The Republican right's hypocritical rhetoric machine has become so dazzling and effective it can only be viewed as (highly successful) conceptual art.
Nothing defines this better than the current redistricting controversy. It is simply astonishing that this state's majority-party leaders can derisively label the opposition as "partisan," in light of this contentious, money-wasting, openly anti-democratic action born of purely partisan motivations. In a letter last issue, a Hays County reader attacked Patrick Rose, claiming, "He is really a Democratic lieutenant first and a representative to all his constituents second. His debt to party movers and shakers obviously had him by the short hairs." There is an admiring crowd gathered in front of where this statement is mounted at the group show, ooohing and aaahing at both its audacity and expertise. Let's admire this work. The sole reason for the redistricting drive is U.S. House Speaker Tom DeLay's sense of Republican Party needs. It is not a popularly raised issue, as it benefits neither the state nor its citizens. The idea is to shift the bulk of Texas' electoral power to the white-flight suburbs that vote Republican with blind consistency. Redistricting is opposed by Democrats, by Independents, by rural Republicans, and by inner-city residents. Even some of the normally loyal Republican business community is against it, although quietly, because it will disadvantage rural areas, disenfranchise specific communities, and, by wiping out incumbent Democrats, lose the state seniority positions on committees that direct federal spending. Even those who argue for redistricting because the Democrats did it and it's time Republicans are fairly represented are simply reiterating partisan nonsense. As we've too often noted, despite the shift in party labels, ideologically Texas legislators have been overwhelmingly conservative, so specific policy positions have been represented. As much as this move is against Democrats, it is more directly aimed at the six overwhelmingly Republican districts that elect Democratic congressmen. How dare these folks think for themselves and vote for a politician on his or her merits! The idea is not fair representation, but gerrymandered, distinctly partisan representation. Representing "all ... constituents" is the furthest thing from their minds.
Certainly the above is a bit glib and incendiary, but I am so stunned that, in light of the serious economic, social, and education problems this state faces, Gov. Perry and the Republican leadership are obsessed with this petty, expensive, partisan misadventure. This is beyond unconscionable. Children, the elderly, and the economically disadvantaged can't get proper health care. The state's education funding and rules seem designed to drive the most qualified teachers into other occupations or out of the state. If you fret over the state of Austin's economy now, consider the thousands of state jobs we'll soon lose. Those observations, by their nature, are generalized rhetoric. Instead, imagine a slide show of hundreds of thousands of faces, of children, senior citizens, workers, the sick and disabled, and all their families. Pause on each slide. Look closely at the faces. The consequences of the Perry administration are not abstract; it is creating real-life, person-by-person devastation. To those of you nodding, mumbling that the short-term pain will be worth the gain of smaller government, wait. Even if you have no concerns about our abysmal current record on social spending, which can ill afford these cuts, wait. The bottom line for the smaller government crowd is usually money: They want more of theirs for necessary and discretionary personal/family spending and less in government coffers. The irony is that the end result of this session's legislation is going to be less money in your pockets, even without tax increases, not more.
In light of the Senate Democrats' necessary out-of-state sojourn, I rehash the above: Outrage over what is happening in our state must be expressed. Now, a brief review of some of the highlights of the show The Art of Republican Hypocrisy:
One of the attacks on critics of the current administration is that we are so wrapped up in our hatred of Bush that we'll automatically dismiss any Republican action. Huh? This administration has led a broad-based assault on the economy, offered a stunning tax cut for the rich at the cost of social services (to be borne by future generations). They have promised that no child will be left behind while cutting education funding, demanded we support our troops while cutting funds for veterans. There's an ongoing assault on individual freedoms. We invaded Afghanistan, promising to help that country rebuild. Underfunding that pledge, we invaded Iraq for reasons that are at best controversial. It isn't George W. Bush the man we hate, but his administration's policies. Certainly, many may now hate Bush, but it's for what he's done, not who he is. The true artistic touch here, of course, is that we are supposed to forget the eight-year, blindly hateful, personal assault on President Clinton and everything about him. It is beyond hypocrisy for people to express moral outrage that supposedly personal hatred of Bush is dictating attitude when they so joyously embraced their personal antipathy to Clinton.
Right-wing moral indignation rages at the audacity of Democrats trying to block the confirmations of a handful of ideologically biased judges. "How dare these partisan traitors not respect the Constitution?" they demand. The question, of course, blithely ignores the right-wing-orchestrated, wholesale denial of Clinton's judicial appointments, most not even because of ideology but to keep those positions open so the next administration could fill them.
The how-do-they-sleep-at-night award has to go to Bush apologists' rage at Americans who dare to question those 16 words in the State of the Union speech. The bloodthirsty lynch mob that tried to drive Clinton from office now can't believe anyone would so disrespect the president and his office. Of course, Clinton's impeachment was not because of sex but because he committed perjury when asked during an $80 million investigation into a business dealing in Arkansas about a completely unrelated incident. Tricking this country into a war with international implications, which cost lives and billions of dollars, is just not of the same magnitude as perjury!
One of the sad indicators of how completely right-wing talk radio tells its most ardent listeners not only what to think, but what those with different opinions think (talk about straw men) is this issue. We've received a couple of letters here at the Chronicle chiding me for calling for an investigation of this misleading assertion. Only I didn't -- I'm against an investigation and think that way too big a deal is being made of this. Bush decided to invade Iraq shortly after 9/11 (though the idea may well have begun to form before), and everything the president and administration did and said after was simply to provide an evidentiary path to a foregone conclusion. Focusing on a single statement is to lose the forest for the trees, the truly outrageous manipulation for the minor stunt.
Another favorite is to accuse those opposed to Bush's dividend tax cuts of being in favor of "class war." This is another that comes courtesy of talk radio. Come on, class war is when the distance between the richest and the masses is so pronounced that the latter become disenfranchised. Arguing against massive tax cuts for those who least need them when the budget is already swamped hardly qualifies. In case you've missed it, the Bush administration's long-term goal (being achieved in the amazingly short run) is to shift almost the entire tax burden onto earnings. Given that many corporations are already actively dodging their fair share, including shifting to overseas headquarters, that means the working class (upper, middle, and lower) will bear almost all the burden. The Congressional Budget Office, looking to defend these cuts, ran a number of models. None found the tax cuts paying for themselves. Two found some deficit shrinkage. Both of those assumed that by the middle part of this decade taxes would have to be raised, and in order to maintain the same standard of living, most Americans would work harder, thus paying more in taxes.
Space demands we take a break from admiring this Republican art. A quick review of some of the highlights: denouncing as partisan any reasoned defense against or criticism of the basest partisan maneuverings. Saying one thing (that you support education, the environment, our armed services, job creation) while doing another (cutting back on the budgets for these). Criticizing as shocking any political activity or rhetoric that you participated in, usually more militantly, in previous administrations. Most brilliantly perhaps, being willing to say in very short sentences one thing while doing another entirely (getting many Americans to argue against their own best interests). The most stunning achievement of this refined, focused, aggressive hypocrisy is its political success, which is likely to continue.