jimsleeper.com » Holy George give us the gift of his person.

Holy George give us the gift of his person.

By Jim Sleeper – November 3, 2010

The slogan behind Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory — “It’s the economy, stupid” — has worked to Republicans’ advantage in 2010 for reasons we need to understand. Obama’s comment that voters don’t face facts when they’re scared was true, even if ill-advised, and it didn’t cost Democrats nearly as much as economic desperation itself.

The Tea Party’s “ideology” of rage and its floodgate funding gave Republicans new right-wing candidates, but the reason they won is more elemental and elementary: Democrats, like Republicans, are a party of casino-finance capital and corporate welfare, and their fiscal and regulatory timidity made Republican sins easier to forget.

Even were Democrats bolder, they can’t fairly be blamed for failing to undo, in just the two years since their 2008 victories, the immense damage done by Republican governance and policies. But Republicans’ congenital inability to offer more than slick demagoguery and obstruction won’t benefit hamstrung Democrats in 2012 unless voters recognize that Republicans are even more perverse than Democrats. Whether voters see that will depend a lot on the spin doctors and the big money behind them.

George Packer’s blog post in the New Yorker gets this right, but in a way that ends up being part of the problem. A few years ago, I rebuked him for chronicling “The Fall of Conservatism” in The New Yorker by giving the floor to a supposedly penitential David Brooks and other Beltway phrase-turners, without letting ordinary voters speak for themselves. Now, sounding as if he’s taking my remonstrance to heart, Packer goes out of his way to contradict Brooks and talk with voters in Virginia’s 5th congressional district.

Not only does he do that, however; he wants us to know how important it is that he did it. It’s important, he informs us, “to go to polling places and talk to actual voters, as opposed to sitting in a television studio and talking to other talkers,” because “you always come away surprised.”

So, what kind of “surprise” does he find? Well, he quotes two voters. One, a poll-watcher, gives him the predictable Republican/conservative line. The other, it turns out, has “come to vote for [Democratic congressional candidate Tom Perriello] because of Jane Mayer’s article [in The New Yorker!] on the Koch brothers (who have poured some of their money into the Fifth). This woman’s husband works for a Koch-owned company, and when they started getting inundated with company literature telling them how to vote, she became suspicious. Then Jane’s article explained it all.”

Mayer’s article was terrifically important, and it made me wish that more Americans got the kind of information she dug up. Unfortunately, the next paragraph of Packer’s post has him talking mainly to himself: “My uncle and grandfather were congressmen, and my mother always described the defeats that ended their careers as devastating. Politicians can’t help taking a loss as a direct personal rejection.”

Pundits, too, apparently. But Packer rouses himself to close with a characteristic drama:

“This midterm is the [Republican] party’s first salvo in its first order of business, to end Obama’s Presidency. There will be little mercy and a great deal of rancor. Tomorrow we’ll find out how Obama sees the next two years. I see one of the ugliest political periods in my lifetime, which has seen a few.”

George, George,….: The Republicans are dreadful. That is no surprise. We need to know why so many people are following them. Your personal testimony doesn’t tell us. What happened last night is not about you, your uncle, your grandfather, your mother, or even about the many things you have gone out and seen in your lifetime. It’s mainly about what other people think they’ve seen and heard. That tragedy remains too little reported.