As we get closer to the general election race, the Republican Party is descending into ever deeper confusion over its rhetorical codes and when and how to use them.
This is more than just an awkward pivot from pitching to the base to focusing on the general electorate. It’s a direct result of decades of Republicans fashioning their language to obscure what they really mean—like asserting that “cutting taxes will raise revenues” when the real idea is to shift the tax burden from the rich to the poor. The GOP is so distracted by its multiplicity of phony attack lines that it’s begun to confuse itself.
We’ve all seen how, during the primary debates, the Republican candidates were forced to acquiesce to the notion that, say, booing a soldier on duty in Iraq or shouting down the Golden Rule are, respectively, the patriotic and Christian things to do. But when Perry and Gingrich started attacking Romney from the left as a job-destroying vulture capitalist, they started to seriously step on their own neckties.
And the reason they did is pretty simple: Reactionary movements demand a certain ability to flip meaning around in their members’ minds in order to argue with opponents who, like Obama, are (only too) willing to compromise. However, this technique has come to so dominate the GOP policy discussion that it’s become a universal reflex. Rick and Newt were simply extending the manufacture of false outrage to Mitt, their opponent du jour; tripping over their own laissez-faire principles along the way was secondary to going on the attack.
The mechanistic, automatic opposition to Democrats has similarly made most Republicans live in such a perpetual Opposite Day that they’ve lost the thread of their own arguments–and that means they’re losing control of the political narrative. Consider the mixed messages of just the past week:
Romney on Leno
Romney was attacking—no defending—no attacking—Robamneycare:
LENO: So you would make the law stand for children and people with pre-existing conditions?
ROMNEY: People with pre-existing conditions—as long as they’ve been insured before—they’re going to continue to have insurance.
LENO: Suppose they were never insured?
ROMNEY: Well, if they’re 45 years old, and they show up, and they say, ‘I want insurance because I’ve got a heart disease,’ it’s like, ‘Hey guys, we can’t play the game like that.’ You’ve got to get insurance when you’re well, and if you get ill, then you’re going to be covered.
LENO: I know guys at work in the auto industry, and they’re just not covered … They’ve just never been able to get insurance. And then they get to be 30, 35 and were never able to get insurance before. Now they have it. That seems like a good thing.
ROMNEY: We’ll look at a circumstance where someone was ill and hasn’t been insured so far. But people who have had the chance to be insured—if you’re working in an auto business, for instance, the companies carry insurance; they insure all their employees—you look at the circumstances that exist. But people who have done their best to get insured are going to be able to be covered. But you don’t want everyone saying, ‘I’m going to sit back until I get sick and then go buy insurance.’ That doesn’t make sense. But you have to find rules that get people in that are playing by the rules.