There’s an old joke about the woman who comes to the doctor and says, “My friend is pregnant and was embarrassed to come and ask you where to get an abortion, so she sent me to ask instead.” To which the physician replies: “Why did she need to trouble you to come? She should have come herself and told me that she was asking for a friend.”
Or the one about the Jew who goes to a non-kosher butcher but can’t openly ask for the pork. So he always points to it and says, “I’ll have some of this.” One week he comes and the pork is sold out. “We’re out of this,” says the butcher. “But,” he adds, pointing at the ham, “we do have some of that.” The Republican Party has begun lately to ignore these jokes at its own peril.
Yes, indeed. It is a simple and widely known fact of American political life (closely mirrored in the left-right divides of other countries as well) that there are no secret Democrats but there are lots of secret Republicans. And Republican behavior of late has begun to alienate that very invaluable but invisible component of their electoral victories. You see, if there’s one thing that secret Republicans have in common, it is this: they are cheapskates.
Now, it is difficult to fashion a profile of a shadowy figure. The Unabomber looked as much like his FBI sketch as Walter Matthau looked like Marilyn Monroe. We cannot put much of a face on the secret Republican. This phantom of the political opera leaves precious little spoor. We know only one thing for sure. He finds his taxes taxing and he believes that Washington is wasting tons.
This was dramatized to me when I lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the ’90s. The politicians had a trick of routing money away from the truly needy and then putting new levies on the ballot for those causes. For example, they suddenly announced a vote on a new levy for the mentally retarded. I was one of the few unabashed Republicans who openly voted “No.”
People challenged me for my insensitivity. “What happened yesterday?” I asked. “Were they throwing the retarded into the street? Of course not. They were one line item in the allotment to hospitals and social services. The one group of people that this levy will definitely not help is the retarded. They will merely have a replacement source of funding. It’s the newly freed money from the regular social services budget that will now be the object of a tussle between various powers that be and wannabe.”
Most people professed horror. What a heartless fellow! They recoiled in shock. They walked off mumbling. They kept their distance. But the next time around when that levy came up, it got trounced. Even then, no one would admit to having cast a negative vote. Who wants to be the patron devil of the retarded? A few hard-line Darwinists, maybe, trying to cull the herd, but certainly no one who aspires to see his name in a sentence that includes the word “compassionate” without the word “not.”
The closet Republican may be gay. The behind-the-scenes Republican may be ahead of the fashion curve. The unbeknownst Republican may be known as a celebrity. The clandestine Republican may come from an ethnic clan who most think are destined to be Democrats. And the surreptitious Republican may mouth syrupy words about wonderful government services. They only know one thing for sure. They are mad as Hell at taxes and spending and they’re not going to take it anymore. But then again, there’s no need to advertise. The neighbors might not understand.
Right now the “base” is riled up. Conservatives are grumbling more and more loudly about the runaway spending at a time when Republicans control both the executive and legislative branches of government. These folks are beginning to feel really let down. Their party seems to be raising political money and distributing government money in the styles of excess that the Democrats modeled during their tenure as leaders of those branches.
The party leaders, Bush and the Congressional Republicans both, are waving off the concern about the base defecting. They are convinced that — itself a dubious proposition — the base has “nowhere else to go.” I have stated elsewhere that this is off base. Republican base voters will not vote Democrat but if angered they will stay home. Today, however, let us grant for the sake of argument that the base will not be budged by the budget.
But there is one guy and gal that will go; they may be gone already. They are the secret Republican voters who loudly espouse their fealty to the notion of government collecting and disbursing unlimited bounty; then, they pull the curtain of the voting booth shut and vote R for Restraint. They may ham it up but they don’t like pork. These folks have a choice, and if the spending is not reined in forthwith, they will abort.