(Swans - September 10, 2012) This is being written during the week of the Republican Party national convention in Tampa, Florida, where Mitt Romney will formally be selected as the Party's candidate for election this November (2012) for the office of president of the United States. To date, Mrs. Romney, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, and Romney's vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan have spoken to the assembled delegates.
Mrs. Romney's speech was the usual spouse's heartwarming appeal to humanize the image of the presumptive nominee. Governor Christie's speech was an exhortation for national shared sacrifice, without mentioning any specifics. Paul Ryan's speech was a polemic denouncing the many economic failures of the Obama administration, a touting of his own proposed economic remedies, and a fervent call for a change of national leadership.
None of these speeches had any substance because the public spectacles of the American political process are intended to distract from, mask, and avoid the actual problems and issues affecting the lives of the American people; this is all bread and circuses. These convention speeches are rituals, simple pep rallies to induce the release of endorphins within the brains of delegates and television viewers, mindless political evangelism to create a shared sense of uplift within a constricted conceptual bubble.
These speeches "convince" nobody who is not already a devotee of the Republican cult, because they are not actually rational arguments addressed to a thinking national electorate, they are cult-speak for the indoctrinated. So, Mrs. Romney's speech did not convince those not already committed to vote for (and donate to) the Romney-Ryan ticket to like Mitt any better.
Governor Christie's keynote address was dissected for implied meanings by Republicans seeking to tease out Christie's political ambitions. Romney supporters claim Christie turned down the VP slot on the Republican ticket because he thinks Romney is a loser; and also, in his speech Christie said "I" excessively, and spoke about Romney minimally. David Brooks, the Republican political commentator on the PBS NewsHour television show, opined that Christie's references to "sacrifice" might be his laying down the background for Romney and Ryan to explicitly promote the idea of undoing the Medicare program (which comment by Brooks gives us a revealing glimpse into the plutocratic conception of "sacrifice").
Paul Ryan's speech has been very widely criticized in the mainstream media (and of course the alternative media and the blogosphere) for repeating inaccuracies about the Obama administration, which Ryan has already been informed about. Basically, Ryan's speech was just a stream of blatant, bald-faced lies, which Juan Cole exposes. (1)
David Rothkopf points out the lack of substance in the Republican convention speeches, particularly about the federal debt, relations with China, and climate change. The setting of the US debt ceiling remains an unresolved issue, and if it remains so then automatic federal budget cuts will be triggered that lop off 4% of the GDP overnight and will instantly trigger a (deeper) recession with global repercussions (blowback from the eurozone). Rothkopf points to the damaging impact on Sino-American relations of the Republicans' anti-China rhetoric, with worse to come if they actualize it. Also, the acceleration of climate change is a phenomenon that has been disappeared down the Republican memory hole despite being clearly evident in the Arctic thaw now underway, which is of unprecedented magnitude during the Holocene Epoch (the last 10,000 years). (2)
Mark Shields, the Democratic political commentator on the PBS NewHour, in discussing the absence of any mention of foreign policy by the Republican convention speakers, reminded the television audience (as well his other panelists) of America's "two failed wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan." In one refreshing minute of broadcast time he said: "It is an indictment of us as a people and of the leaders of this country that we are not debating and discussing Afghanistan. That there are, tonight, 80,000 Americans in peril, in harm's way, and it goes undiscussed and really un-debated in this country, and essentially uncovered." (3)
Consider the following three scenarios as possibly fundamental factors behind the apparent lack of substance in the Republican national convention (and probably also the Democratic one in coming weeks).
It's A Done Deal
Last year, Mitt Romney's backers invested in his business plan for a national takeover, and figured out their splits on expected winnings on the basis of their respective buy-ins. Romney emerged from the Republican primary season as the sole proprietor of Republican political capital, and with his investor pool expanded, after the flurry of leveraged buy-outs, mergers, acquisitions, and containments (in the case of Ron Paul) of the competing Republican campaigns. So far as Romney is concerned, the voting is done, there is nothing more to discuss. The issues that count are those of his investors, who are counting on recovering the return on investment they originally anticipated. Their are the votes that get answered because each cost many early dollars to cast. Thus, there is nothing substantive to discuss at the convention because the substance has already been sold off. If you didn't ante up at the start of this poker game, you haven't got any cards in it. The corporate personhoods "who" want the Bush tax cuts to be permanent, and Medicare to be axed, did.
There May Be A Dime's Worth Of Difference, But Not Much More
The types of backers who can bankroll players that ante up at the Republican tables in the World Series of Political Poker can also bankroll players at the Democratic tables, to hedge their investment portfolios. So, while there may be a strong desire among Democratic and Republican operatives to be very different from each other, there is not that much difference between the investor pools of each, and the actual party governing policies always reflect the interests of those investors. Hence, the two big political parties drift into consensus on the significant issues while making a big show of their differences on the insubstantial periphery, as that outer boundary is defined by the ownership pool.
