I recorded part of the Republican convention last night and just got finished watching it now - the performance of Clint Eastwood, the speech of rising young Republican star Marco Rubio (son of Cuban immigrants) and then Romney.
First up was Eastwood, who clearly is becoming a bit senile, or maybe just so caught up in his own self-image that he can’t see the world around him. (Is there a difference between these two processes?) His opening line said it all, where he referred to the view of Hollywood as being composed of “all left wingers… left of Lenin.” That, of course, drew a laugh from the delegates. (I should mention that the delegates overwhelmingly had that sleek, plump, white and self satisfied look that makes American tourists so disliked around the world. The only difference being that I would guess that the majority of these delegates don’t even have a passport. Who needs one, anyway? What’s there to see or learn outside of the USA?) The senile Eastwood also attacked Obama for having been a lawyer. We shouldn’t have attorneys for president, he commented to laughter and applause. But the dimwit was ignorant of the fact that Romney, too, is an attorney.
Next up was Rubio… grandson of a Cuban immigrant. Rubio had played on the fact that his grandparents had to flee the dictator Castro. Except that it came out that that wasn’t a fact; his grandfather left Cuba when Batista was the dictator. Never mind - what’s one or two lies amongst friends? It’s easy to see why Rubio would be a rising star. First and foremost, the Republicans need a few leaders with Spanish last names since their anti-immigrant policies are turning off so many Latino voters. And Rubio goes down easy with the Republican faithful, since while he has the last name, he doesn’t have the accent. (The previous day the delegates tried to boo down the Republican representative from Puerto Rico, partly because of her Spanish accent.) Equally important to this crowd, Rubio doesn’t look too Latino. Just enough - dark hair and eyes but white skin - to be “authentic”. And he has the plump, sleek look that marks him as one of the crowd’s own.
Rubio’s speech was pot boiler American politics, totally playing on images, first and foremost American exceptionalism. “America is exceptional,” he said. The main thing that makes the US exceptional is the spirit of entrepreneurism is the line. “We should be free to go as far as our talent and our work take us,” he said. One comment that should send shivers down the spine of people all around the world was Rubio’s threat (promise, I guess he’d say) to “help the rest of the world become more like America.”
Then came the moment we’ve all been waiting for - the walk-on performance of the “next president of the United States of America”, Mitt Romney. It is useful to bear in mind who this man is. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Romney was one of the founders of one of the earliest private equity buyout firms. As outlined in Josh Kosman’s “The Buyout of America”, Romney and his firm, Bain Capital, helped pioneer the strategy of the private equity firms. These are finance capital firms that take companies “private”, meaning that they get the boards of directors to agree to sell a company to a group of individual investors rather than to sell stock publicly on the stock market. What Romney and Bain Capital helped pioneer was the strategy of simply sucking the capital - the lifeblood of a company - out of the company in the first few years of ownership and then selling the company and moving on. One way they did this was through cutting the research and development budgets, since R & D only pays off in the longer term.
The entire process of private equity leveraged buyouts is somewhat complex, but basically it comes down to a process somewhat similar to a pack of wolves seeking the herd member which is most vulnerable to being taken down. Some might compare it to a flock of vultures, but this is not accurate because the “victim” is not yet dead in the case of the private equity wolves. The point is that the very complexity of the process of these buyouts is helpful to Romney, who can portray their taking companies “private” as “helping American businesses”.
Obama and the Democrats have been attacking Romney somewhat for his role in Bain, but they have had to be careful about this for several reasons. First and foremost is that their backers, too, come from the same field - finance capital. Related to this is the fact that they, too, have to rely on the same images, or illusions, in order to continue to bolster US capitalism to US workers (and to workers around the world, for that matter). These attacks on Romney have had some success, despite the caution with which they are being leveled. That’s partly because of the stupidity of the man and the fact that never in his life has he been around working class people and this fact oozes from every pore in his body like the garlic smell oozes from the pores of one who has eaten too much of the stuff.
Romney’s handlers have been trying hard to overcome the blue blood image of him, so his entrance into the convention was not from back stage. Instead, he walked down the main aisle as Rubio was introducing him. His walk - like that of a model on the runway - was carefully staged. He stopped ever other step to smile and shake hands and exchange hugs with the women. He even gave a “fist bump” to one delegate. (This greeting, which comes from the black community in the US, was maybe the most disgustingly hypocritical image of all for the overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly racist convention. A day or two earlier, a couple of delegates were caught throwing peanuts at a black CNN cameraman while they told him, “this is how we feed the animals.”)
