Ask Auntie Pinko
April 14, 2005
By Auntie Pinko
There's lots of evidence out there that since the Reagan days
the Republican agenda has been to deliberately run up huge deficits
so that there will be no money left over for social programs. The
Republican agenda also favors huge tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans
with crumbs or nothing for the rest of us.
My question is this: what kind of society do the Republicans
envision if they get their way? Are they seeking a return to the
Middle Ages with some sort of modern-day equivalent of serfs and
vassals serving a hugely wealthy few on bended knee? This is a serious
question, by the way!
Auntie doesn't doubt your sincerity! Similar questions have occurred
to me on occasion, usually under the stress of anger or sorrow about
some new legislative assault on non-wealthy Americans. It's very
easy to wonder if everyone who supports the current Republican agenda
honestly believes that they, themselves, will be on the "winner"
end of this equation, and not on the much, much larger "loser" end.
It's possible that a small number of Republicans who are already
firmly embedded in America's economic elite do, indeed, see such
a vision as desirable. After all, we know that there are illegal
sweatshops operating underground in many of America's large cities;
and there have been many instances of factory farms exploiting undocumented
workers severely enough to make medieval villeinage look like a
luxury lifestyle. Anyone so blinded by greed that they can rationalize
such actions would probably be comfortable with a neo-feudal economy.
However, that doesn't account for the millions of Republicans
who consider themselves "middle class," and who support the Republican
agenda for a variety of other reasons. I don't think that they seriously
envision neo-feudalism as the end product of their agenda. If you
examine the cultural and ideological visions that reflect their
values, something else appears. From my perspective, the "ideal
America" they describe looks like the result of a cross between
Little House on the Prairie and Horatio Alger, with
a touch of Donna Reed thrown in.
Self-reliance and moral clarity are key to this vision, and neither
of these values is inherently evil or undesirable. The narrative
of someone who struggles to overcome unfavorable circumstances to
achieve success has always been an essential part of the American
ideal. Respect for that which is respect-worthy is a source of strength
for communities, families, and individuals alike. The brave and
noble pioneer who is always willing to lend a hand at a neighbor's
barn-raising, but who conscientiously ensures that their family's
needs are met and they are never dependent upon others is one of
the most appealing characters in the American gallery of mythic
The Republican Party appeals to these values in advancing their
agenda. After all, who can quarrel with Pa Ingalls? Who doesn't
love a rags-to-riches success story?
The problem Democrats have with this vision is threefold:
1. First, many legislative and regulatory initiatives are advanced
by the Republican leadership in the furtherance of this vision,
yet their actual effects not only do not yield this utopian
result, but actually damage the well-being of American families;
2. Second, the vision is overly simplistic, and unrealistic.
The clock cannot be turned back to a time when everyone shared
a common understanding of moral correctitude (even had such
a time really existed in American history). The economy is too
complex, too vulnerable to uncontrollable factors for laissez-faire
capitalism to assure a level playing field. And,
3. Finally, even if the vision were achievable, it is deeply
flawed. Incomplete, at best, na´ve definitely, and possibly
even destructive. It ignores the reality of what life was really
like during the Little House on the Prairie and Horatio
Alger eras. Large segments of the economy were dependent
on a vicious and exploitive racism, the genocide of indigenous
peoples, and a robber-baron mercantilism that rendered life
nasty, cruel, brutish and short for vast numbers of people.
The moral clarity that looks so attractive was based on a rigid
conformity that would require near-totalitarian repression to
Yet the vision remains unbelievably potent. Ideal simplicity is
always easier to embrace than the messy chaos of reality. No one
wants to accept the limitations and sacrifices imposed by guaranteeing
equity, especially when we disagree with, dislike, or despise those
who are different from ourselves.
I am not saying that all Republicans consciously embrace this
vision in cheerful ignorance. There are as many factors that determine
a person's support for the Republican Party and its agenda as there
are for supporters of the Democratic Party/agenda. And the liberal
vision, too, has its flaws and unrealistic aspects. But when I look
at how each Party chooses to communicate, something becomes clear:
Republicans are very, very good at communicating their message;
Democrats have more trouble doing so. We frequently get lost in
a mass of complexities and details. Republicans rely on simple messages
- images, slogans, sound bites, talking points.
Generalization and simplification have their uses; they are not
always a bad thing. Indeed, it would be impossible for Auntie Pinko
to confine my columns to readable length without some use of these
tools! Nevertheless, I'm fully aware of how distorting and deceptive
they can be. Over-reliance on generalizations and simplification
not only distorts the truth, it can be a form of lying. Such communication
relieves the listener of the responsibility of thinking critically,
of absorbing and analyzing information, seeking out additional information,
and making fully matured judgments.
A very wise friend of Auntie Pinko's has a saying that I think
should become part of the Democratic Party's arsenal in responding
to the communications of the Republican Party: "Any time it looks
like a no-brainer, it's a brainer."
Feel free to pass that one on, Stephen, and thanks for asking
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