Caricature and the GOP theater of the absurd

Caricature makes compromise impossible.

Last week, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wrote an OpEd that appeared in the Washington publication Politico that, in his mind, describes Democrats.

“Because the left wants: The government to explode; to pay everyone; to hire everyone; they believe that money grows on trees; the earth is flat; the industrial age, factory-style government is a cool new thing; debts don’t have to be repaid; people of faith are ignorant and uneducated; unborn babies don’t matter; pornography is fine; traditional marriage is discriminatory; 32 oz. sodas are evil; red meat should be rationed; rich people are evil unless they are from Hollywood or are liberal Democrats; the Israelis are unreasonable; trans-fat must be stopped; kids trapped in failing schools should be patient; wild weather is a new thing; moral standards are passé; government run health care is high quality; the IRS should violate our constitutional rights; reporters should be spied on; Benghazi was handled well; the Second Amendment is outdated; and the First one has some problems too.”

Similar themes have been echoed by Maine Gov. Paul LePage. He has compared the IRS to the Gestapo and has accused Democratic leaders of all manner of sins, including outright and personal hatred directed at him.

“There’s a cloud of blind hatred coming from the third floor (of the State House) from a couple of people. And I don’t play that kind of politics,” LePage told WCSH-6 reporter Don Carrigan.

He’s claimed that his original budget proposal was balanced. It was not. That it wouldn’t have shifted massive tax burdens onto local communities and property taxpayers. It would. And when he vetoed the bipartisan budget passed by the Legislature, he blamed tax increases even though his own budget contained tax increases, too.

The numbers don’t seem to matter.

The governor says, now, he wants to negotiate. This after he refused to allow his commissioners to work with the Legislature’s budget writing committee or refused to consider alternatives to such terrible ideas as eliminating prescription drug assistance for Maine’s elderly.

In May, Republican Party Chairman Rich Cebra wrote: “If the taxpayers of Maine are tired of their hard-earned tax dollars going to waste because Democrats demand an ever growing and unaccountable welfare state, they need to vote Republican.”

And, more recently, by state Rep. Lawrence Lockman said something very similar when he wrote in the Bangor Daily News: “The chattering classes in Maine’s liberal media establishment have been consumed with hatred for LePage ever since he was elected. That hatred is mirrored by the majority party leadership in the Legislature.”

Hatred? Again? Growing government at all costs?

Lockman continued: “It’s about crushing opposition to the relentless expansion of the welfare state. Liberalism measures its success by the number of people who depend on government to meet their basic needs.”

In each case, Jindal, LePage and Lockman make absurdist arguments about liberals, Democrats and anybody who doesn’t agree with their tea party-inspired policy positions.

Democrats don’t want to expand the number of people who depend on government. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The goal of those policies, such as expanding access to health care, are intended to give people an opportunity to improve their lives, to find a better job, to be healthier and more productive. To leave the program behind.

Perhaps you can argue that it’s the wrong way to lift people out of poverty, but when you assign such obviously false motives the only thing Republicans are damaging is their own credibility. Well, that and the thousands of people who unnecessarily are being denied health care.

Give credit: The GOP is on message. But ultimately, it’s a message that won’t hold up to common sense or scrutiny.

Until recently, I thought that such rhetoric was delivered with a wink and a nod, an exaggeration knowingly used to fire up political supporters and poke opponents into an unwise response.

But now, I’m not so sure.

It seems that many leaders of the Republican Party are starting to believe their own nonsense and that they’ve slipped into a world that is counter-factual.

Ezra Klein, who writes a column for the Washington Post, identified this problem and put it this way, talking about Jindal’s rant:

“That’s how the GOP becomes the stupid party: Republican Party elites like Jindal convince Republican Party activists of things that aren’t true. And that’s how the GOP becomes the losing party: The activists push the Republican Party to choose candidate decisions and campaign strategies based on those untruths, and they collapse in the light of day.”

LePage was able to ride a wave of right-wing enthusiasm into the Blaine House. But he’s shown that it’s much harder to govern than to win an election.

Caricature may keep the 38 percent fired up, but it won’t help solve any of the challenges our state faces. Instead, it just creates new and unnecessary ones.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at