Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Is the GOP Sending Coded Messages to Obama and Constituents?

The House passed President Barack Obama's stimulus bill last week, despite many Republicans intimating the honeymoon is already over for the new president (here, here and here) Senate Republicans are bracing for a fight with carefully chosen words. Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) told reporters today that the Democrats are pushing debilitating legislation similar to what Herbert Hoover used preceding the Great Depression. "Hoover was very interventionist," said Ensign, "He raised taxes, increased spending, and tried very much to [intervene in] the economy."

According to a piece in the Wall Street Journal by Andrew B. Wilson, Ensign's comments correctly refute a myth about Hoover's earlier handling of the economy.

Hoover was an ardent believer in government intervention to support incomes and employment. This is critical to understanding the origins of the Great Depression. Franklin Roosevelt didn't reverse course upon moving into the White House in 1933; he went further down the path that Hoover had blazed over the previous four years. That was the path to disaster.

While it is true FDR merely returned confidence to the public in his first 100 days in office, but did not stem the worsening of the economy until the outbreak of war in the 1940s, Ensign may be mixing apples and oranges relating 1933 to today. The GOP, instead, is using the gambit to harpoon the stimulus bill under the rubric of small government. "A lot of us would not like to have the level of government involvement," said Ensign.

Republicans strike me as having an uncanny ability to speak in codes. For example, in GOP parlance states' rights really means allowing sovereignty to each state to legislate divisively within race and gender issues. Sometimes the coda is mocked, such as when Sen. John McCain told an audience the "fundamental of the economy were sound" the same day Wall Street said it wasn't. Well, at that point, the fundamentals were anything but crumbling, but it spoke to conservative voters differently than to Democrats. The Nation argues that President Bush famously used the landmark case of Dred Scott, the 1857 decision that ruled that blacks could not become citizens, to the same effect. The loaded message, though, perplexed liberal and moderate viewers of the 2004 debate. It flew over everyone's heads except for evangelical pro-life supporters who equate the rights of slaves to the rights of unborn children.

Republicans may be in the minority today, but their voice can still be heard even if a portion of the electorate does not quite get the message.

–by Steven Tavares

Do you believe the GOP is using messages to their constituents? If so, is it effective? Is Sen. Ensign playing politics with Great Depression imagery? Join the discussion and leave a comment below.


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