Here’s to the marketers of the GOP. They are geniuses.
Consumer products marketers are extremely fortunate -- and extremely well compensated -- if they can momentarily trigger product consideration, let alone trial, let alone loyalty. They can even squander fortunes in constant churn of the customer base as long as they don’t lose market share. Much.
They don’t have to change consumer perception permanently. They don’t have to alter consumer behavior. They don’t have to manipulate consumers into acting against their own self interest. And they don’t have to persuade anybody to accept a fictional alternate reality.
But the 40-year drumbeat of the GOP message has achieved exactly that.
No. 1: Big Government is intrinsically evil and far less efficient, capable and motivated than the private sector.
"I hope we have once again reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited,” declared Ronald Reagan, conservative deity. “There's a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: as government expands, liberty contracts."
Of course American government was conceived explicitly to guarantee liberty and the rights and welfare of individual citizens. Tell the founders their constitution is a slippery slope toward tyranny; that would be good for a laugh. Likewise, No. 2: The notion that government should defer to the private sector.
Bad idea. First: Enron, Goldman Sachs. Archer Daniels Midland. Drexel Burnham Lambert. Blackwater. B.P. Shall I go on? By definition, the private sector has private interests. Manifestly, government and business have different roles, goals and responsibilities. It’s like saying football, soccer, hockey and basketball are played under a clock, so baseball should be, too. Nope. Different kind of game.
Of course, less than one fifth of federal spending is on the executive departments where all the inefficiency, stupidity and waste supposedly reside. But, anyway, which part of ineffectual, fat and lazy 18% of the revenue pie should we turn over to the private sector? Centers for Disease Control? Federal Emergency Management Agency? National Cancer Institute? Food and Drug Administration? The FBI? But Republican voters accept it like scripture. According to a November Pew poll on trust of government, some 71% believe government is doing too many things best left to individuals and the private sector.
Likewise, 66% of GOP voters don’t believe it’s the government’s job to help people get out of poverty. These are the same Constitution thumpers who fail to read the first paragraph, which includes “promote the general welfare” as one of the nation’s six founding principles. Similarly, 41% don’t believe in securing a basic income for those over 65.
Another article of faith: No. 3: Deficit spending is our ruination. As House Budget Committee member Bill Flores, R-Texas, put it: “Every American family and 49 out of 50 states currently abide by some form of a balanced-budget requirement. If they can make the hard choices to pay their bills and live within their means, then Washington should too.”
Yeah? Since when do households and small businesses not run up debts? Two-thirds of American families do live with huge debt burdens … called “mortgages.” And what business doesn’t live on loans at least for cash flow? At business school nobody calls debt a noose. They call it a lever. That’s why corporations indebt themselves to the tune of trillions of dollars. The government prints money, business sells bonds.
A related and equally fanciful truism, as articulated by Sen. Marco Rubio, is No. 4: “Small business owners, left to struggle under the weight of more taxes, more regulations and more government.” Simply untrue. Out of 189 countries measured, the United States is ranked seventh in hospitability to business in the World Bank report “Doing Business 2015.” Our regulatory burden, it is ranked fourth -least onerous. The related gripe, No. 5: Business is taxed and taxed but gets nothing for its money while freeloaders suck on the teat of bleeding heart bureaucrats. Nope. This is the land of opportunity, enjoyed by small businesses more than most. They enjoy: access to an educated workforce, highly advanced infrastructure, rule of law, civil stability, low crime rates, the world’s most affluent market, dependable water and power supplies, a large middle-class consumer base, government protection from rivals’ misdeeds and close to zero chance of being occupied by a foreign power -- an environment built on and guaranteed by taxation. Ask them if they’d like to trade with their Brazilian counterparts. Or Swedish, for that matter.
No. 6: Illegal immigration is out of control. No it isn’t. It’s been waning since 2008.
No. 7: Terrorism is an existential threat. Number of deaths on U.S. soil from terrorism in past 10 years: 71. Number of U.S. deaths by lightning strike, same period: 250. Number of U.S. death from firearms, same period: 301,797.
No. 8: Climate change is not manmade. The author of The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, James Inhofe, is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Inhofe is, of course, both a moron and a sleaze, in the pocket of his Oklahoma energy industry. But 53% of Republicans in Congress are lined up right behind him.
No. 9: Religious liberty is at risk. No. Christian hegemony, but not the freedom to practice your religion. However, the Bill of Rights declares that the government play no favorites, and for no religion is freedom absolute; it ends where secular law begins. Alas, Sarah Palin spoke for many when she said: “This is an ancient truth going all the way back to the first century, when the apostles declared to the rulers of the day that they must obey God, not man.” If you hear that from a religious-freedom monger. just ask them to substitute the words “the Prophet” for “the apostles.” It's a conversation stopper.
No. 10: We are living in gathering tyranny. Because of Obamacare and executive orders on immigration and environmental protection, duh. Well, Obama was twice elected by the American people. The AHCA was passed by both houses of Congress. That’s called "democracy." As for executive orders, faced with a GOP congressional majority dedicated to blocking every presidential initiative, he used executive authority -- something his GOP predecessors invoked far more. If the courts rule he has overreached, he’ll defer to the law of the land. That’s democracy, too.
There is so much more. Maybe someday we can discuss the flat tax, which is widely embraced by the very Americans who would be screwed by it. The point is, none of these concepts, principles, beliefs, assumptions can be supported by history or readily available data. Yet it has all stuck, like super glue, to the conservative electorate. Some of this has to do with their desire for it to be true; it’s the same reason L'Oreal is profitable.
But mainly it has to do with the genius for finding simple messages and repeating them for decades until they become conventional wisdom. Here’s the thing, though. We also were told that the Edsel was handsome and cigarettes were good for our health.
It wasn’t true.