Another week, another GOP debate. The big news coming out of this one is that Rick Perry, after all, is not likely to be the Republican nominee for president. He has a fatal flaw that makes him unacceptable to most GOP voters: He doesn’t hate Mexicans enough.
Perry’s flaw was revealed in one of the most memorable exchanges of the night, when he blurted out, “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they have been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart.” This prompted spirited attacks from his fellow Republicans and led to widespread, post-debate discussions about Perry’s failure to pass an important conservative litmus test, the one requiring the candidate to not have a heart.
The issue of educating children was brought up because under Perry, undocumented aliens in Texas can attend public universities and pay in-state tuition if they agree to a number of stipulations, including a promise to apply for legal status. I think Perry could have won over those in the GOP audience who booed him, if he had promised them they would all be allowed to attend the graduation ceremonies of the immigrant youths and beat them up after they had received their diplomas. But the governor wasn’t quick enough on his feet to make this offer, and this slowness is likely to be his downfall.
The immigrant issue is one that GOP leaders have used to distract voters from the fact that conservative policies have steadily held the middle class down since about 1980 and now threaten to eliminate it entirely. Today we’re facing a possible replay of what happened in the 1920s when conservative policies of deregulation and favoritism for the corporate rich plunged us into the Great Depression.
The 11 or 12 million undocumented aliens in the US have nothing to do with this. They are not going to make or break the American economy, but their presence provides the GOP with a handy device for distracting middle class voters from their real problems – problems that have been brought about by GOP policies.
No Republican candidate wants to run on the line, “Vote for me so I can keep helping the rich get richer!” though that is what their policies are all about. Of course, conservatives claim that this is not their game, that what they really want is “small government,” but what is small government but a strategy for letting corporate money further engorge itself at the public’s expense?
Corporate money, when allowed to follow its own capitalist instincts, is kind of like the Blob in that old 1958 horror film – a formless monster whose only drive is to get bigger by devouring everything it touches. We in the middle class are protected from this insatiable monster to some extent by Social Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, unemployment benefits, disaster relief funds, public employee unions and the progressive income tax. But when conservatives denounce “government,” these are the things they’re talking about. What the GOP wants is to dismantle them and let us, as individuals, take our chances against the Blob.
Here’s the rub: Given conservative hatred of the government, you’d think they would also be hostile to our government’s very foundation, namely the U.S. Constitution. But apparently they’re not; in fact they seem quite fond of talking it up. But isn’t hating the government while praising the Constitution kind of like hating Christianity while loving the Bible? What’s up with that?
I think the real answer is that conservatism, as embodied in today's GOP, does not require logical coherence. Rather, it requires a handful of hot-button distractions that engender fear and hatred, distractions like undocumented immigrants, "the government," the sexual preferences of our men and women in uniform, and so on. But these distracters do not truly threaten our well-being; the one thing that does threaten us and that can destroy our way of life is that insatiable and ever-growing Blob.