The Ultimate Class War Presidential Campaign
Financed by a few wealthy families and Wall Street interests, bolstered by systematic attempts to suppress the vote and intimidate working class voters, even employing a strategy of threatening to close down businesses if their candidate loses the election, 2012 was hardly the first time the GOP used anti-democratic tactics in a presidential race. The election of 1896, which pitted populist Democrat William Jennings Bryan against Big Business whore William McKinley, was the model for how conservatives would use electoral politics to undermine democracy and promote plutocracy. If the Karl Rove role was played by Mark Hanna, Adelson and the Koch brothers were certainly J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller (seen in the clip above personally editing McKinley's convention speech).
The GOP won that time and they tried replicating the whole strategy again with Romney. But this time it fell flat on its face, in part because, as much as Romney was a perfect xerox of McKinley, Obama could never be plausibly be forced into the unapologetic populism of William Jennings Bryan. Obama's economic and fiscal politics, of anything, are closer to McKinley's than to Bryan's. And Americans will pay for that with what he and Boehner are cooking up in their Grand Bargain. We've been talking a lot about how our elites' economic, social and cultural distance from the middle class discourages empathy. Quoting again from Chris Hayes' Twilight of the Elites, let's not forget that "A wide distance between the governors and the governed will produce a state that is predatory toward its own citizens, indifferent to their desires, and subject to the inbred whims and compulsions of its ruling class... [T]hose members of the elite who occupy the high offices of our pillar institutions and organizations are already psychologically disposed to close themselves off to the perspectives of others... Time and again, in radically different contexts, we saw those in charge be so blind to the interests of those outside their small circle that they pursued a course of action that would ultimately bring ruin and disgrace." Yesterday conservative pundit David Frum made a half-assed attempt to tackle the empathy problem that plagues his political party.
In this weekend's Weekly Standard, Jay Cost walks right up to the front door of Mitt Romney's electoral problem-- and then turns aside and walks back away again.Now listen to Bryan's speech and I guarantee you there's no way to imagine Barack Obama ever saying-- let alone backing-- anything like it:
Obama’s campaign against Romney, which portrayed him as an out-of-touch plutocrat, appears largely to have been successful. Romney’s favorable rating in the exit poll was just 47 percent, with 50 percent holding an unfavorable view. By 53 to 43 percent, voters said that Obama was “more in touch with people like” them, and by a staggering 53 percent to 34 percent, they said Romney’s policies would favor the rich instead of the middle class.All true, so far as it goes. But it's very important for Republicans to understand that Romney's failure to connect with people was not a mere personability deficit. George W. Bush ran in 2004, let's not forget, as the candidate who had created Medicare Part D, the costliest expansion of the welfare state since the mid-1970s. Romney ran in 2012 as the candidate of the Ryan plan. That's the difference.
In other words, Romney lost in large part because of a yawning empathy gap. Typically, this plagues Republican candidates to some degree, even victorious ones, but it was pronounced this year, and appears to have been determinative. The voters who showed up on Election Day identified more closely with Obama than Romney, and those who stayed home presumably identified with neither. Importantly, this problem transcended age, race, ethnicity, and gender. Compared with Bush in 2004, Romney simply failed to connect with people.
Which is not to suggest that Republicans make a habit of championing huge, unpaid-for government programs. That's not the party's job. But it's important that Republicans emancipate themselves from two illusions: (1) that their problem is immigration; and (2) that their problems can be fixed by more charming candidates.
The Republican problem is the party's disconnect from the experiences and challenges of middle-class Americans in the 21st century. Start there, and work forward.