More than 20 years ago, the Norman Jewison film Other People’s Money quite neatly described the fundamental contours of the debate that may be about to unfold in the GOP race concerning the nature of Mitt Romney’s dubious yet highly profitable endevours as a vulture capitalist:
The question now is whether Republican critics of Romney’s ingenious method of rapacious wealth extraction will see fit to vigorously pursue the populist line of attack against him. After all, at first blush it would seem to run directly counter to their fabulist laissez-faire notions, everything they pretend to hold dear about the “free market” and, of course, their preternatural inclination to cap hobos in the street.
Should be a challenging ideological tight-rope the Republican candidates will be treading in South Carolina over the next week or so…
Good discussion about the current state of the GOP with respect to the primary race and hypothetical outcomes should a Republican become president, featuring David “Axis of Evil” Frum, New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait and National Review editor Kevin Williamson.
Towards the end of the conversation, Paiken wheels out this priceless quote from Mike Lofgren, a former GOP operative who quit the party last year in horrified disgust:
A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.
A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters’ confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that “they are all crooks,” and that “government is no good,” further leading them to think, “a plague on both your houses” and “the parties are like two kids in a school yard.” This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s – a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn (“Government is the problem,” declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).
I highly recommend reading Lofgren’s farewell in its entirety. Aside from being incredibly amusing, it’s an affirmation of Thomas Frank’s thesis as set out in his previous book, The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule.