October 5, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Why the Republicans don’t bother running on anything
Problems, for the Republicans, don’t need policy solutions. What are they going to stand for when the problem is multiracial democracy?
In 33 days, voters will decide which party controls the Congress. As the time ticks down, I’m not the only one who’s noticed that the Republicans, for all their Sturm und Drang, don’t appear to be running on anything. What will they do with control of the House? It’s hard to say. Whatever the Democrats do, do the opposite?
Again, I’m not the only one to notice a conspicuous absence of a positive policy program. So has Kevin McCarthy. That’s why the House minority leader staged a big reveal of the Republicans’ new legislative agenda, “Commitment to America,” in Pittsburgh last month.
“Commitment to America” is sure to appeal to the criminal former president’s supporters. It has things like increased border security and repealing recent legislation that boosts funding for the IRS. But McCarthy is aiming higher than Donald Trump’s gutter sludge.
He knows that the Republicans must appear to care about public policy in order to win over white suburban women who are already hella mad about the Supreme Court killing Roe. “Americans are going to face a choice,” McCarthy said. “We have a real alternative here.”
That bit about the IRS tells you that “Commitment to America” was empty from the start. It’s based on a fiction that was invented by the Republicans’ rightwing media. As the story goes, the Democrats are amassing an army of 87,000 IRS agents who plan to hunt down good (white) Americans and seize their rightful property just because.
The vestige of fact, on which this fiction is based, is a provision in the Inflation Reduction Act that restores, over several years, the IRS of funding and staffing after decades of Republicans starving it of both.
Yes, some IRS agents carry sidearms. Some IRS agents have always carried sidearms. Rightwing media has exaggerated that fact in order to stitch it to an already existing anti-government pro-militia paranoia. Rather than green-visor bean counters, they’re jack-booted thugs.
McCarthy’s “Commitment to America” was intended to counteract proliferating public perception of a Republican Party that stands for nothing that isn’t conditioned on the Democrats’ success – a national reputation for moral relativism and restricted commitments.
Try as he might, though, McCarthy can’t transcend the rightwing media’s closed circuit. People like Fox host Tucker Carlson have purified inside thinking so much that the “Commitment to America” agenda promises to deal with issues and events that never happened.
It’s not a “real alternative.”
It’s an alternative to real.
McCarthy isn’t doing anything new. In the run up to the first shots fired in the Civil War, slavery apologists purified the minds of white southerners in local newspapers so much that politicians could refer to make-believe events widely believed real by southern readers in order to protect planter interests and reproduce slavery nationally.
The make-believe applied to the confederates’ enemies as well as those of their political heirs (ie, today’s Republicans). Jeremi Suri, in Civil War By Other Means, said the southern press, like the rightwing media these days, was ruthless. Abraham Lincoln was a monster, a demon, Satan and the Antichrist. He corrupted the pure spirit of pure free (white) Americans doing nothing but securing their birthright.
Suri quotes a newspaper, the Texas Republican, commenting on Lincoln after the war concluded: “For upwards of four years this man, remarkable for his iron will and malice, had carried on a war against these States, without a parallel in modern history for its atrocity and barbarism, with the declared purpose of subjugation or extermination.”
During Reconstruction, Black Americans were the foundation of an emerging and never-before-seen multiracial democracy. Over and over, whenever they, and hence multiracial democracy, gained any traction, white southern reactionaries declared the end of the world.
“They had only recently broken away from slavery, but African Americans had quickly organized themselves to reach the ballot box,” Jeremi Suri wrote. “That was precisely what offended the white citizens of privilege, who had lost control of Southern politics.
“A wider, multiracial democracy diminished their power.”
Binary thinking was baked into the confederate mind.
Anything good for Black people was bad for white people. The solution, therefore, was cheating and humiliating Black people to help white people. Whether such sadism actually helped white people was beside the point of hurting Black people for the fun of it.
As a result, southern “democracy” was conditional. It rested on Black slavery. Unchained Black people, in the confederate mind, equaled chained up white people. Multiracial democracy, Jeremi Suri wrote, “challenged the status of the polite, well-mannered society of white people whose inherited wealth and power [they] depended upon.”
When your self-worth is based on the subjugation of others, what do you have after the subjugated fight for and achieve their liberty?
You have nothing.
There are no “real alternatives.”
Only alternatives to real.
The present is a product of the past.
What the confederates did back then, the Republicans are doing now. For the confederates, white freedom was Black enslavement. Black freedom was white enslavement. For the Republicans, the pattern is the same. Victory for the Democrats, and hence for multiracial democracy, would be “atrocity and barbarism,” “subjugation or extermination.”
Or “white genocide,” as Tucker might say.
The Republicans, like the confederates, do not have principles, policies and goals that are independent of the Democrats’ (or Black people’s) success. Problems, for the Republicans, don’t need policy solutions. That’s why they don’t stand for anything. What are they going to stand for when the problem is multiracial democracy?
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.