Tuesday night, as King George rambled through his Greatest Hits talking points during the State of the Union address, I had an epiphany (I was playing the drinking game, after all). Republicans succeed politically because they control the discourse. Now, unless you’ve been living under a rock, this isn’t really news, nor cause for me to trot out 50-cent words like “epiphany” or “catharsis”. Nope, that’s not the “Eureka” experience I had. I know the why and the where … but I think I understand the how now. Republicans win because they purposely ask the wrong questions.
Here’s what I mean. Let’s take an easy, non-political issue and “Republicanize” it. Something trivial, like the enjoyment factor of Twinkies. The problem with the Twinkie experience is that while they are ambrosia to the tongue . . . they are murder on the thighs. So the question to be asked, regarding that tubby Twinkie, is whether the hedonistic joys of pound cake and filling are worth the clogged arteries and increased belt sizes. Are Twinkies worth it? That’s not just the smart question. It’s also the relevant one. Do you want to be a big fatty and risk your health for a Twinkie?
That’s not the question Republicans want you to ask, however. With all that junk food lobby money coming in, having Americans question their love of Twinkies isn’t in their best interests. So, in order to direct us away from the very relevant query (the one that is wrapping your body in a bear-like, protective layer of blubber), they change the question. “Do we want to change our American, Twinkie-eating way of life? Or do we want to fight for our right to Twinkie?”
It’s pretty clever when you think about it. They get to have their Twinkie and eat you too. After all, what could a GOP supporter say to shoot down the real question? “Twinkies make us fat” is pretty much the base truth of the matter . . . until they alter the question. Now, the Republicans get to stay in the “debate” and actually have something to say. They have a Twinkie to defend. You see, it’s not about the obesity epidemic and how that relates to high-calorie food like Twinkies, but about protecting the vaunted American Way of Life™. “Americans eat Twinkies, you tree-hugging anorexic! We can’t just change course and pursue an alternative! The only way is the American way! Jesus loves Twinkies!” Think of how this instantly changes the Democratic posture. Instead of the Democrats debating the real issues of Twinkiegate, they are stuck defending their patriotism. “We also believe in the American Dream, and we recognize how important Twinkies are to Americans. We love America too! And Jesus! Look, I just bought my priest a Twinkie!” (Don’t worry kids, that priest has since been transferred.)
Now, you may think that my Twinkie example is a gross oversimplification … or maybe that I’m just full of shit. But consider some real world debates and my hypothesis is proven. Like global warming. According to the GOP, “the jury is still out on global warming.” Really? That’s the debate? Whether or not man-made pollutants are harming the global environment? How absurd. At this point in the public’s awareness of pollution and its effects on the planet, after all the clean air alerts, the melting icebergs and the increasingly more intense hurricanes . . . the jury’s still out on global warming? Not bloody likely.
But the real questions regarding the environment are harmful to major Republican backers. The oil industry doesn’t really want the country asking “how can we take steps to minimize the effects of global warming,” because one of those steps is obvious: use less oil. And the Republican party itself, branding itself as a bunch of “compassionate conservatives” doesn’t really want the American public asking the next question: do we, the people even care about global warming? Because if we do, that means a slew of government initiatives, that means government investment and expansion, and we all know how the GOP feels about that (unless it’s the military . . . then no deficit is too large.)
Knowing that any honest debate about global warming is impossible politically, the Republicans changed the question. It’s not about the degenerative nature of global warming on the earth’s eco-systems, it’s about whether or not global warming is real or false. Moreover, where we might have had a robust debate over a real issue, all we’re left with is the smokescreen…the idea that we’ll take care of global warming and pollution . . . once we prove it exists. But right now, keep driving that SUV, buddy! Because global warming may be as real as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. No worries, just grab a Twinkie from Jesus and go tear up the mountains!
This happened during the 2004 election as well. Remember those “Swift Boat Veterans For Truth?” They positioned a question about Kerry’s character that helped fell his campaign (although, to be fair, Kerry’s utter inability to produce a simple, direct, declarative sentence that had less that four thousand words in it may have had something to do with it.) The Swift Boats asked if John Kerry was really heroic in Vietnam. So . . . the question wasn’t something like “how can a ‘war’ president have a history of shirking military duty” or “how similar is Vietnam to Iraq,” but rather “Was John Kerry really brave when he fought for our country over there in Vietnam?” In effect, this tactic directed public attention far away from the obvious: that even if Kerry was a coward in Vietnam, that even if all he did was screw whores, play cards and wolf down Twinkies, just the sheer fact that he showed up for military duty made him infinitely braver than war-avoiding Bush.
The controversy over gay marriage falls into the “new question” category. I mean, the inquiry should be about law-abiding consenting adults wanting the same rights and protections under the law as their non-gay friends. The question should be “does America want to actively discriminate against tax-paying citizens just because we find their sex lives icky?” Don’t get me wrong, the answer is obvious here: yes, we do, discrimination is as American as apple pie . . . but asking the obvious question is death politically, so the Republicans made this a debate on the sanctity of marriage versus the rights of citizens.
Before we get into the obvious problems of having our secular government “sanctify” anything (because of that little, inconvenient separation of church and state,) let’s get into the stupidity of “protecting marriage.” The Republican question is “Do you want marriage to be at risk?” Are they kidding? Let’s break this down: marriage has existed for thousands of years. I really don’t think it’s going anywhere. In addition, divorce is legal and easy in America . . . so we, the people, already have a little bit of contempt for marriage. Its “sanctity” was already at risk. Logically the GOP protection of marriage should also end divorce, forcing those heathens who didn’t take marriage seriously to remain with their unloved spouses until death.
And there’s another great debate question in the gay marriage mix: how would the legalization of same-sex marriage change gay culture? Would it usher in a new, monogamous era? Would same-sex couples empty out the orphanages? Would it make the gay community feel a little bit more legitimate? Would it embolden the civil rights movement even more (because the gay community is really where all of our disparate racial, religious and class threads stitch together?). There are lots of interesting, remarkable and entirely viable questions to be asked about gay marriage that venture beyond the protection of it for straight people, but those questions don’t jive with the Christians supporting the Republicans, so they aren’t asked. Instead, we’re content to protect marriage from the Village People. Just give them a Twinkie . . . the phallic shape alone should ebb their marriage envy.
Therefore, the next time you hear a neo-conservative controlling a debate, know that it isn’t because they have a better solution to the problem than the Democrats. It’s that they aren’t addressing the same question. And by changing the question, the Republicans have removed the meaning. Take our Twinkie. Democrats ask whether eating Twinkies are bad for Americans. Republicans ask whether the American Way of Life™ can be changed. Democrats are debating facts about fat while the Republicans are arguing for your right to be fat. Or your right to rape the environment. Or your right to discriminate against tax-paying citizens. That’s really the ideological question they are posing: do your want to preserve your right to continue to do things wrong?
The sad reality may very well be that we do. With that in mind, I look forward to seeing you all at the back of the bus (well, all of you that aren’t rich white folk who love Jesus.) I’ll be the 300-pound queen slurping down a Twinkie, preserving my way of life, one heart attack at a time.
Aaron Michael Gordon is an award-winning advertising writer. Working in South Florida, Aaron has written and produced countless television, radio, print and web-based advertising. In addition, Aaron is a freelance writer and a playwright. You can see some of his other work at jimhillmedia.com, realityblurred.com/exposed and Freezerbox.com, and at various stages throughout the country.
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