The Republicans really do need Obama to fail. The reason is not
that this will lead to Republican electoral victories, though it
may. The reason is much deeper.
The Republican party is committed in a fundamental and
thoroughgoing way to a certain ideology. (I’m not using the term
ideology in a pejorative sense here — I just mean a set of ideas
that people use to organize how they view the political world.
Everyone has some form of ideology, whether they consciously
express it or not.)
The Republican ideology is one of extreme individualism. In this
view what one person does individually is what makes the world
good. What people do collectively is counterproductive,
ineffective, or corrupt. So for instance, individual retirement
accounts are good. Social Security is not good. Any kind of
government program that attempts to provide for real needs just
encourages dependence and sloth.
A key component of this way of looking at things — and certainly
the key way of promoting this world-view — is a real cynicism
And cynicism about government and about other forms of collective
endeavor is something that the Republicans have peddled very
successfully for generations now, to the point where large
numbers of otherwise progressive people actually believe that the
government is inefficient (and by the way, with the exception of
the military, this is probably not true — my impression is that
government is more efficient than most large corporations), and
that taxation and government regulations and oversight are
burdens on the really productive members of society.
I have a friend, for instance, who some years ago told me that he
didn’t want the government telling him what kind of health care
he could get. I mentioned to him that while it is often hard to
change government policies, I felt that I had more control over
what the Massachusetts state legislature does than over my HMO.
He was really taken aback — it had never occurred to him to
think about it that way. And this was a person who kept up with
the news, was generally progressive, absolutely hated G.W. Bush,
and voted regularly.
There are, to be sure, other reasons why people support the
Republican party. There are the wedge issues, for example. And
there is a significant amount of dishonesty even in their basic
position — they do their best to artificially enrich their large
corporate friends and disenfranchise the rest of us, in spite of
their supposed beliefs in the “free market”.
But the absolute core of their world-view is cynicism about
government. And if Obama does not fail but rather succeeds — if
government can be shown to work, to get us out of this deep
economic problem the Republicans and right-wing Democrats have
gotten us into, to make a start at providing universal health
care, to addressing the real needs that the Republican have been
defunding for over a generation now — if this happens, then the
entire Republican world-view is in shambles. This is not just a
matter of winning or losing the next election. It is the very
basis of their party. Without it they have nothing.
I think it is important for us to respond to this as such. We
should not treat Limbaugh’s statement as just him being bonkers.
We should take it seriously. We should take it as seriously as
they do. And we should explain to people why the Republican
world-view is so destructive and why they are so threatened by a
progressive politics that talks about “us” rather than “me”. We
need to talk about why government is important, why what it does
is good, useful, and necessary. We need to stop giving “business
leaders” credibility in having any understanding whatsoever about
public affairs, including economic affairs. We need to talk in
terms of what we can do together — to make this kind of talk an
acceptable form of political discourse.
This is the Republicans’ worst fear. And it is our best hope.