Ya Got Trouble

At a crossroads, one road could take America to River City

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is always having to change the subject. First it was his health care reform law, which inspired President Obama’s. Now the Center for Responsive Politics reports that employees of Romney’s company Bain Capital have given $76,600 to the Obama Victory Fund.

Luckily for Romney, he and his fellow Republican presidential contenders are appealing to GOP voters eager to escape facts, not confront them. This campaign is no closer to a reality-based narrative than if the candidates and their handlers were show queens.

Indeed, the alacrity with which Romney sloughs the skin of his own record illustrates a resemblance between many politicians and fictional flimflam artist Harold Hill of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man. They share his shamelessness. In April, when Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) was caught lying about Planned Parenthood’s services being 90 percent abortions (they are actually 3 percent), his staff said, “His remark was not intended to be a factual statement.” Texas Gov. Rick Perry blithely disowns statements in a book he published 10 months ago. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) invents history.

Our latter-day Professor Hill, a charming rogue for whom the Republican presidential primaries are an extended casting call, hates Washington so much that he wants to take over the place. His ambition requires that there be trouble in River City, so he whips us into a frenzy over a “debt crisis” that few of us fretted over before he showed up. Remember when Vice President Cheney said, “Deficits don’t matter”?

The traveling salesman poses as our friend as he pits neighbor against neighbor: “Either you’re closing your eyes to a situation you do not wish to acknowledge; or you are unaware of the caliber of disaster indicated by the presence of homosexuals [or Muslims, or immigrants, or labor 'thugs'] in this community!”

How has this happened? What made our republic vulnerable to an angry mob? We haven’t far to look: A wealthy minority, exploiting an economic recession, divides and inflames voters to rob the government of its power to regulate and protect.

Radical proposals like abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency and ending Social Security are seriously discussed amid the tea party’s aggressive know-nothingism. The crowd at the Sept. 7 Republican presidential debate applauded Gov. Perry’s 234 executions, as deaf to the details as he. I can almost hear Jesus ask, “Which of these was neighbor to the wrongfully convicted man?” Like ”true believers” everywhere, they are not listening. As Eric Hoffer wrote, “Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.”

Trumped-up controversies have distracted us from dealing with real problems, such as decaying bridges and highways and our failure to compete in high-speed rail. President Obama wants to change that; but after his jobs address, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor complained about his “all or nothing” demands — this from a man who was ready to topple John Boehner from the speaker’s chair at the first hint of compromise. Obama found his fighting form, all but daring Republicans not to act: “The next election is 14 months away. And the people who sent us here … don’t have the luxury of waiting 14 months.” Alas, he didn’t demand an end to job-killing anti-gay discrimination.

There’s no silver bullet, the president admonishes us. The Koch brothers are counting on voters to prefer the illusion.

Back in River City, the Wells Fargo wagon is a-comin’ down the street. It’s purely coincidental that my own bank is changing to Wells Fargo; but I half expect on my next visit to receive a band uniform and a cheap trombone. If the voters buy this con job, how long will it be before they admit that the band is murdering “America the Beautiful”?

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