What was interesting about the GOP debates was what’s normally interesting (to me anyway) about presidential debates, namely what Slavoj Žižek referred to, quoting Marx (“they do not know it, but they are doing it”), as “ideology”:
a kind of basic, constitutive naïveté: the misrecognition of its own presuppositions, of its own effective conditions, a distance, a divergence between so-called social reality and our distorted representation, our false consciousness of it.
Which terms of the debate can no longer be recognized as terms of a debate at all but rather are understood to be natural and beyond question; in other words, ideology in its purest form?
Political Correctness: It Exists, and It’s Really Bad
Whether it takes the form of objecting to men who refer to women as “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals” or of an executive order banning enhanced interrogation techniques (i.e. torture), PC is everywhere and it’s insidious. One can argue that women or the accused deserve better treatment, but one would merely be arguing that these things aren’t PC, whereas other things (#BlackLivesMatter vs. #AllLivesMatter? The Washington Somethingotherthanredskins?) are.
In the words of John Kasich, “America is a miracle country. And we have to restore the sense that the Amiracle [sic] will apply to you.”
The belief that America is inherently different from other countries (in ways beyond those in which every other country is different from other countries) is fundamental and unquestioned and underwrites any and every position.
Smaller government: “America became a great nation early on not because it was flooded with politicians, but because it was flooded with people who understood the value of personal responsibility, hard work, creativity, innovation.” (The Communards and Toussaint L’Ouverture were slackers!)
Building a border wall with Mexico (which we’ve been doing since 2005): “[The Mexican government] send[s] the bad ones over because they don’t want to pay for them. They don’t want to take care of them. Why should they when the stupid leaders of the United States will do it for them?” (Everyone wants to move to the US, and it’s because we’re too generous to them, not because we’re a wealthy, developed country, because of our location, or because we destroyed their economies.)
Iran: “We got nothing, and Iran gets everything they want…We said that we would make sure that they didn’t have any nuclear capacity, we gave that up.” (The US has the right to determine which countries do and don’t deserve nuclear weapons and accordingly to impose “crippling sanctions” when its decisions are violated—ironic given that one can argue, per Chomsky, that Iran could impose sanctions on us; more ironic given that the debates occurred on the 70th anniversary of this.)
We Are All Middle Class Now
With few exceptions (Kasich mentioned the “working poor” in defending Ohio’s Medicare expansion and Huckabee accused Obamacare of stealing from the poor), poor people don’t exist. Workers in general don’t exist, although sometimes American workers do (in the undercard debate, Santorum promoted his “pro-worker immigration plan,” i.e. a plan that denies entry to “unskilled workers” from other countries who drive down wages). The working class doesn’t exist at all. That’s because class doesn’t exist at all—unless it’s the middle class.
As David Moberg noted, “working class” rhetoric was perceived as too threatening during the cold war because of its association with militant anti-capitalism and was replaced with demands on behalf of the “middle class.” He concluded:
In the short run, there may be tactical advantages—as well as drawbacks—to the use of “middle class” to encompass all but the very poor and very rich.
The tactical advantage is that more Americans can feel like they belong to something. The drawback is that it’s unclear what exactly they belong to.
This doesn’t only apply to Republicans. Democrats, too, are mostly if not often exclusively concerned with the middle class, promote American exceptionalism, and are opposed to political correctness run rampant. The difference is both a difference of degree and of how ideology translates into policy (i.e. we have the right to determine which countries deserve nuclear weapons and which countries don’t, but which countries deserve nuclear weapons and which countries don’t?, or which countries can we believe will not manufacture nuclear weapons and which countries can’t we believe?); it’s not a difference of ideology.
Of course, degrees matter, and how ideology translates into policy matters. The difference between Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel Alito isn’t just symbolism. Not that symbolism doesn’t matter too. Also, whatever it’s worth, there’s this:
Mentions of Israel or Israelis: 12
Mentions of Palestinians: 0
Mentions of Jews: 0