Right after the presidential debate last night, CNN turned to its usual panel of pundits, politicians and prognosticators to tell us who won (Obama, I think), who lost (Anderson Cooper), but what the network could have used was a psychoanalyst. He or she would have used the Freudian term “the narcissism of minor differences” to explain why so many like-minded Republicans turned on one another with such meanness. They needed the small stuff to differentiate themselves.
This is what was bound to happen when the GOP purified, refined and condensed itself into a core group of conservatives. The party has effectively banished moderates and liberals — there once was such a thing as a liberal Republican: Lincoln was one, I submit — and now has a coven of candidates who agree with each other on almost everything — and despise each other as a result. If the differences can’t really be political, they have to be personal. Sigmund Freud would understand.
All of last night’s Republican candidates believe that the federal government is mostly worthless, that the border ought to be sealed (how about mined?), that taxes are no good, too high and maybe unconstitutional, that foreign aid is a waste of money, that the United Nations is an even greater waste of money, that what they call Obamacare is a blight on our fair land and, of course, that somehow the private sector or small business or maybe just plain faith will give the United States a health-care system already enjoyed by all other affluent nations and, of course, rich people everywhere.
Because of such unanimity, because of such a touching faith in doctrine, they turn on each other for the smallest things. Rick Perry, the very personification of the term small-minded, accused Mitt Romney of hiring an illegal immigrant. This shocking accusation, the GOP version of pedophilia or something, turns out to refer to a lawn-care company Romney used and which employed the illegal. Romney ordered the company to desist, but a year later it turned out that it still had an illegal on the payroll. This is what turned Perry into a twangy Rumpelstiltskin. I thought he was going to stomp his boots through the stage, and he caused Romney to issue the heart-rending cry, “Anderson!” Alas, Cooper had lost control.
The issue is a piffle, a trifle, a tisket and a tasket (what are they anyway?) of sheer silliness. I, for one, am not in the habit of asking my lawn-care guys to produce their papers when they show up. They are all Hispanic, work very hard in the hot sun and have taken the jobs of people who don’t want to do that kind of work in the first place. Romney himself hired no one, but that did not stop Perry from making what amounted to a citizen’s arrest.
This is not an issue that rises to the presidential level. It is, though, the sort of thing Freud had in mind when he referred to the narcissism of minor differences. It explains, for instance, why Shiites and Sunnis do not get along or why Catholics and Protestants used to slaughter each one with glee. It explains anything you want to know about Northern Ireland or why if there is going to be a war in the Middle East, it could be between secular and Orthodox Jews in Israel. The narcissism of minor differences is what makes Thanksgiving in so many families so painful.
Now we have the question of whether Romney, a Mormon, is actually a Christian. (He certainly looks like one.) I mean, who cares? How high should we build a border fence and should it be electrified? And what about Ben Bernanke and the Fed? Fire him, for sure. Close the place down. Right on! Does anyone disagree? Only Herman Cain, to a degree. It’s nearly unanimous. The motion is carried. Let’s move on.
To what? Not to a real discussion of the issues. Obamacare might or might not be a failure (it hasn’t even been fully implemented), but what should replace it? What should be the proper role of the U.S. in the world? What should we do about illegal immigrants? Can private enterprise alone create enough jobs, and what to do with an Everest of foreclosed homes? What would we do without the Fed? If TARP is such a failure, how come many economists think otherwise? Doesn’t anyone disagree about anything? Not, for sure, Romney. The old Romney thought for himself. The new one is a conservative apparatchik.
Dissent has been purged by a radically conservative media and like-minded voters in the primary and caucus state. The GOP is in thrall to dogma and ignorance, hermetically sealed against uncertainty, hostile to inquiry and inadvertently mimicking the leftist parties of old when communists, Mensheviks, socialists and other “icks” would beat the brains out of one another over some fine point of Marxist dogma. Is this the way to go? As Karl Marx, a German, might have said by way of Herman Cain, “Nein, nein, nein.”
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