It used to be Republicans would gather every four years to select a standard-bearer they hoped would carry them to victory in November. Now, however, the GOP collects in these quadrennial conclaves to choose a metaphor.
This year's theme of choice is how a welfare-coddling black president is stealing from white folks to reward the undeserving poor -- people Mitt Romney likes to call the President's "base."
And in this re-telling of the GOP's selected storyline, what Republicans might think to be literary license the rest of us know as lying.
The worst offender (so far) is the GOP's nominee for vice president, Congressman Paul D. Ryan.
In an acceptance speech last night filled with deceptive half-truths and shameless untruths, Ryan set a new milestone for mendacity. That may explain the regular boys haircut the youngish, one-time high school valedictorian is now sporting, no doubt put there by Ryan's handlers to reassure the old ladies that such a nice young man would never, ever lie to them about their president robbing them of their hard-earned Medicare.
The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn wonders if Ryan's was "the most dishonest convention speech -- ever."
Cohn counts at least five times when Ryan played fast and loose with the facts. While none of the falsehoods was new, Cohn said it was nonetheless unsettling to hear them all at once "in a prime time address, as a vice presidential nominee is accepting his party's nomination and speaking to the entire country."
Specifically, says Cohn:
* Ryan blamed Obama for the closure of a GM plant in Ryan's hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin that had in fact shut its doors in 2008 -- before Obama was president. And this despite the fact "nobody questions that, if not for the Obama Administration's decision to rescue Chrysler and GM, the domestic auto industry would have crumbled," costing more than a million jobs.
* Ryan attacked Obama for "raiding" Medicare. The truth is, says Cohn, that Obama reduces the overcharges Medicare now pays to hospitals and insurance companies - something hospitals say they can live with since in return they get more people with health insurance, thus alleviating the financial burden they now shoulder for charity care. And besides, says Cohn, Ryan has no standing whatsoever to make this attack since his own budget reduces Medicare spending by an equal amount -- but uses those savings instead on other priorities, including "a massive tax cut that benefits the wealthy disproportionately."
* Ryan blames the President for the downgrade of America's credit rating two summers ago - the one caused when Tea Party Republicans held the full faith and credit of the United States hostage by refusing to raise the debt ceiling until Obama caved to their demands on the budget.
* On the deficit, Ryan said: "President Obama has added more debt than any other president before him," adding "We need to stop spending money we don't have." But as Cohn points out, Paul Ryan voted for every single Bush-era tax cut, new war and spending program that are the primary drivers of present-day deficits.
* And finally, says Cohn, Ryan gave a stirring speech about the obligations all of us have to help those who can't help themselves. "We have responsibilities, one to another - we do not each face the world alone," said Ryan. "And the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves. We can make the safety net safe again."
The rhetoric may have been stirring, says Cohn, but it was also "positively galling." That's because, according to analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 62% of the cuts in Ryan budget would come from programs that serve low-income people -- causing perhaps as many as 27 million people to lose their health care. No wonder so many Catholic bishops and nuns are calling the Catholic Ryan's budget proposal "immoral."
Not that any of these "facts" matter in what the Atlantic's James Fallows calls our "Post-Truth Age."
The media is happiest and most comfortable when operating on "he-said, she-said" autopilot, says Fallows
"But when significant political players are willing to say things that flat-out are not true -- and when they're not slowed down by demonstrations of their claims' falseness -- then reporters who stick to he-said, she-said become accessories to deception," says Fallows. This is especially true about Republicans' "false-but-endlessly-repeated claim" that the Obama administration dropped welfare work requirements.
While Democrats and members of the mainstream media were busy doing their fact-checking, however, Republicans were giving one another high fives for the winning impression Paul Ryan delivered, facts be damned.
Former George W. Bush wordsmith, and current Washington Post columnist, Michael Gerson captured the spirit of the Republican's fraudulent strategy for selling themselves, and their man, despite their towering unpopularity, when he gave Ryan high marks for the effectiveness of his demonization of President Obama.
According to Gerson, Ryan "schooled" President Obama by delivering "devastating attacks while seeming entirely innocent."
Now Obama knows what it's like "to be humbled by a high-school valedictorian," says Gerson.
But Ryan's largest achievement "was more subtle and impressive," said Gerson. He managed to make Obama's appeal, which was so "fresh and vivid four years ago," seem used and tattered. And there are few things more damaging in politics, said Gerson, "than appearing like yesterday's idealism. On the strength of Ryan's performance, the GOP seemed the party of youth and energy. Such impressions can be reversed, as Democrats will attempt to do next week. But Obama and Biden will need to do some reversing." (emphasis mine)
Gerson, it should be noted, said not one word about the veracity of anything Ryan had to say last night.
Esquire's Charles Pierce found a similar empirical vacuum in a speech, given by Oklahoma's Republican governor, who spoke of the early pioneers in her state who "built" a new community out of the empty wilderness without any help from the federal government whatsoever.
"My god!" shrieked Pierce, "Oklahomans wouldn't even have Oklahoma without the federal government, without the Homestead Act of 1889 or the Railroad Act -- both, by the way, achievements of Republican presidents named Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Harrison. And the land wasn't exactly 'empty,' Governor. It got emptied by a big-government program called The United States Army."
If America is still an "experiment," as Republicans say, then Pierce says the GOP is engaged in another one -- "to see exactly how much unmitigated hogwash the American political system can contain on a single evening."
