The 2012 U.S. presidential election offers a stark choice between two competing worldviews of the relationship between the individual and the state. On the one hand is an ideology, to which most Democrats subscribe, that government is an enabler, referee and backstop, even occasional cushion against the vicissitudes of life. Posited against that is a vision, represented by Republicans, by and large, that government coddling stifles innovation and undermines individual initiative and self reliance by creating a culture of dependency. In the words of the Republican Party’s favorite son, Pres. Ronald Reagan, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
Of course, reality is more nuanced and complex than ideologies. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc countries (remember?) is demonstrable evidence of the rot that excessive governmental intrusion fosters, smothering societies and undermining the social and economic liberation of individuals, for which Communists and Socialists profess to strive. Likewise, except for diehard Ayn Rand fanatics, most conservatives would acknowledge that government does serve a role in rebuilding after a natural disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina, or providing emergency care or putting out a fire, even a negligent one, in a private home.
But we will not have a debate on the two contrasting governing philosophies. The Republican Party, which has nominated an Ayn Rand faddist Paul Ryan as its nominee for vice president to placate the extremist wing of the party, recognizes well that the vision of dismantling the widely popular social safety net of social security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, etc., would be toxic and disastrous in an election.
So the Republican National Convention was a carnival of prevarication, duplicity and outright lies. Although several media organizations have exposed the brazen falsehoods peddled by the Romney campaign at the convention — most notably by Rep. Ryan, who, perversely, in his acceptance speech pledged “to level with” Americans — Republican campaign handlers remain undeterred.
In his speech Rep. Ryan denounced Pres. Barack Obama for ignoring the recommendations of a bipartisan deficit-reduction panel, when it was Ryan’s own opposition as a member of the commission that was most responsible for scuttling the implementation of its report. He held Pres. Obama accountable for the lowering of the U.S. credit rating by Standard & Poors, when it was the brinkmanship of Rep. Ryan and House Republicans, who refused to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, that actually resulted in the lowering of the U.S. rating.
Most audaciously, Rep Ryan, who has long advocated the privatization of Medicare, converting it into a voucher system for private insurance, accused Pres. Obama of cutting $716 billion from the program — an amount that Rep. Ryan’s own Medicare plan targets. Even the Republican echo chamber, Fox News, couldn’t swallow the dissembling, headlining Ryan’s speech as “Dazzling, deceiving and distracting.”
Nevertheless, Republican apparatchiks are supremely confident that they can deploy the arsenal of hundreds of millions of dollars they are raising from self-serving corporate tycoons to wager a dishonest and deceptive campaign that overwhelms and drowns out any media attempts to unmask their mendacity. Romney pollster Neil Newhouse bluntly told journalists, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”
The democratic process ought to be about competing ideas that are tested through the electoral process. The Republicans have concluded, however, that political logjam renders government dysfunctional and ineffectual and thus achieves their ideological goals without leveling with the American public and regardless of which party prevails. Grover Norquist, one of the leading conservative lights in the Republican Party, has repeatedly said, “Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.”
Those who share Norquist’s agenda should vote for the Republican ticket. But will the U.S. electorate be able to see through the fog of deception and falsehoods, the unvarnished truth that really animates Tea Party darlings, like Rep. Ryan, which is: the emasculation of the American government itself?