Republicans want to build a time machine
But don't be fooled: Republicans aren't just nostalgic for 1950s-style social barriers. They want to rebuild them
By Rebecca Traister
The desire to chronologically reverse our nation’s history has been the undercurrent of the 2012 election cycle and its primary debates; it’s barely been disguised in the agenda of John Boehner’s House or in state legislatures around the country.
The mission to drastically curtail women’s reproductive rights, taking aim not just at abortion but at birth control; the blocking of the Paycheck Fairness Act; objections to expanding the Violence Against Women Act; crazed locutions about rape and sluts: In word and deed, conservatives have been telegraphing their hope to return us to a moment not just before Roe, but before the birth-control pill, before the sexual revolution, before second-wave feminism hammered pesky terms like “harassment” and “equal pay” into our lexicon, to a moment when women’s bodies and sexuality and identities were men’s to define, patrol and violate at will.
The state-by-state assault on voting rights, a dizzying array of propositions designed to keep brown and black people, poor people and young people from the polls? This too is an attempt to turn back time, to return the country to a moment before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 helped ensure safe enfranchisement for African-Americans.
For many months, we have been watching a lengthy, multi-tentacled attempt to shut tight doors that were opened by the social movements of the mid-20th century, to push back those who have apparently gotten their hands on a little too much power, by aiming back toward a time when men were white, women were long-suffering vessels, and black men were definitely not president.
But if time travel has been an understated drumbeat of the past two years of Republican machination, in Tampa, it was conveyed with all the subtlety of an AC/DC riff from Paul Ryan’s iPod.
First there was the swooning over the Greatest Generation, the fetishistic shout-outs to hard-laboring forebears, Welsh coal-mining grandfathers and Breyer’s Plant employee dads. Speakers were presenting us with visions of men who lived in an earlier America and the women who sacrificed their own passions (as Mitt Romney recalled of his mother, who gave up Hollywood) to marry them, move to Detroit and raise their babies while the men embraced success and made money.
None of the stories of ye olde American achievement actually jibed with the convention’s “We Built It” theme. The tales were of white men whose class mobility and moon-walks were boosted by G.I. Bills, state-school educations, government-funded space programs and unions. These guys and their unconditionally loving wives were part of a white American middle class that was able to expand thanks to the kinds of post-Depression financial regulations and government-goosed infrastructure and housing programs that modern Republicans are keen to obliterate.
But the incoherence of message didn’t matter, because what all these stories were really flicking at wasn’t the size of the government, but the whiteness and the maleness of those who were helped along with their businesses and wealth and broods of straight-parented families. Just listen to Romney’s assertions about this “nation of immigrants” who came here seeking freedom, a sentiment that is both disingenuous from someone who wants this nation’s current immigrant population to self-deport, and that does not even bother to acknowledge those Americans whose forebears were brought here against their will in an exercise of freedom’s opposite. Romney didn’t include those people because they don’t exist—in a meaningful, threatening way—in the America Romney and his party are trying to bring back.
The keening desire to be back there, to be back then, was responsible for the presence of Clint Eastwood, an actor who came to prominence as a star of the cowboy show “Rawhide,” which aired from 1959 to 1965. People may disagree about whether Eastwood’s vertiginously awful appearance at the RNC on Thursday was intentionally aggressive or just loopy, but there’s no question that his creepy intonation of the phrase “We own this country” came off like a segregationist-era, George Wallace-inspired catchphrase—one the crowd went wild for.
Republicans like to talk about their "humble roots" in order to disguise their true upper-class ideology
By Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg
This is the new Republican playbook. They are running away, as fast as they can, from the upper-class ideology to which they really subscribe. Romney “loves” his Costco shirts; and, his wife says, they began married life in a basement apartment with a “fold-down ironing board for a dining room table.” We are now supposed to believe that theirs is not the party of wealthy businessmen on one end of the scale, and on the other, angry, spellcheck-resistant Tea Party sign wavers who hate the deadbeats that are bilking the government out of hard-earned tax dollars. No, the new Republican Party is the party of self-made men with loving wives and mothers, “real Americans” who embrace educational opportunity and the American dream for all.
