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Repeat After Me

by Miriam Axel-Lute on September 15, 2011

Rick Perry is a hypocrite. Rick Perry and his cronies are hypocrites.       

Perry’s supposed Texas miracle was built on stimulus money, government jobs, and undocumented immigrants. Though the state added public sector jobs, the private sector in Texas actually shed 40,000 jobs since the beginning of the recession, while he was claiming that getting government out of the way was letting entrepreneurs do their thing.

Besides, like so many of his colleagues, Perry only wants to get government out of the way of rich corporations. As the libertarian columnist Dana Milbank pointed out in the Washington Post, he’s a highly selective libertarian—which is to say, no libertarian at all but a corporate theocrat, only too eager to use big government to enforce his beliefs on others.

Or, if visions of crumbling bridges and unregulated polluters in a theocratic state is a bit abstract for you, how about this: While he consorts with drown-the-government-in-a-bathtub types and his buddy Eric Cantor repeated suggests holding disaster relief for others hostage (“I’m sorry Jimmy, you can’t eat; we have credit card debt to pay off”), he has the gall to complain that federal aid to help with wildfires isn’t getting to his state fast enough.

It’s a familiar kind of story. And I find that it feels a little dirty, a little petty, not to mention depressing, and boring, to harp about it incessantly. It feels somehow immature, like obsessing over celebrity breakups. We knew it was going to happen. Which makes repeating it to my friends an exercise in the echo chamber, schadenfreude, self-congratulatory backslapping, the low road of negativity, right?

And, there, perhaps, is one of the many reasons I would not make a good political strategist. Happily, that is not my chosen career path.

Unfortunately, it seems to be an attitude, apparently, that the current administration and Democratic party leaders share with me. Only it’s their job to get over it and learn how to message.

Because actually, while hypocrisy is always present in politics, the kind of shameless, dangerous hypocrisy that we’ve been seeing out of the far right over the past couple of years is not irrelevant. It’s not petty “gotcha.” It gets right to the core of what kind of nation we’re going to have and whether we crumble into stratified, self-delusional irrelevance or get our act together and face a changing future as united as our story of ourselves promises we will.

Letting Perry and his ilk get away with mind-boggling and paradoxical contradictions, with only a few blog posts calling them on it and then moving on, is at the heart of that problem that progressives tear their hair over all the time: how can the voters not recognize that voting for the party of plutocrats and corporate not-free market capitalism is not actually in their self interest?

My boss loves to hold forth about the problem with liberals—we think that if we just explain, just provide more data and a really good policy, he says, that eventually everyone will see reason. It frustrates us no end when it doesn’t work, and we get called eggheads into the bargain.

Now, I will always want to be aligned with the data, the facts about what makes a difference and what doesn’t, the programs that are nuanced and subtle enough to work. There should be no shame in eggheadism.

But we also have to be willing to back that up with organizing for power and loudly defining and defending a larger, easier to explain vision, appealing to people’s core senses of themselves. That’s what moves voters and agendas. And I guess, reluctantly, that that involves getting over feeling like it’s somehow beneath us to make soundbites.

(But, to distinguish ourselves from the right, we should still first check claims like the statements about how his cuts to volunteer firefighter budgets were already hampering wildfire response, which, while totally believable, was not in this case quite true. Thank you PolitiFact.)

We don’t need to stretch the truth to make it clear that the current Tea Party approach to governing is hypocritical and disastrous. We do need to distill that truth and offer an alternative—and repeat it.

The Rebuild the Dream Movement crowdsourced a great manifesto (full text at contract.rebuildthedream.com) that starts: “We, the American people, promise to defend and advance a simple ideal: liberty and justice . . . for all,” and includes the two main tenets: “AMERICA IS NOT BROKE: America is rich—still the wealthiest nation ever. But too many at the top are grabbing the gains” and “AMERICANS NEED JOBS, NOT CUTS: We have a jobs crisis, not a deficit crisis.”

These things may feel obvious, but they are apparently not getting said enough. Repeat after me. . . .