Watching the normally wooden and extremely dull and stupid Romney speak, it becomes clear why the candidate remains hidden away until his great moment comes when he “accepts” the nomination: It’s not all to increase the drama; he must have had to spend countless hours practicing and rehearsing with his handlers and speech coaches. Here are a few snippets from Romney’s speech:
He started by boasting that he comes from a “small town”. This was an appeal to the provincialism of the small town Republican delegates. He went on to comment that “we (Americans) are good and generous people.” This was to obscure the selfishness, greed and downright cruel mentality (never mind racism and xenophobia) that he and his supporters appeal to.
He commented that “You (Americans) deserve (to live the American Dream)” and went on to praise the “work ethic” in the United States. This combined two images that obscure reality. First is to pretend that the “American Dream” - that each generation of workers could expect their children to live better than they have - that this “dream” can be recaptured, vs. the fact that it is dead and gone forever. Second is to make the fact that US workers work longer hours and have less free time than workers in any other industrialized nation - to make that appear as a positive.
Then there was the usual play on patriotic images. “We live in the greatest country in the history of the world,” said Romney. “When you need somebody to do the really big stuff, you need an American.” (Cheers from the crowd and chants of “USA! USA!”)
Then was the counter attack on Obama, for allegedly attempting to “divide” us Americans along class lines. “In America, we celebrate success. We don’t apologize for success.”
One thing Romney’s speech also did clarify immensely: How much US politics revolves around a series of images. These images include:
- American exceptionalism - the idea that the USA is fundamentally different from every other country that ever existed; that the laws of history don’t apply to this special, unique country.
- That America is exceptional because we, alone, encourage and value talent and hard work above all else.
- That because of this, god especially loves the USA.
- That the “American Way of Life” includes the god given right to drive a gas guzzling SUV, keep our air conditioner on for all hours, water our lawns as long as we like, and damn the long term consequences (if such consequences even exist, which is doubtful).
- That all we really have to care about in any deep way is our own family (that is, “family values”)
Along the way, Romney invoked all the tried-and-true images: god, family, women, entrepreneurship…
It’s difficult to figure out these elections. Four years ago things were pretty clear. Corporate America - the US capitalist class - had figured out that the bully on the block method of foreign policy could not work. Simple military fire power was not the only factor, and even when it was a factor, they needed allies. It’s likely that this conclusion was concretized around their opposition at that time to attacking Iran, which the Bush successor (McCain) was more likely to carry out. However, this reckless aggression (as opposed to strategic aggression) was not abandoned when it came to domestic policy. There, the US capitalist class is increasingly coming to conclude that the far right Republicans - including the Tea Party crazies - are right, that they can completely wipe out all of the social gains of the US working class without a major fightback. That’s why Corporate America - the US capitalist class - seems to be pretty divided in this election, with this division showing on the matter of finances. While Obama continues to raise scores of millions, Romney is raising even more.
The capitalist class of every country maneuvers and manipulates as well as represses. However, they are always forced to do so in the context of their own country’s traditions and culture, meaning that they tend to use different images and different demagoguery. Here in the United States, the Tea Partiers are increasingly becoming the vehicle of choice for the manipulation and repression and the party of choice (and necessity) for the Partiers is the Republican Party. This gives the Republicans an opportunity to increase their support not only with a layer of US voters, but also with the more aggressive elements of the capitalist class, the likes of the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson.
However, it also gives the Republicans a problem, as defined by Lindsay Graham, Republican Senator from South Carolina. As Graham put it the other day, “We (the Republicans) are not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” Graham was almost openly saying that the Republicans are appealing to racism as well as to the macho culture of many male voters in the US. The problem with this appeal is that 30% of the US population is either black or Latino, and the latter is the fastest growing ethnic group in the US. There are all sorts of demagogic, pro capitalist, appeals that can be made to any ethnic group, but the Republicans’ problem is that their activist base - including the Tea Partiers - revolves around anti-immigrant nationalism as well as racism (although they try to cover up the latter).
The Democrats have problems of their own. Composed at their base of an activist wing that includes the union leadership, they have to occupy the space that makes a limited economic appeal. But since they, too, are a party of Corporate America, they have to be extremely careful how they make that appeal. One thing is clear: Both these corporate-controlled parties, these two different heads of the same corporate monster - rely on certain images (god, family, American exceptionalism) instead of really discussing the issues. In this reliance, the Republicans tend to have an advantage. How the Democrats will deal with that will be seen more clearly at their convention next week.