Tom Schaller wrote a very good piece a couple days ago that addresses something that continually pisses me off, and which the Republicans have been doing since maybe the 1920s.
If you listen carefully--or, really, not so carefully--national Republicans often like to refer to the Democratic Party as the "Democrat Party." They do this with a straight face but a heavy dose of snark. It's a bully's taunt, schoolyard humor.
Schaller eventually settles on a great alternative that could be used as a catch-phrase for the 2006 midterms and beyond: Republican'ts. And while I enjoy the symmetry, I don't think that properly describes what the party in power seeks to do with government. In short, it's not RepubliCAN'Ts, but RepubliWON'Ts.
Schaller makes his case for Republican'ts, and it's a good one:
It seems to me that the "can't" theme is potentially of two varieties. The first is the incompetence and mismanagement variety--the notion that the GOP is simply incapable of managing the government, a theme Rep. Tim Ryan emphasized rather brilliantly on the House floor recently. The second is more damning because it's not a matter of capacity but of will--the fortitude to do (or not do) certain things, like balance the budget (no will) or snoop around in Americans' private behaviors (no will to stop).
I'd love to see Howard Dean, next time he's on Meet the Press, send a shot across the partisan bow by telling Tim Russert or other media types that if they refuse to correct Republicans (Ken Mehlman seems to be a common culprit) when they say "The Democrat Party," then Dean is fully entitled to begin publicly referring to Republicans as the "Republican't Party." As in: Can't balance the budget; can't stop raising the national debt ceiling; can't manage federal emergencies; can't find Osama bin Laden; can't control our borders; can't stop smearing and leaking; can't answer tough questions from the media; can't find weapons of mass destruction... (I can't spend all day doing this, but you get the point.)
I endorse the approach and I think it has a lot of possibilities. Of course it would be used best just casually, without the explanation. The Republican'ts don't say "Democrat Party" and then explain that they're doing it to allude to Democrats as "rats" (remember the commercial?) and because they're anti-democratic. It's just implied. If anyone called Chairman Dean on saying "Republican't" over and over, then he can launch into "well, what else would you call a Party that can't fix health care, can't balance the budget, can't find OBL," etc. Before that, you let the electorate understand the allusion on their own terms.
However, I must add that it is technically incorrect. To say that the Republican'ts CAN'T do anything to improve people's lives makes it primarily a problem of mismanagement and incompetence. In short, it localizes the problem to the decisions of a particular group of people. All it would take for a Mitt Romney or some other self-styled "git 'er done" politician to defuse the whole thing would be to separate themselves from the current administration, for example, by saying that they're a RepubliCAN.
In truth, we all know that it's the second half of Schaller's statement that, as he says, is far more operative and far more damning: the question of will. He brings up two examples, the inability to balance the budget and the propensity to snoop on Americans' private affairs, and in each case he says that the Republican'ts don't have the will to do either. But this is not the case. Or at least the emphasis is off. It's not that they don't have the will, that they are simply powerless to stop themselves. It's expressly that THEY DON'T WANT TO STOP.
A perfect example is the environment. Sam Seder made an incredibly insightful comment on his Air America Radio show last night when he was interviewing Davis Guggenheim, director of An Inconvenient Truth. He asked Guggenheim if he thought that a major impediment to get the country moving against global warming was that, and I'm paraphrasing, "If the public sees that government can adequately make positive change through policy in this area, wouldn't they expect government to do that in other areas, and wouldn't that harm RAY-publican ideology?" (Sam always uses RAY-publican.)
This is absolutely on target. The entire RepubliWON'T experiment has hinged on pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps individualism, on government being the problem and not the solution. If government is the solution, to ANYTHING, that upsets the apple cart. This of course ignores the power of collective action and innovation, which for centuries has proven an effective lever to solve problems too big for one man, from back in the days of Archimedes until now. There would simply be no need for government if individuals could rectify every problem themselves. Progressives have always understood the value of progress, that good government can provide meaningful solutions in many cases and equalize opportunity while enhancing security and ensuring the common good. If a Democratic President set sustainable CAFE standards, encouraged conservation, invested in a Manhattan project for energy and actually succeeded in lowering greenhouse gas emissions demonstrably, the entire RepubliWON'T ideal that government cannot affect any positive change would fall by the wayside.
The same goes for health care. We're actually going backwards on that right now, as the last Medicare bill does not even emable government to collectively bargain for lower prescription drug costs for pharmaceutical companies. Businesses engage in this kind of leveraging process every day. But if government did it, that would be too close to moving to a solution, so that won't happen. Of course, a single-payer universal health care system would, if managed in any way like those in Europe, provide better health care at a lower cost. But RepubliWON'T ideology mandates that government is not able to solve problems. It can be argued that the rank incompetence with which the Medicare Part D plan has been administered is at least subconsciously deliberate, to further this myth that government is too inefficient to be meaningful. Certainly when you have leaders with no interest in governing, you get out of it what you put into it.
The RepubliWON'Ts have nothing but contempt for government and its institutions: in fact it's part of their charter, their contract with America. Government cannot solve problems. Therefore every instance of incompetence, every occurrence of mismanagement, serves to SOLIDIFY this central critique, and the problem is always government, never the RepubliWON'Ts themselves. In this system, you're on your own not because government can't help you, but because it WON'T.
There are any number of reasons why the RepubliWON'Ts won't govern in the way citizens need them to. They're beholden to a conservative business structure that resists any kind of change that requires they spend more on infrastructure or face regulation. They thrive on that particular strain of human selfishness, a national "free-rider" problem that says "if I can make something of myself, everybody else can figure it out." They desire to heighten alienation with the political process by lessening the value of government, thereby shrinking the pool of voters they have to convince to stay in power (and making it so that those who most need government's help are also the most disillusioned). There are many other factors. But whatever the reason, the point is that they don't want government to succeed, ever. Progressives do. We have a belief that government can be rightly administered to solve the imminent crises and problems we face.
I dig the idea of RepubliCAN'Ts, but the truth is that they're RepubliWON'Ts.