The Republicans are radicals, not conservatives

The party has forgotten that change, if necessary, should be incremental and practical.

It's not Ted Nugent's fault that he is clearly a born whack-job, but we can hold Republicans accountable for tolerating the Motor City Madman's rhetoric of violence.

Nugent told supporters of the National Rifle Association recently that he'd "be dead or in jail" if President Obama were re-elected. Nugent and his right-wing apologists have since denied that he was making any kind of threat to the president's life. The Secret Service evidently felt otherwise and paid a visit to the well-known gun fetishist.

Nugent has come out in support of GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney. When asked, Romney condemned violence generally without referring to Nugent. The Secret Service concluded that the rock musician best known for singing "Cat Scratch Fever" had no intent to assassinate anyone.

Well, that's good to know, but what was the context of his little chat? Something about Obama being a criminal, that his administration is evil, and that conservatives need to "chop their heads off." Yeah, sounds about right.

For the record, I enjoy gutter-sniping and trash-talk. It's deliciously lowbrow and a grand tradition in American oratory. The theatricality of the Nuge is part of his appeal, too. But Romney is a presidential candidate. That he seems unwilling to distance himself from Nugent suggests he and the GOP are so accustomed to the rhetoric of violence that they are inured to radicalism when it's in front of them.

US Rep. Barney Frank has said Democrats aren't perfect, but Republicans are nuts, conceding that voters have a less than ideal choice but Dems are at least functional. Yet "nuts" is only half right. Since 2008, and especially since 2010, the GOP has become extremist, so much so that its current state challenges the very notion of "conservatism."

A dominant tone in the rubric of conservatism is preservation: maintaining and protecting whatever a community has valued over time. In the US, that has meant tradition, civic institutions, family, marriage and Christianity, among other cultural norms. Moreover, conservatism is method for dealing with modernity. If change is needed, let it be incremental and practical.

But conservatives like US Rep Paul Ryan, author of a budget proposal endorsed by Romney, want to move rashly and radically to tear down widely-valued institutions like Medicare. Debates over its merits were settled long ago, but Ryan, as if he were a revolutionary waiting to blow up the current system, seeks to decimate Medicare by privatizing the entitlements that every American pays for.

The GOP vision isn't just radical; it's obliquely socialist. I'm not talking about the good kind of socialism, which the GOP is historically hostile to. I'm talking about a brand of socialism in which the government interferes with markets for the benefit of the one per cent: tax loop holes, corporate giveaways, tax cuts, etc. Noam Chomsky once wryly said that capitalism is a great idea that no one has bothered to try yet. The corporate socialists would never allow it.

Worse is that the GOP appears to want everyone who is not rich and not a corporation to believe in its free market gospel. That's why the House cut funding for food stamps. Freebies make people lazy. That's why GOP leadership is threatening to make those who earn the least pay more in federal income tax. That's only fair to the rest of us. Meanwhile, there's no place in America for a millionaire's tax. Let's not start annoying the job creators, OK? 

So what we have is a party of radicals bent on using the power of the government to redistribute wealth upward. Of course, the GOP hasn't been alone in its obsession. Democrats are to blame too. But that's largely because radical Republicans have pulled the center of the political spectrum far to the right, so much that tax cuts seem always sensible while tax hikes are always treasonous.

We are so far to the right, so terrified of irritating business, that 2,700 corporations, including Nissan, Sears and Goldman Sachs in effect tax their own workers. Twenty-two states have subsidies programs in which huge corporations keep money that would have been levied by the state for public sector purposes. But instead of going to roads, schools and fire departments, about $5.5 billion (over 20 years) has gone straight into corporate coffers.

David Cay Johnston, of Reuters, wrote: "These deals typify corporate socialism, in which business gains are privatized and costs socialized. They also mean government picks winners and losers, interfering with competitive markets."

Like I said, not the good kind of socialism. That would never be tolerated. When a moderate president like Obama says the GOP wants to "impose a radical vision on our country," he's right. But that's when someone like the Motor City Madman will get crazy and call him a socialist.

John Stoehr is a lecturer in Political Science at Yale University.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is introduced by Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. Photograph: Getty Images.

John Stoehr teaches writing at Yale. His essays and journalism have appeared in The American Prospect, Reuters Opinion, the Guardian, and Dissent, among other publications. He is a political blogger for The Washington Spectator and a frequent contributor to Al Jazeera English.

