I didn't have the heart for more than a post or two about the bailout of the American auto industry, the outcome of which was underwhelming. Congress provided an amount of money that pales in comparison to the financial sector's big payday – about $13 billion, a heathen sum to you and I but only enough to let the Little Three limp along for a few more months while trying to right the ship. The only fun part of this debacle was watching the Senate's southern Republicans drop the gloves for one last hurrah in the limelight before their party becomes insignificant.
Is it even necessary to say "southern" in reference to specific Senate Republicans anymore? Is there any other kind? After hearing their invective during the bailout negotiations, I think I might have some idea of why their ideas are not more popular elsewhere.
We begin with the very obvious conflict of interest from leading anti-bailout crusader Richard Shelby of Alabama, a man whose state just happens to have energetically bent over for foreign automakers in the past 15 years. Having doled out billions in subsidies to get Korean, Japanese, and German companies to take advantage of good ol' fashioned Southern Hospitality (read: piss-poor, uneducated workforce and ample union-busting) it would seem that an Alabaman like Shelby might stand to benefit from the demise of the American auto industry.
Another corrupt Republican feigning Principle didn't do much to change the perceptions that guided voters in the last two elections. But more importantly the GOP seems to have badly mangled the easiest kind of reel-in-the-voters rhetoric: populist class warfare. Someone neglected to tell them that class warfare is not supposed to be directed against the working- and middle-classes. Rather than attempting to reach out to alienated voters, the GOP felt it more important to vent their anger at blue-collar people who subverted the Natural Order by daring to make middle-class incomes. The lame attempt by people like Bob Corker to paint the GOP as the defenders of the little guy – the taxpayer – against greedy union workers did little to disguise what they were actually saying.
The conservative position on this issue, whether expressed on talk radio or in the halls of Congress, reads like an electoral suicide note. The message is simple and unmistakable. If you have a blue-collar job that lets you live a nice middle class existence, you make too much money. If you have a pension which will keep you from being forced to work until you drop dead or living out retirement in poverty on Social Security (which should also be eliminated), you are lazy and greedy. Your retirement benefits are too lavish and must be reduced. If you have health care provided by your employer, you are a leech. Think about that for a second. It's not enough for the GOP to fight against universal healthcare – they're on the Senate floor and the nightly news arguing that people who have health benefits provided by a private employer should have it taken away.
Folks, this is the political platform of Skeletor. These are not merely bad or unpopular positions. They are mean, antagonistic, angry positions. They are the ideas of a cartoonishly evil villain in a movie aimed at pre-schoolers. They're the kind of ideas embraced only by the privileged and the self-loathing. Shelby, Corker, et al take a position that makes me question their sanity. It's not merely that I disagree with them; I wonder how in the hell they expect to win elections by telling the non-wealthy (i.e., 90% of the population) "Hey! Fuck you."
Well, there are only two ways. First, distract people with "social" issues like gay marriage, flag burning, abortion, and so on. Alternatively they can hide their real agenda behind slogans and fake populist bluster, hoping that voters are too stupid or lazy to notice the disconnect between words and actions. These tactics can be successful in the Good Times, when voters' personal sense of financial security is not threatened. But when the electorate casts its worried eyes on the economy, the mask slips off and voters start to wonder if one party, rather than simply not representing their interests, is actively trying to screw them.