The “new” Republicans owe more than they will acknowledge to a federal government that dispensed a long list of subsidies from World War II forward. The GI Bill made higher education possible for millions, just as New Deal legislation before that helped secure federally backed loans for businesses and homeownership for the first time in our history. The growth of suburbia was financed by big government. Businessmen did not accomplish this change in class structure on their own. Not nearly. The federal government created the middle class of the 1950s. Surely, the Republicans can admit this much. But doing so is risky; it might lead them down the slippery slope from “Greed is good” to “Government is good.”
Let’s talk about labor in honest terms. Thomas Jefferson may have designed Monticello, but his slaves mixed the lime and baked the brick and erected the mansion. Slaves built much of early America, long-despised Irishmen dug the Erie Canal, and Chinese peasants were conscripted to lay railroad tracks all the livelong day. Businessmen need a vast array of workers to build any corporate enterprise; employers need employees. White-collar workers, manual laborers, electricians and carpenters make businesses run. Why must Republicans these days take such joy and displaced pride in suggesting that business leaders do it all, building the country brick by brick, by themselves, our precious job creators? A football team needs blockers as well as a quarterback.
Casablanca’s Rick is saying that the pursuit of wealth often gets in the way of virtue as well as justice. If you listen to Chris Christie, public school teachers aren’t accountable enough, and unions are a selfish perk for a coddled generation. Why does the same accountability not extend to big businessmen? No prosecutions on Wall Street? This is where the Republicans’ moralizing platform sinks in quicksand. One standard for ordinary folks, and another for the rich and powerful?
Mitt Romney doesn’t think he should be subject to the same accountability as others. He won’t provide tax returns so that citizens can judge the man and be certain that he puts his country before personal gain. Before the unpropertied were allowed to vote, Jefferson held that those who served in the militia and paid their taxes should be granted that right. It was the Dream Act prequel. The tough stand on undocumented workers taken by Romney and the Republicans reflects the “American value” that Spanish-speaking people can’t be trusted to … love America? Work hard? Pay their taxes? Whose American dream are we focused on?
Why don't Republicans say anything about the Indians killed and the Africans enslaved so their white ancestors could prosper? Because that would contradict their misleading message of self-reliance. A Native columnist hits the message home:
Deconstructing Chris Christie’s Speech at the GOP Convention
By Laura Waterman Wittstock
As he talked, it became clear this was a man who knew nothing about the country his family came to. To him, this was the land of the free where people of any class could walk out of their muddy fields and onto a boat and onto land they could take from others without recrimination. They simply took and closed the door behind them. And not all could come. Europeans kept out the Africans, the Asians, and Hispanics. These people were only accepted as slaves, servants, and laborers. In Christie’s generation, all he knew was that hard work brought reward.
The people in Christie’s family that inform his memories today knew only of Indians from what they might have read somewhere. Indians were distant, fading curiosities. There was never a tinge, a pinprick, a nudge, to tell them they had landed on what had been someone else’s land. It was after all “the land of the free.” All of the conspiratorial tales and songs and banners worked to erase the immigrant’s memories of the blood on their hands.
Christie said, “We are the great grandchildren of men and women who broke their backs in the name of American ingenuity; the grandchildren of the Greatest Generation; the sons and daughters of immigrants…” Christie said his parents were poor but worked hard. “….the brothers and sisters of everyday heroes; the neighbors of entrepreneurs and firefighters, teachers and farmers, veterans and factory workers and everyone in-between who shows up not just on the big days or the good days, but on the bad days and on the hard days.” This is an ideal population—free of crime, health needs, and old age that other communities encounter—the proverbial world where everyone is “above average.”
Clint Eastwood said, "We own this country." Whom do you think he was talking about? Who is this "we" who owns the country? And who are the ones who don't own the country? The answer to that question is obvious: the women, minorities, gays, and non-Christians who make up the Democratic Party.
Together, their message is that Americans are white. And the GOP is the party of white people. White Americans like them deserve to rule the country.
The Republican appeal to white Americans doesn't get much more blatant than this. Why else would Romney and Christie fail to mention blacks, Latinos, Asians, or Indians? Republicans don't consider minorities "real Americans" like them and their ancestors. Brown people merely reside in America; white people own it.
For more on conservative racism, see Racists Deny Playing Race Card and White Americans Fear a Black President.