Saturday, January 7, 2012

Thomas Ferguson on the Devil and Mr. Santorum: The Dilemma of the GOP

I wrote yesterday,

There's still far too much red meat, after all, sitting on their plates [i.e., on the plates of under-informed conservative Catholic voters] in the form of ugly racist and homophobic bugbears, deflecting attention from their woeful economic plight, to assure that they'll wake up.  And the Republican presidential selection process may well be playing all of us for fools by trotting in front of us an unusually odd and extraordinarily cracked set of clowns and buffoons this election cycle, to predispose us to breathe a sigh of relief when the "moderate" Saint Mitt finally emerges from the shadows of the stage wings to save the day. 
Since, after all, nothing so assures that a spurious second-act saint looks holier than thou than a first act of knaves, crooks, and imbecilic comedians claiming to represent the moral center of the play they're acting out.  (On which theater of the absurd as played out on the Iowa stage recently, see Alan McCornick's acerbic and brilliant commentary at Hepzibah this week.)

And here's what Thomas Ferguson, professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts and author of Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems has to say at Alternet today:

Why does this curious “shooting star” pattern of flare ups and flame outs distinguish the quest of hopefuls for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination? The answer lies in the party’s tricky long-term strategy to steer ordinary voters into focusing on wedge issues rather than the economic policies. The party establishment wants Romney, but its voters have been so thoroughly trained to focus on gays and abortion that they cannot sit still behind a candidate who concentrates on business and economic growth. 

As Ferguson notes, the Republican party has been carefully built to serve the needs of the 1%, and "Republicans historically secure the incomes of upper income Americans, whatever else they do."  To attain that end, however, the party leadership has, from Nixon forward, consistently used one wedge issue after another to secure the votes of conservatives among the 99% whose economic best interests are, to say the least, not served by voting Republican.

And in 2012, this has become a serious headache for the Republican party--the ginning up of racism, homophobia, animus towards immigrants, etc., among the faithful.  It is possible to read the entire shoddy spectacle of the primaries as a stage-setting leading to the introduction of Saint Mitt the "moderate" savior, who's the candidate the party leaders (and the 1% to whom they answer) really want.

But what to do with all the hatred and "religious" fervor the party leaders and 1% have worked so hard to gin up all over again in the primaries?  That's a question not so easily answered, when the faithful no longer dance so meekly to the tune played by GOP leaders.

Tensions, factions, engineered social animosities: these can definitely tear a nation apart.  But they can also tear apart the fabric of political parties that build their base by employing tactics designed to elicit these dark corrosive social energies among their constituents for the party's political gain.

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