Why do Americans love to forgive and forget?

Here’s what interests me today: Among the many traits that distinguish us from other peoples is our apparently short political memory. Why is this?

I just read Frank Rich’s contribution to a New York Review of Books analysis, “The Election–II” (11/8/12 issue, though obviously future-dated).

Rich catalogs all the ways in which conservatives have always not liked Romney, in fact disdained him, from his “career-long penchant for political malpractice” to his “reckless saber-rattling at Iran.” According to Rich,

Grover Norquist spoke for the real powers-that-be in the GOP when he told the Conservative Political Action Committee in February that the GOP candidate’s only function as president would be “to sign the legislation that has already been prepared” by the Republican congressional caucus, starting with the government-slashing Ryan budget.

So what? Half the voters either love it or don’t care. (Half the voters don’t like it and do care.)

Look at George W. Bush, a recovered alcoholic whose failed business career was rescued by his father’s 1% friends in Texas. So what? He repented, confessed, converted. He was forgiven and his sins forgotten. Americans don’t just accept that, they love it. And they even thought Bush would be a better guy to walk their dog or sit down to a beer with than John Kerry. They forgot that Bush had said during his first presidential campaign: “I quit drinking in 1986 and haven’t had a drop since then.” (Voters aren’t able to have a beer with Mitt Romney, either, who doesn’t drink alcohol, though for very different reasons.)

Bush’s later sins of Iraq and Afghanistan seem to have caught up with him today, and a more Americans have blamed him than Obama for the economic collapse (Reuters, 6/14/12)–but it’s too late now, and I don’t see Bush on the ballot any more.

The Bush White House’s principle of operating outside of the “reality-based community” has been renewed in the Romney “etch-a-sketch” technique (“Romney’s big day marred by Etch A Sketch remark,” CNN, 3/21/12:

Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s senior campaign adviser, was asked in a CNN interview Wednesday morning whether the former Massachusetts governor had been forced to adopt conservative positions in the rugged race that could hurt his standing with moderates in November’s general election.

“I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes,” Fehrnstrom responded. “It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”

People were shocked, but Fehrnstrom was ahead of his time. Americans don’t remember history very well, but to realize that they would forget within a few months, that was truly revolutionary!

For many of us, including President Obama and Senator Casey, politics should be about solving real problems based on facts, the national interest, and underlying fundamentals of history and law. But for Mitt Romney, Tom Smith, and the Koch Brothers, it is clear that the underlying principle is marketing, whose underlying principle is: whatever works with the public. Look at the polluting industries: No, they don’t pollute. They are really very green. They care about every one of us. See, they sponsor anti-cancer events and even hospitals. They hire a lot of people so they must be good. Those weren’t really serious coal mine violations. Whatever.

Some of the most revealing quotes in American political history were slips of the tongue. John Kerry never should have said: “I was against it before I was for it.” Actually, he didn’t, but that is the way it has come down in political lore. He apparently said: “I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it” (“it” was a supplemental appropriation for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; see “Flip-flop (politics)” in Wikipedia).

And how about Mitt Romney? Moderates are hoping he believes what he has been saying for the last month or, alternatively, what he said when he was running for governor of Massachusetts or in the first half of his one and only term of public office; conservatives are hoping he believes what he said from the beginning of the Republican primary campaign until the day before the first presidential debate this fall.

And why should voters have to hope? Well, it worked for Obama in 2008; it almost always works, because Americans are hopeful people and they believe in redemption. I even recall moments of hope for George Bush, when he was speaking out about not blaming all Muslims, before he started bombing their countries.

What is remarkable about Romney is that his technique isn’t just one reversal, but a dizzying array of self-contradictions, as on abortion rights (Democratic Underground, 10/10/12, including links to all statements):

Whatever, it’s all marketing, and voters won’t remember, right? Or wrong–I guess we’ll find out a week from today.

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About politicswestchesterview

Nathaniel regards himself as a progressive Democrat who sees a serious need to involve more Americans in the political process if we are to rise to Ben Franklin's challenge "A republic, madam, if you can keep it," after a passerby asked him what form of government the founders had chosen. This blog gives my views and background information on the local, state, and national political scenes. My career in higher education was mainly in the areas of international studies, foreign languages, and student advising, most recently at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, from which I retired in 2006. I have lived in West Chester since 1986.
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