We centrist liberals in this centrist/liberal country might be tempted to conclude from recent pronouncements from the Republican presidential ticket that the public policy accomplishments and goals we hold dear are not nearly in the dire jeopardy we previously thought.

You independents and wavering Democrats and Republican out there, did you hear? Why, Romney/Ryan will strengthen Social Security and Medicare. If the social safety net programs generally are not doing the job, Romney will “fix that.” He will offer a health care policy that features elements of ObamaCare. He’ll surely govern in conformity with the anecdotal stories of his private generosity. He even believes in regulations on business. Why, the GOP is concerned about poverty and middle-class wealth loss and wage stagnation, and a Romney administration will maintain progressivity in the tax code and not lower the tax burden of the super-rich. And the GOP nominees will pursue these ends in a bi-partisan fashion, reaching out to Democrats, as Romney did, as a “severely conservative” governor in liberal Massachusetts.

Yes, and the jackal is a herbivore.

The push-back from Democrats (and Romney’s primary opponents earlier) has been primarily to question whether Romney has any true, steadfast political convictions or, shorthand, whether he has a “core.” Thus, recorded on tape, Republican Jon Huntsman called Romney a “lubricated weather vane” and Newt Gingrich called Romney a “liar.” However, for Democrats, undecided voters, and wavering Republicans, it is not enough to simply catalog the distortions and wildly erratic position swings, taken, each time apparently, with such earnest conviction (however short-lived, now a matter of hours and even minutes), and then just attribute this to unsteadiness or hollowness of character, however easy that might be.

No, in this election the more instructive angle to view these developments is to keep foremost in mind the GOP’s stealth ideology and, more specifically, the peculiar strand of conservatism that underlies their vision.

An ideological perspective provides advantages to voters in at least two senses: It makes the policy choices, on the merits, more manageable for us to evaluate and, relatedly, leaves us less vulnerable to deception and manipulation.

Except in “quiet rooms,” for the most part, the GOP is not bringing to the discussion the frankness that Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged) brought in the exposition of her “objectivist ” theory of selfish, hyper-individualism and self-reliance (certainly, Romney’s odious and Randian “47%” comment was not intended for general consumption). Political parties are about winning elections and, for the GOP, Ayn Rand is too candid and, ideologically, too pure for that: no assistance for the poor, but also no assistance or bailouts for the rich either; no religious and cultural agenda for the GOP to attract bigots and evangelical theocrats; and no foreign adventurism (all of which leaves Ron Paul an outcast in his own party).

The Democratic ticket is centrist/liberal in its ideology and its goals, having occupied the middle ground between the theoretically pure altruism and egalitarianism of socialism on the extreme left and the rapacious, winner-take-all, individualism of laissez-faire capitalism on the extreme right. Capitalism without casualties, if you will. In opposition, the establishment Republican’s agenda is for the lucky few: the “freedom” and “liberty” to maximize private wealth for those already deep in their riches and far better off than they were four years ago. This affirmative-action-for-the-affluent reinforces the conservative’s historical and recurring impulse — traceable in our original constitutional design — to restrain the majoritarian principle of democracy itself (now, most prominently, through voter suppression and filibuster abuse) and to disguise its reactionary goals to win elections.

To state it succinctly: harnessing government to accentuate inequality while selling it to the wider electorate as “trickle down.”

There is no philosophical tradition or theory of justice — not libertarianism, nor classical, Edmund Burkean (preservative and incremental) conservatism — that dignifies this vulgar ideology.

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