In Roman times, it really didn't matter to the patricians who sponsored the spectacles in the Circus Maximus which particular charioteer won a given race and gained the favor of the masses, Massala or Ben-Hur, because after the spectacle their class would still be in control of the economic engine and military power of the imperial center. The public is allowed a multitude of choices on trivial matters, and little if any choice on the issues of fundamental importance.
Today, there is no significant difference between Democratic and Republican administrations in the management of the essential issues because in either case the goals of government policy serve the same ownership class. David Brooks noted that US national security (military and foreign war) policy has been seamless during the last eight years that included the last 5 years of the George W. Bush Administration and the first 3 years of the Obama administration. Why the consensus? Obviously because it continues to serve those who own the economic engine and military power of the imperial center. Gabriel Kolko describes a similar consensus on economic policy between the Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt administrations during the Great Depression. (4)
The US GDP is currently $15.09 trillion, with a population of 311.6 million, which equates to a per capita productivity of $48,428 (GDP per person). As of July 2012 there were 132,868,000 people employed in the United States, which is 42.6% of the population. Each such employed person can be attributed with an average productivity of $113,544 (GDP per employed person), and to support an average of 1.35 not employed others.
At our current level of industrial development, we do not need everyone to be employed in order to achieve our standard of living. Full employment is not a national goal, and neither is universal education.
Hence, there is a competition between families (and, more diffusely, between ethnic groups) for access to technologically-advanced healthcare, superior primary and secondary education, "permanent" employment, and secure investment opportunities (safe real estate and reliable investment paper) because all are aspects of family wealth.
The United States has devolved to a society in which the single most important factor in a child's prospects for financial success is the wealth of his or her parents. It is parental wealth that can buy the expensive technological healthcare, which along with proper nutrition will best safeguard the mental and physical development of the child. Money is also needed to buy the best schooling for the child, either directly as the expense of private school, or the real estate and property tax expenses of situating the family in the service area of a high performing public school. Good primary schooling will boost a child's chances of gaining a slot in a college whose alumni generally move on to high paying jobs -- parent money is essential here.
Any child who was favored by birth to have the backing to fund his or her way past the competition at each stage of their development can achieve membership in the success class of people who are permanently employed, either literally, or by having gained the skills needed to remain employable at a professional level. They have then secured their membership in the wealth retention class (being able to generate wealth on their own without the need for the yolk sack of inherited wealth). Now, like their parents, they can transfer their present wealth into their children's future prosperity through the protection of the child developmental process, so their offspring can compete successfully against the others in their cohort.
What families in the wealth and success class naturally want is inheritance insurance, and this is most easily implemented by ensuring that family wealth is the overwhelming factor in the prospects of a child's future success. This is fundamentally why health care and education are being privatized: to restrict the access to future employment -- the source of individual wealth -- for the benefit of the children of more prosperous families. The accompanying degradation in public education and health care diminishes the competitiveness of the prosperity-limited children who must rely on public institutions, and as this is a large population, that increases the likelihood that the children of the prosperous will populate the permanent employment class.
Even with inheritance taxes, such a cycle would ensure that prosperity is retained within families that already possess it, and -- most importantly -- is denied to those of little wealth. So, being a doctor, lawyer, or engineer would open opportunities for you to get good jobs and to accumulate family savings with which to invest in the future of your own children, ensuring completion of the family prosperity retention cycle.
If health care and education were free, then anybody could achieve access to the success class of the permanently employed solely on the basis of merit, and that would vastly increase the competition for each such job. The net effect of such a meritocracy would be the diffusion of wealth out of the formerly inheritance-insured population, and a leveling out of family prosperity nationally. That might relieve much anxiety for those currently in the economic basement, but it would also end the exclusivity of inheritance insurance.
This is really what the absence of substance in the speeches at the Republican national convention is all about. If you're in, you're in, and you know the unspoken agenda behind all the fluff. If you don't get it, it's because you're not in. And, if you're not in, you're not supposed to be.
The more other people have to pay to survive,
the more that our people will prosper and thrive.
[Continue to an analysis of the Democrats.]
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About the Author
Manuel García, Jr. on Swans. He is a native of the upper upper west side barrio of the 1950s near Riverside Park in Manhattan, New York City, and a graduate engineering physicist who specialized in the physics of fluids and electricity. He retired from a 29 year career as an experimental physicist with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the first fifteen years of which were spent in underground nuclear testing. An avid reader with a taste for classics, and interested in the physics of nature and how natural phenomena can impact human activity, he has long been interested in non-fiction writing with a problem-solving purpose. García loves music and studies it, and his non-technical thinking is heavily influenced by Buddhist and Jungian ideas. A father of both grown children and a school-age daughter, today García occupies himself primarily with managing his household and his young daughter's many educational activities. García's political writings are left wing and, along with his essays on science-and-society, they have appeared in a number of smaller Internet magazines since 2003, including Swans. Please visit his personal Blog at manuelgarciajr.wordpress.com. (back)
3. "Shields and Brooks on Gov. Christie's Message of Sacrifice, Ryan's Earnestness," PBS NewsHour, 29 August 2012. (back)