I am becoming increasingly inclined to think that Rick Perlstein is a genius. His books are both very excellent, and I have just got through reading his fascinating article on the lies the Republicans tell. Like all he does, it’s a sprawling piece, covering many people and incidents, but what interested me most was his contrasting the supposedly very honest-but-gloomy Jimmy Carter with the lying optimist, Ronald Reagan. Perlstein writes: “The Gipper’s inauguration ushered in the ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ era of political lying.”
Now, yes; Reagan is associated very much with optimism. (The word “sunny” often immediately precedes or follows the popular press references to him.) Still, this isn’t all the Republicans are about. Paul Ryan’s whole budget plan is predicated on the idea of him being a man willing to tell the “tough truths” we need, but don’t want, to hear. (To hear the veracity of this claim questioned, see this, or anything Paul Krugman has ever written about Paul Ryan.)
So, the point clearly isn’t that Republicans sugarcoat everything; sometimes they say optimistic things and other times they say pessimistic things. The reason for all this, I think, goes back to the American exceptionalism thing; the Republicans don’t believe much stuff about America being flawed; they want to talk about the flaws introduced by those who are in some way “alien” to America.
The issue Perlstein explicitly raises is the matter of Climate Change–why are Republicans saying the science demonstrating it is false? One answer I can see is that they are all beholden to oil corporations. Another is that, as Perlstein says, they don’t want to hear they can’t use all the damn resources they please, if that is their wish. They feel, as the Governor of Louisiana said, that “Americans can do anything”.
You might say that the Republican version of events is optimistic and blithe. “We can use all the resources we want, at whatever rate we like, as intended by God.” is their view–correct me if I’m wrong. On the other hand, the fact that people complain of climate change requires, in the Republican version of things, a conspiracy of international Socialists and Dictators who control the Universities, the Democratic party, and many media outlets. This is not optimism.
Incidentally, I’ve written about this issue before, and I’ve always wondered: how many of the Republicans think of themselves as “lying for a cause”, and how many think it’s all completely true?