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The elephant in the room.

Mitt Romney’s recent choice of Paul Ryan as his Vice Presidential nominee has brought forward question I have oft-considered back to the forefront of my mind. The reason for this simple. If Mr. Ryan is known for anything, it’s his ruthless economic ideal. It’s no secret that Romney has had to adopt a more hardline stance on several occasions throughout his campaign. His not-so-secret past as a relative moderate is something he’s trying to leave behind as he runs for president. The most recent issue of The Economist suggests that what Ryan brings to the campaign might just be Romney’s biggest challenge of this ilk so far. Whilst much discussion of the Republican move to the far-right has focused on ethical problems, Ryan represents a brutal economic stance and commitment to small government. In the event of a Romney-Ryan administration, it is undoubted that many of America’s poorest would suffer profoundly as a result of Ryan’s plans to shrink welfare spending. This is obviously not to say that this is a direction for the Republican Party. This is merely a radical extension of the economic-right, neo-liberal Republican heresy of the past 30 years. And yet throughout this time and including the present, a specific branch has remained loyal to the party. Millionaires and corporates, you say? Well, yes them. But we mustn’t forget another set that vehemently put their a cross next to that GOP candidate… the white working classes. Only recently have we started examining this apparent contradictions of interests. Simply why is it that white Americans on the lower stratus of society seemingly buy into the big business ideology? I am also going to attempt to understand why British people like myself cannot comprehend what we observe across the pond.

My first argument is that these supporters have become so entangled with the other aspects of the Republican ideology that the economic policy evades their concerns. As America moves through groundbreaking social change such as legalisation of gay marriage in several states, perhaps New York most significantly, moral issues have come to dominate the political dialogue. Republican politicians especially are accentuating their religiosity and communicating their evermore ardent commitment to strong viewpoints on these concerns. In reaction to the brief surge of the strongly conservative Tea Party, our average Republican candidate has had to step into this realm to appeal to remain in correlation with the rhetoric seen to be dominating popular opinion. It is for this reason that he or she is now not only anti-abortion, but anti-abortion even in relation to cases of incest or rape. Issue politics are no stranger to those on all sides of the political spectrum, but this is inarguably one of the most prominent demographic-related examples of such. These working class whites see themselves so morally disparate from the socially liberal Democrats that voting for them is entirely unfathomable. It is important to think of it in these emotive terms, for these qualms are something that the layman is more likely to think about on a personal level. And without trying to offend, I feel it’s quite reasonable to suggest that these are political choices that your average person feels they actually understand. Ultimately, most Americans are unsure as to how they would fix the economy, but exactly how they feel in relation to moral quandaries. And this is without delving into the importance of religion. For many, religious beliefs trump political preferences without exception… despite many Republican proposals often not resembling anything Jesus might have condoned. Author Jonathan Haidt, writing in The Guardian, even compared US the stylings of US politics to that of religion, in line with other scholars of nationalism that suggest patriotism in the states has distinctive religious characteristics. I personally believe that these things have become intertwined in the minds of certain Americans (with more than a little help from the “Pledge of Allegiance”). Whilst no political party can afford to shy away from demonstrating what makes it truly American, the Republicans have tended to succeed more in doing so in extremely basic terms.

One example of this is their successful branding of anti-interventionist policies as what freedom and liberty really mean. Whilst I find it rather difficult to comprehend this definition of freedom and why it is considered desirable, the idea prevails as one of the overarching foundations of the US mindset. By linking their current policy ideas to the lynchpin that is the US constitution, you convince some that you represent what America was designed to be. Sometimes I wonder if this could possibly still be linked with lingering anti-communist sentiment. Policy in the United States throughout the latter half of the 20th century was after all essentially designed to be everything that the USSR was not. This is why the US places “individual responsibility” in such high esteem… as any form of safety net on part of government is automatically seen to resemble their Soviet adversaries. But surely this could not still be an issue in 2012, when the end of the USSR is slightly older than the 22 year old writing this blog? Party-political mud-slinging of the last five years tells us us the contrary. Republicans would not be so quick to label Barack Obama as a “socialist” if they didn’t feel the word still carried a wealth of negative connotations for large sections of the American population. Such tarring can lead swing voters to err on the side of caution. Even though the Democratic party cannot genuinely be considered socialists in any true sense of the word, it’s far easier for Republicans to argue the case that they present the least socialist option on the ballot paper. After all, if some believe that any government intervention whatsoever equates to pure socialism, the Democrats really do not possess a counter argument.

Additionally, there is always an case to make for the effects of habitual voting across time. There are undoubtedly swathes of people out there that vote in a particular way simply because they or their family always has in the past. This is often despite huge changes in a party’s outlook across time. This is a common trope I found on the doorsteps as a persuasive canvasser, but I genuinely implore a Labour party supporter to tell me that the party is the same one now that it was 25 years ago! I often see accusations of this ilk in relation to the GOP, markedly with reference to the party’s ever more radical values. Some have suggested that the party of today would be entirely unrecognisable to former stalwarts such mid-century president Dwight Eisenhower. Jeb Bush, best known as a former governor of Florida and as George’s brother has even suggested that Ronald Reagan would be not be chosen as a GOP candidate in modern times, an assertion repeated by the current president also. This is despite the party and conservative commentators’ continued reverence or Reagan. But why do these people continually evoke Reagan?  Surely the working class Republican support are only angered by mention of the man owing to their treatment throughout his term of office the 1980s?

Well… not quite. See, whilst the working classes in the UK and in the US suffered rather similarly under Thatcher and Reagan respectively, this demographic in the former nation haven’t forgiven the related political party, whilst in the latter they never significantly drifted. In the UK, it could be argued that the working class Conservative is dead. To people of my generation, it seems amazing that they ever comprised a mentionable proportion of the electorate. The only one that i’ve ever known was my late grandmother, whose tiny flat was never without a copy of “The Spectator.” But her generation has passed on and with it, so has the last bastion of working class conservatism in this country. One cannot help but believe this comprises part of the reason why modern Brits are so baffled by this notion stateside. I suppose we can find solace in the fact this is not the only aspect of US politics that leaves us truly befuddled. And considering my inability to come to a definite conclusion here, it seems that this matter will have to remain on this very long list for the time-being.

However, this does not mean I do not invite anyone with thoughts on this matter to ponder with me. Why not do so via the comments box?