 

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On civil liberties, David Davis has become a complete hypocrite – and I'm not sure he even knows it

The Brexit minster's stance shows a man not overly burdened with self-awareness.

In 2005, David Davis ran for the Tory leadership. He was widely assumed to be the front-runner and, as frontrunners in Tory leadership campaigns have done so enthusiastically throughout modern history, he lost.

The reason I bring up this ancient history is because it gives me an excuse to remind you of this spectacularly ill-judged photoshoot:


“And you're sure this doesn't make me look a bit sexist?”
Image: Getty

Obviously it’s distressing to learn that, as recently as October 2005, an ostensibly serious politician could have thought that drawing attention to someone else’s boobs was a viable electoral strategy. (Going, one assumes, for that all important teenage boy vote.)

But what really strikes me about that photo is quite how pleased with himself Davis looks. Not only is he not thinking to himself, “Is it possible that this whole thing was a bad idea?” You get the distinct impression that he’s never had that thought in his life.

This impression is not dispelled by the interview he gave to the Telegraph‘s Alice Thompson and Rachel Sylvester three months earlier. (Hat tip to Tom Hamilton for bringing it to my attention.) It’s an amazing piece of work – I’ve read it twice, and I’m still not sure if the interviewers are in on the joke – so worth reading in its entirety. But to give you a flavour, here are some highlights:

He has a climbing wall in his barn and an ice-axe leaning against his desk. Next to a drinks tray in his office there is a picture of him jumping out of a helicopter. Although his nose has been broken five times, he still somehow manages to look debonair. (...)

To an aide, he shouts: “Call X - he’ll be at MI5,” then tells us: “You didn’t hear that. I know lots of spooks.” (...)

At 56, he comes – as he puts it – from “an older generation”. He did not change nappies, opting instead to teach his children to ski and scuba-dive to make them brave. (...)

“I make all the important decisions about World War Three, she makes the unimportant ones about where we’re going to live.”

And my personal favourite:

When he was demoted by IDS, he hit back, saying darkly: “If you’re hunting big game, you must make sure you kill with the first shot.”

All this, I think, tells us two things. One is that David Davis is not a man who is overly burdened with self-doubt. The other is that he probably should be once in a while, because bloody hell, he looks ridiculous, and it’s clear no one around him has the heart to tell him.

Which brings us to this week’s mess. On Monday, we learned that those EU citizens who choose to remain in Britain will need to apply for a listing on a new – this is in no way creepy – “settled status” register. The proposals, as reported the Guardian, “could entail an identity card backed up by entry on a Home Office central database or register”. As Brexit secretary, David Davis is the man tasked with negotiating and delivering this exciting new list of the foreign.

This is odd, because Davis has historically been a resolute opponent of this sort of nonsense. Back in June 2008, he resigned from the Tory front bench and forced a by-election in his Haltemprice & Howden constituency, in protest against the Labour government’s creeping authoritarianism.

Three months later, when Labour was pushing ID cards of its own, he warned that the party was creating a database state. Here’s the killer quote:

“It is typical of this government to kickstart their misguided and intrusive ID scheme with students and foreigners – those who have no choice but to accept the cards – and it marks the start of the introduction of compulsory ID cards for all by stealth.”

The David Davis of 2017 better hope that the David Davis of 2008 doesn’t find out what he’s up to, otherwise he’s really for it.

The Brexit secretary has denied, of course, that the government’s plan this week has anything in common with the Labour version he so despised. “It’s not an ID card,” he told the Commons. “What we are talking about here is documentation to prove you have got a right to a job, a right to residence, the rest of it.” To put it another way, this new scheme involves neither an ID card nor the rise of a database state. It’s simply a card, which proves your identity, as registered on a database. Maintained by the state.

Does he realise what he’s doing? Does the man who once quit the front bench to defend the principle of civil liberties not see that he’s now become what he hates the most? That if he continues with this policy – a seemingly inevitable result of the Brexit for which he so enthusiastically campaigned – then he’ll go down in history not as a campaigner for civil liberties, but as a bloody hypocrite?

I doubt he does, somehow. Remember that photoshoot; remember the interview. With any other politician, I’d assume a certain degree of inner turmoil must be underway. But Davis does not strike me as one who is overly prone to that, either.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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