Andrew Sullivan writes:
My prediction: we will see huge tax increases soon after Bush leaves the scene. He will insist they are a betrayal of his legacy. They will, in fact, be the logical consequence of everything he has said and done. Once they get past their loathing, big government liberals may well look back on the Bush years and wonder at the miracle of how he did what they spent two generations failing to do.
I don't know any "big government liberals" in the sense that Andy means. I don't know anybody who gets a stiffy at the thought of raising taxes and increasing government spending as a share of GDP just for the hell of it.... When taxes have to go up to cover interest and debt repayment costs no liberals I know are going to go "YAY! HIGHER TAXES! WOO HOOO!" ....
This is what I've been talking about for a while, going back to my post about the Protocols of the Elders of Liberalism: Republicans have told the public for decades now that Democrats are dangerous freaks -- people who screw up the country because they (we) have a neurotic desire to screw up the country. Republicans have said this so relentlessly for so long that people believe it, or at least find it plausible.
Every time a Republican says that this or that Democrat, or all Democrats, "never met a tax increase he/she/they didn't like," there's a double message -- not only will Democrats raise your taxes, they'll do it because they simply like to. This isn't honorable people differing on the proper role of government -- Democrats are just weirdos who just like taking tax money and pouring it down a rathole.
In foreign policy, Democrats are people who tear down the military, deliberately and willfully weakening it, again just for the fun of it, or because Democrats' idea of how to deal with a dangerous world is to stand around in a circle holding hands and singing "Kumbaya," or something like that. Again, Democrats are said to be in thrall to a view of how the world works that only a weirdo could find plausible; America mustn't elect weirdos because that will make them dangerous weirdos.
These are impressions of Democrats that have been built up and reinforced in the public's mind literally every day since Reagan began his 1980 campaign. There's nothing comparable for Republicans -- no dangerous-neurotic stereotype that the vast majority of Americans find at least somewhat plausible. In fact, the personality stereotype of Republicans is that they're unswervingly normal -- they're uncomplicated, steady, and sane.
That's why voters can't even see Bush's weird testiness. They haven't been able to see the cold-bloodedness and paranoia of Dick Cheney -- maybe now, a little, after the shooting, but not for years. Voters still see Rumsfeld as John Wayne, even though his pronouncements and koans are weirder than any Democrat wonk's.
I don't know what to do about this. I just want people to recognize it. I'm afraid there won't be a change in American politics until Americans are ready to see Republicans as bizarre.
UPDATE: What did I say above about the image of Republicans? "Uncomplicated, steady, and sane"? Well, here you go:
Yes, I know that's supposed to cut both ways -- it's supposed to seem frightening to Democrats and unwaveringly solid to Republicans. But the expression "sticking to his guns" doesn't come off as ambiguous -- what it says about Cheney is precisely what far too many people already believe about Bush: "Whether you agree or disagree, at least you know where he stands." Being "steady as a rock" is unquestionably a virtue in America -- and no matter what the rest of the copy on the cover says, no matter what the Cheney story inside the magazine says (I admit I haven't read it), this is a very powerful image that almost certainly gave Karl Rove a big, big thrill.