Today someone asked me, “Why are republicans so mean?”
The questioner was 6 years old.
When confronted with a child asking me this question I wasn’t sure if I should cheer because he has been paying attention to his government… or cry because the nastiness of republican obstruction and policy pushing has seeped into the nightmares of our children.
In this case it was about cutting funding for the SNAP program. From a child’s perspective this one is an easy judgement: anyone who takes food away from a child is clearly a mean person, therefore, republicans are mean because that’s their policy position. The larger “mean republicans” problem, however, goes beyond the Republican Party‘s apparent war on poor people. The policies that allegedly make republicans so mean are primarily motivated by the republican need to appear strong to their voter base. In their minds to be strong one must demonstrate they can be cruel. It’s terrible logic, but such is the case in Republicanland. If you’re a republican politician, being mean is the only way to win a primary election.
Welcome to republican politics in the Obama era: a dark period in human history when small children ask bewildered adults, “Why are republicans so mean?”
I will try to put aside my astonishment-from-wondering what a nightmare of a 6-year old featuring Paul Ryan and countless gray-haired men parading on television talking about about rape and abortion might be like (would there be giant rabbits coated in crude oil carrying swords shaped like vaginal probes, or maybe talking trains that use coal and force all women to ride in the caboose behind the cattle cars?) – I’ll try to put all that aside, because it’s become a duty to answer this question… If only to ease the the minds of American children who pay attention to what’s happening in their government… and so that one day we can all tell them, “Don’t worry… Everything Is In Its Right Place now… it’s OK… it was all just a bad dream. You can go back to sleep now… it will all be better in the morning…“
Does the Republican Party enjoy being mean?
Yes and no. First, it should be made very clear that we’re addressing the Republican Party, and the manner in which its more extreme factions behave. Here we’re talking about what’s been defined as the extreme right-wing. Both parties have fringes with their Helter Skelter type anger. Both parties have perfectly reasonable public servants, too. But what’s seems unique with the modern day Republican Party is the that it is allowing its paranoid, “Somebody’s Watching Me” fringe to steer the car as it careens down the freeway (pray it doesn’t have to go over any American bridges).
The extreme right enjoys feeling as though they are being strong. Strong in its purity. The problem is, they’re a bit mixed up about what “strong” actually means in the context of governing. (Extreme believers have never been very keen on context, right Mr. Issa?)
Deep down very few animals actually enjoy being cruel to other animals. When forced to be cruel, they don’t see what they’re doing as cruel – they see it as either a matter of survival, or pride… or survival of the pride. In this case it’s survival of their bank accounts (and post-term lobby jobs they all now seem to covet) as far as I can tell. It certainly has nothing to do with Christian values or good policy.
It’s quite difficult to see how reptilian republicans in Congress can interpret… oh… for example…. a 20 billion dollar cut of the SNAP program as being anything to do with survival of the species… but I’m sure they have some excuse. Maybe somewhere under a fallen house lost over the rainbow. This week, we have literally witnessed an entire political party taking food from poor children, and turning around to give it as government issued checks to businesses who are doing just fine.
Yeah… a government that does that sort of thing creates Nightmare On My Street, too. Don’t blame you, kid.
For republicans, it’s not about being mean. It’s actually ironically simple: they believe that “the difficult choice” directly translates as “the harsh choice.” Proving that they are strong means “making the hard choice,” … and “making the hard choice” is, in their minds, the choice that will somehow hurt people. It’s how they think. Simply. That’s what happens when a large batch of simple people get elected to Congress. Lots and lots of literal translations by people who don’t take the time to read the legislation before voting on it.
The modern extreme right that is driving the Republican party car are people who belong in the blur of the cheering crowds on chariot racing day – not in halls of the Capitol Building.
In their heads “hard choice” IS “cruel choice,” and so they seek votes that, literally, stick it to the weakest in society because that is the most cruel choice available. Therefore, they are “strong.” To be strong is to be cruel. Having strength allows us to be cruel… that’s why being strong is so much fun, right? That’s how simple people think; nuance is a non sequitur.
It’s the same way, really, with most first-time managers: being strong means saying “no” a lot when asked for things. Being a strong manager is one who is very, very strict and holds staff accountable with a heavy fist. “Be strong and in charge!” As managers get better at their jobs, however, they learn that generosity and empathy always get better results. All these new republicans don’t understand that. They need management training (and a massive empathy injection… throw some human DNA in there just to make sure we know what we’re dealing with).
Republicans in Congress don’t understand that sometimes the most difficult choices are the ones that help the most people, not hurt them. The hardest choice is the making the right choice – even if it means you might lose your job.
This new batch of extreme right-wing ideologues who rolled into Congress on the 2010 Tea Party Express (the scenic Redistricting Extravaganza Route) are just the sort of insecure middle managers who believe that to be strong, one must be harsh. They don’t enjoy being mean – they’re just too wrapped up in their egos, simplicity, and inexperience to know any better.
Somehow I don’t think the 6-year old will like that answer. “Republicans are mean, but they’re too dumb to know any better.” Yeah… I don’t accept that now, so I know I wouldn’t when I was that age, either. Maybe if we try to explain it like that grumpy guy in Despicable Me…
What unsettles those of us who are allowed to stay up past 9pm, however, is that there are a few of the more extreme members of Congress who do actually seem to enjoy being cruel and looking over the edge of the witch hunt cliff. Those who want their social beliefs to control Every Breath You Take, while cutting all government services except the military… deep religion and a tilt for war… never a good combination. Those are the ones who reach my nightmares (no trains, only trials and endless investigations). With them, one tends to get the feeling that even a really good mentor can’t teach them that cruel does not make you strong.
Forcing kids to starve because their parents are having trouble making ends meet so you can give subsidies to agricultural corporations doesn’t make you a hero of the people – it makes you a cruel despot treating American citizens worse than the cattle and corn you’re subsidizing by the billions.