After the Eastwood debacle at the Republican National Convention, a number of people have suggested that Eastwood was more effective than the media give credit. He said what people are thinking, veered from the slick, scripted propaganda show that conventions represent, and may help Romney more than hurt.
To me, that’s nonsense. This distracted from the Republican message, overshadowed Romney, and solidified an image of Republicans as out of touch angry white people. While some see a populist battle cry in “we own this country,” others see a rich white guy talking to a group of wealthy Republican activists.
Clearly, the meaning is in the eye of the beholder. Still, Clint’s skit may give the Democrats a clear message moving forward: the Republicans are running against an imaginary Obama that isn’t there.
This is true about almost all the Republican rhetoric about the state of the country and the convention. While I see a slow recovery from a deep global crisis thirty years in the making, with President Obama charting a course to adapt to a very different world, the Republicans talked about us losing our freedom, with Romney even saying something utterly remarkable: that if we re-elect President Obama he can guarantee that our future will not be as good as our past.
Think about that. Let that statement sink in. He’s not saying that he has a better plan, or even that four more years of Obama will mean we’ll lose time in solving the problems, he’s making an ominous statement that re-electing Obama would deal a fatal blow to the country, we’ll lose our freedoms, we’ll decline, and the future will be dark and bleak.
At the end of his speech he ridiculed Obama’s concern for global warming by mockingly saying “he promised he’d stop the oceans from rising and heal our planet,” feeding into the Republican image of Obama as some kind of global internationalist that doesn’t care about what effects real people.
When I look at President Obama, I see a pretty effective leader who governs left of center (but more center than left), dealing with a global economic crisis that continues to impact countries from China to the US. No President could magically fix the US, but given Senate filibusters and two years of GOP control of the House, he’s not been able to implement much of anything. The idea that we have to “save America” or that Obama is a dangerous failure is simply bizarre.
Yet, I’m sure many believe it. Part of it is simply a difficulty dealing with the demographic and cultural changes sweeping the country (and the planet). The country is less white, more diverse, more secular and open to change than before. Issues like gay marriage shock some people and if they look nostalgically back to the 1980s, well it is a very different country. And those demographic and cultural trends are increasing in pace, regardless of who wins this year.
Yet I lean towards fiscal conservatism and agrees with many Republican critiques of government over reach and the danger of creating a psychology of dependency if social welfare programs are not designed to spur people on to take initiative and succeed. I also worry about debt (both public and private) and building a sustainable economy. The Republicans own that issue, right? Obama’s passed the stimulus and increased debt to GDP ratios, after all.
But to me, it’s not that clear cut. Most debt was run up during booms by Republican Presidents, while Obama’s stimulus was, I think, necessary given the situation in 2009. Without it, I think we’d be mired in a much deeper mess, probably with negative GDP growth rather than +1.7%. Moreover, tax cuts on the wealthy caused much of that debt, and even Ben Stein, a Republican, agrees that it’s a fairy tale to think tax cuts magically increase new revenue enough to overcome the loss of revenue they entail.
The GOP talks a good game on the economy but they haven’t backed it up — quite the opposite. Their policies created this mess, though the Democrats share that blame. I know some of my views are against many Democratic ideas; I want to restructure entitlements and social welfare programs to make things sustainable for the long run. The two sides have to come together. I think Obama wants to do that, I think many Republicans want to do that. The extreme anti-Obama rhetoric to me reflects a core of the GOP that is holding their party hostage — and I fear what they’ll do if the GOP has total power.
Finally, I am convinced global warming is a serious problem, that we need to work on alternative energies, and that there is a role for government to assist the private sector in such ventures. Some will fail (the US space program had numerous disasters and failures before hitting the right stride), but this is necessary. I can’t fathom the antipathy to such programs or the (to me) mindless adherence to the free market (even though it’s not really free since big business and big government are in bed together) that is used to blow off such concerns. On both global warming and energy the right seems to blow off science and evidence for ideological purposes. That’s scary.
So to me, my “reality” and experience of President Obama and the current situation seems grounded in objective evidence. I agree with Michael Tomasky that the key for Obama is to battle the myths spread by the GOP, or the “imaginary Obama” that the Republicans have constructed. I know enough about psychology to know that like all humans I’m pre-disposed to avoid cognitive dissonance and look for evidence to back up what I believe. But try as I may, I cannot see the invisible Obama that Clint Eastwood and so many Republicans view so clearly.