Romney’s Secret Weapon: Jingoism
by David Matthews 2
Did you know that until at least 2006, Americans were still paying for the Spanish-American war?
Even though it was ended over a century ago, the tax that was enacted on us to pay for that war continued until people started speaking up about it. It was “supposed” to end in 1902, but it really didn’t. The government simply re-purposed the tax to justify other things. World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, Vietnam, all became the justification for this tax.
Most of you saw this tax on your phone statement as the “Federal Telephone Excise Tax”, and you probably didn’t realize what it was originally for.
But why were we really in the Spanish-American War in the first place?
Part of the reason had to do with tragedy. The sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in 1898 off the coast of Havana was seen as the reason for war, but even today it cannot be determined that it was because of Spanish aggression.
In truth, though, the reason why we went to war was because we were driven to it by politicians and members of the media and a little mindset called jingoism.
Bear in mind that the latter half of the 19th Century was a period dominated by overbearing and unchecked evangelism. Concepts such as “manifest destiny” and “American Exceptionalism” became the justifications for naked aggression, be it against ourselves over slavery, against supposed “savages” in the western expansion, or against other nations. Nationalistic songs were created during that time to merge God and Country into one marching hymn for simple-minded “righteous” people to follow without question.
This mindset didn’t limit itself to the United States. Indeed, the word “jingoism” came from Great Britain. The “jingo” in jingoism is an old British reference to “Jesus”. So the mindset isn’t just one of belligerent political extremism, but a specifically Christian form of belligerent political extremism.
Okay, so what does a century-old mindset have to do with 2012’s Presidential Campaign season?
Well, pretty much everything.
I was perplexed as to how die-hard evangelical conservatives within the GOP would be quick to flip-flop on their support of former Governor Mitt Romney from a position of absolute disgust and revulsion to one of absolute adoration. Keep in mind that as recent as the beginning of 2012, evangelicals were swearing that they would do everything in their power to keep Romney from being the GOP nominee. And, yes, part of that “passionate opposition” apparently had to do with the fact that Romney is a Mormon and they clearly are not.
So how could die-hard conservatives, neo-conservative, and theo-conservatives be so passionately opposed to Mitt Romney in January, condemn his faith as a “cult”, and then pull off a complete 180 flip-flop by July?
And it wasn’t just Romney. Glenn Beck – who still has a syndicated radio show even though he outlived his welcome on Fox News – is the same way. Fundamentalists still adore him even though he is a Mormon. This is apparently one of those rare times when extremists really do hate the “sin” (specifically being a part of another religion) but love the “sinner”.
So I took a look at what these two have been doing, and this is where the secret comes out.
Both Beck and Romney have been using simple ultra-patriotic messages. Country first. Security first. “Belief” and references to “God” but not specifically pointing to any one religion. Constantly painting the image of a nation under attack from “foreigners”, be it China or North Korea or Islamic terrorists or illegal Mexican immigrants, and then demanding immediate and aggressive responses to these “threats”.
Let’s get brutally honest here… the great secret behind Mitt Romney’s sudden conversion of his previous adversaries over to his side was made possible because of Romney’s use of jingoistic messages.
And it’s no big surprise that that it works so well for the GOP when you consider that both jingoism and the GOP both came to be at roughly the same point in history. No matter if it as for “liberal” positions like ending slavery or the die-hard “conservative” stances of today, they were able to worm their programs in thanks in no small part to the herd mentality from the evangelicals.
The beautiful part for Romney’s camp is that they don’t have to do any kind of heavy lifting. They just have to be subtle and play up what has already been established by others. The continual paranoia, the persecution complex, the idea that America is “besieged by foreigners”, even Romney’s continual lie that President Obama is “apologizing to the world” were all established by other people. All Romney had to do is play up on it. Give some vague references to “God”. Pledge that he would “spare no expense to support the troops” and “defend the nation”, despite the fact that there’s supposedly “no money”. And he’ll pledge to support everything that Obama doesn’t and condemn everything that Obama supports.
And it doesn’t even have to make sense! That’s probably the most infuriating part of the whole thing. Remember: this is the campaign that declared that they will not be subject to fact-checking! That’s because jingoism is not about reason; it’s about evangelical passion. It’s all about that “old-time religion” and the feelings that go with it.
The really sad part is that this is all that Romney really has to offer the voters. He is the token “Anti-Obama”. He rides the waves of GOP anger and resentment that are already there thanks to talk radio and Fox News. And all he has to do is say “I won’t do what Obama is doing now.”
But what happens after that? I don’t think that’s something that has been explored too much.
If Romney loses the election, then he can fade away into obscurity like so many others before him. He doesn’t have to deal with the consequences of all of those conservatives, neo-conservatives, and theo-conservatives that have been riled up. He wasn’t even the one that riled them up in the first place. Other people did that. He just rode on their coattails.
But what happens if he wins the election and becomes the next President? That wave of jingoism doesn’t go on forever. At some point the voters are going to wonder what they hell they just voted for, and I really don’t think they will like what they see.
Jingoism is the political equivalent of methamphetamine. It gets people wired, but the after-effects are devastating. Look at how long we ended up “paying” for the Spanish-American war. And the question we all need to be concerned with is what will the “addicts” do next to keep the “fix” going?