride is ‘toxic’ and that scientists cannot be trusted because they work for ‘Big Brother’.”
Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate reflects the fact that even after winning the party primaries, he still hasn’t been able to gain the support of his party’s base, many of whom voted for anyone but him. Romney needs to divert attention away from his own dubious wealth to issues of personality and small-town values. Political scientist Tom Ferguson explains that Ryan embodies the appearance of radical change to people who are desperate. “You now have an enormous unemployment crisis. People want, effectively, a kind of round square. They are really scared about the budget. They think that is the way, cutting that might get them back to a reasonably full employment. They don’t know what to think. The Obama administration does not help them on that by walking around and talking about how all it wants to do is cut the budget, and over the long run.”
Yet it is not a foregone conclusion that Romney will lose his presidential bid. At present the U.S. is divided down the middle politically. Economically, voters’ wealth has plummeted since 2009. The New York Times reports: “The typical household income for people age 55 to 64 years old is almost 10 percent less in today’s dollars than it was when the recovery officially began three years ago, according to a new report … Across the country, in almost every demographic, Americans earn less today than they did in June 2009, when the recovery technically started.”
Americans’ ideological presuppositions color who they blame for this – an older, whiter, and more conservative layer wants to return to the kind of prosperity they knew in the 60s. They have been convinced that this can be achieved by reducing the government deficit, cutting entitlements, expelling immigrants, and asserting patriarchal values by limiting or altogether eliminating the choices women have about their reproductive health and halting gay marriage.
Writing in New York magazine, Jonathan Chait comments: “Piles of recent studies have found that voters often conflate ‘social’ and ‘economic’ issues. What social scientists delicately call ‘ethnocentrism’ and ‘racial resentment’ and ‘ingroup solidarity’ are defining attributes of conservative voting behavior, and help organize a familiar if not necessarily rational coalition of ideological interests. … Theda Skocpol, a Harvard sociologist, conducted a detailed study of tea-party activists and discovered that they saw themselves beset by parasitic Democrats. ‘Along with illegal immigrants,’ she wrote, ‘low-income Americans and young people loom large as illegitimate consumers of public benefits and services’.”
Demographic changes mean that Republicans cannot guarantee an election win by appealing to the resentment of angry and alienated white men. The electorate is becoming younger, more educated, and less white. Where Republicans control the electoral process, they have set up legal hurdles targeted to suppress likely Democratic voter turnout. However, the reason the race is still close is because Obama has disillusioned the social movement that elected him by accepting Republican budget-cutting rhetoric and refusing to prosecute bankers. “Too big to fail” banks are continuing to act lawlessly in eviction actions and to destabilize the economy. We may be going from Big Brother to Big Daddy, but rest assured: Big Daddy is much worse.
Outside the RNC, class solidarity has replaced the narrative of racial division that has served the Republican party for so long. If there is hope for the renewal of American society and its beleaguered and corrupted political system (thanks to Citizens United), it is in the spread of this spirit and new understanding of solidarity throughout the country.
Resistance to the growth of impoverishment in America is taking the form of loosely-organized, decentralized groups who have a base in community activism and come together in various protests. In Florida, Nathan Pim explained how his group “Food Not Bombs,” which shares food with the homeless, is working with the Occupy movement to support protests at the Republican conference. He told Naked Capitalism: “We’re doing all of our events out of Occupy Tampa’s park, which is called Voice of Freedom Park. We’re planning on trying to get, if people want shelter or food or water or something – we’re going to be helping to bring some food to protests, but we’re also letting people know if they need other services and we’re not doing a sharing at that time, that we’re going to be trying to provide it back at Occupy Tampa’s location.”
The neighborhood around Occupy Tampa’s park is pretty supportive, he said. “You see like the same people every single day. They come by and talk. There’s people that come byto show support. … There’s always people just coming through and like talking to us. Sometimes I think there’s been people starting rumors about it being like not so great, but – and it is weird, you know, honestly, obviously, mostly younger white Occupiers in like an almost totally black neighborhood, but I think it’s actually been, in the month I’ve been here I’ve had pretty much nothing but good experiences with all the people of West Tampa.”
Although they are unlikely to get near any of the Republican delegates, the Coalition to March on the RNC intends to rally anyway, defying the weather and demanding good jobs, healthcare, affordable education, equality, and peace. Nonviolent direct action marches will take place every day at 10 am as an alternative to the official “event zone” declared by the city and police. Occupiers have been able to set up a “Romneyville” encampment legally on the edge of downtown for protesters to stay. These witnesses of conscience are determined to make public the realities of American private lives in the bank-created recession so that we are reminded that in this election our fight for the common good is at stake.