In 2012, he says, the GOP has set out "in search of the Event Horizon of utter bullshit. It has sought to see precisely how many lies, evasions, elisions, and indigestible chunks of utter gobbledygook the political media can swallow before it finally gags twice and falls over dead, leaving the rest of America suckers all the same."
The whole convention is a lie, says Pierce, indeed a "demonstrable lie told in service to the overriding demonstrable lie." Yet, Republicans simply don't care.
More than one commentator has remarked on the abstract tone of so many of the speeches at this weird, passionless convention. Mitt Romney is a warm, caring - even funny - guy, we are assured by his adoring wife, who declines to provide a single shining example or telling anecdote.
"Freedom" would feature prominently in any word search of speeches Republicans have delivered at this convention, as would "American exceptionism," "individual" and any number of other homey virtues and vague abstractions which Republican speakers have pumped into their fact-free, impressionistic narrative.
Evidenced by the loving care and attention which conservatives have devoted towards making "liberal" unusable as a political label, Republicans learned long ago, as Democrats have not, that politics is not so much a war of words as a war over them.
"If people accept your vocabulary, they accept your reality," writes communications and culture professor (and Open Salon newcomer) David Green in this month's The American Interest. Political labels like "liberal" and "conservative" are what social scientists call condensation symbols, says Green. "They condense a lot of information into small packages" - not only "assertions of fact but values and emotional cues as well."
Such condensation symbols are designed to evoke emotional responses, says Green. They are thus central to what Green's former colleague, George Lakoff, calls framing - "the organizing of political discourse to promote certain perspectives and discredit others."
Study carefully the language contained in the Republican convention speeches given to date and you will likely discover they consist of one long sequence of condensation symbols which, as Green says, "derive their evocative power not from any precision of meaning but rather from their ambiguity and flexibility."
And because of this ambiguity and flexibility, Republicans have the ability, through the constant repetition allowed to them by a political convention, to pack whatever meaning, connotation and subliminal messaging they want into labels like "liberal" and "conservative" or words like "freedom" and "American."
This I found out the hard way during a recent family reunion that was as polarized as the country. When cornered by those crazy uncles who have now become stock characters in network sit-coms, it didn't take long to figure out that what right-leaning relatives meant by President Obama's "leadership" deficit was the refusal of this liberal Democratic president to govern as a right wing Republican, or in a way acceptable to Republicans -- which, in a party that makes an ostentatious virtue of its refusal to compromise, is pretty much the same thing.
When I suggested, for example, that it seemed like a pretty serviceable definition of "leadership" to me when the President enraged his own base by putting Social Security on the table in order to get a deficit reduction deal with Republicans, my obviously annoyed Fox News-watching kinfolk could only abruptly change the subject and present me with another Obama "outrage" to deconstruct.
Nevertheless, as even many of its own members are beginning to recognize, the modern Republican Party is the wholly-owned subsidiary of wealthy super-elites who think of themselves as residents of the world rather than as citizens of the United States of America - conflicting loyalties which cause Republicans to thump their chests and rattle their sabers in an effort to demonstrate their superior patriotism.
"The rich elites of this country have far more in common with their counterparts in London, Paris, and Tokyo than with their fellow American citizens," writes Mike Lofgren in Patrick Buchanan's American Conservative magazine.
Lofgren, who served for 16 years on the Republican staff of the House and Senate Budget Committees, calls today's financial elites our "new secessionists" - a theme he elaborates on in his recently published book The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted.
Instead of tempering its demands and submitting to reforms after the 2008 market collapse, the "Money Power" made the calculated bet that it was "politically invulnerable" and so seized the policy-making apparatus in Washington in order to protect its vested interests, Lofgren says.
Resurrecting a rhetoric of progressive Republican indignation not heard since Teddy Roosevelt sallied forth to bust "the trusts," Lofgren quotes Omaha populists from the 1890s whose angry protests resonate today: "We meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot-box, the Legislatures, the Congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench. The people are demoralized. The newspapers are largely subsidized or muzzled, public opinion silenced, business prostrated, homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrating in the hands of capitalists. The urban workmen are denied the right to organize for self-protection, imported pauperized labor beats down their wages. The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind, and the possessors of these, in turn, despise the Republic and endanger liberty. From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes -- tramps and millionaires."
Supporting my own belief that the Republican coalition consists of Plutocrats and Populists who have their very different reasons (from opposite ends of the socio-economic spectrum) to want to dismantle the federal government, Lofgren says the objective of the "predatory super-rich and their political handmaidens is to discredit and destroy the traditional nation state and auction its resources to themselves."
The super-rich, he says, aim to create a "tollbooth" economy, whereby "more and more of our highways, bridges, libraries, parks, and beaches are possessed by private oligarchs who will extract a toll from the rest of us."
From the beginning, the so-called conservative forces of order, stability, and tradition have feared a revolt from below, writes Lofgren. But what we are experiencing in "globalized postmodern America" is the revolt from above.
What if Christopher Lasch is right? asks Lofgren. What if the author of The Revolt of the Elites is correct that the chief threat to America comes not from the masses but from those at the top of the social hierarchy? And not just the super-wealthy, says Lofgren, "but also their managerial coat holders and professional apologists," who are "undermining the country's promise as a constitutional republic with their prehensile greed, their asocial cultural values, and their absence of civic responsibility."
That is the reality of the modern Republican Party and the character of the man they will nominate tonight to carry their standard. No wonder their convention resembles a costumed ball where everyone must wear a mask.