I’ve often wondered what on earth it is that drives people to become Republicans. Is it personal wealth and privilege? Sometimes, undoubtedly. Deep-seated bigotry? That tends to play a role as well. Stupidity? Yes, but that only applies to voters, not the politicians themselves.
The likeliest answer, however, isn’t grounded in such subjective, and ultimately unknowable, value systems. They do it because it’s easy. Most people form their political affiliations in early adulthood, and from college on, I noticed being an active liberal means that one is but a small part of a large, cacophonous movement, full of bright, competitive people who are always as long on idealism as they are short on funds and institutional support.
Walk across the street to the Republican club, though, and things are quite different. On larger campuses, wingnut welfare will have already kicked in, often quite visibly, in the form of a well-funded, “fair and balanced” campus publication, where even the semi-literate can snag a byline in the first week, owing to the comparative lack of talent. “Educational” trips and seminars are there for the asking, often expense-paid, to pad even the thinnest resume. Summer internships at, say, ALEC, are considerably less taxing than working for Mercy Corps or Habitat for Humanity, and will reliably open a lot of large, finely polished doors later on.
But early pampering is nothing compared to what comes later: cushy jobs, ever-upward failure, and best of all, virtual immunity from any criticism, no matter how richly deserved. Clearly, this holds a pretty decisive advantage over, well, working for a living, especially for those shallow and dumb enough to consider such an ideology in the first place.
One can hardly contemplate the careers of a Dinesh D’Souza, Ann Coulter, Ross Douthat, Tucker Carlson, Rich Lowry, etc., much less that of Clarence Thomas, George W. Bush, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal, Ronald Reagan, Scott Walker, and on and on, and fail to think, “Hell, anybody can do that,” and if you’re a Republican, you’re right. Once the decks have been cleared of all those smarty-pants liberals, it’s free sailing, all the way to the palm-dotted tax haven of one’s choice, without a lot of carping from the hated Liberal Media along the way.
If you choose to be a total fuckup in the private sector, you can look to Ken Lay, Jamie Dimon, and pretty much any energy executive as your lodestar. Should you decide to enter what is somewhat laughably called “public service,” you have, in addition to the fine specimens listed above, and endless string of boobs, charlatans, and grifters even dumber than you, who nonetheless are treated with respect, if not reverence, throughout the Village. Your worst flaws will be euphemized out of existence if alluded to at all; your most disastrous blunders will be called “bold” or “tough” when they are announced, and their calamitous aftermath(s) will vanish into the ether.
And it isn’t just your job performance that will be burnished beyond all recognition. You can be as gawky as Paul Ryan, oleaginous as Eric Cantor, geriatric as Donald Rumsfeld, or even as fat as Chris Christie, and still be considered a swinging sex god. You can be on your third wife or be repeatedly diapered by hookers and still exemplify Family Values. You can lose elections, badly, and no one bats an eye when your party still claims a “mandate.” In short, what’s not to like?
Though the examples of this double standard are too numerous to mention here, take today’s Washington Post. Please. In it, Chris Cillizza makes the rather jaw-dropping assertion that Bobby Jindal, in proposing that Republicans tax the poor more, the rich less, and quit trying to put on a show of running the government, is thus “speaking truth to GOP power.” Richard Cohen blames Hillary Clinton for the GOP’s irrational hatred of her, saying she drives “ordinarily sane” people “crazy.” Never mind that he seems, in this case, to think that “President” Rand Paul isn’t, uh, crazy. He also evidently spent the years of 1991-2008 on a bender with Peggy Noonan, from which she, at least, hasn’t fully recovered.
The lesson is nothing if not clear: If you suspect that you are neither gifted nor dedicated enough to succeed in life as a liberal, there are other, much easier, options.
U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Tyler J. Clements.