Were you watching the Republican National Committee chair debate?
Admittedly there was no reason why you should, since the candidates are all identical (more on that later), but Michael Steele got a last hurrah as national embarrassment. Check it out. Oh, and check out the Daily Show version. And the Colbert version. Not so bright, those potential RNC chairs, or else smart enough to know that appearing bright won’t help them. Here’s a longer clip featuring highlights like Saul Anusis accidentally quoting Mussolini.
Notice the first two candidates’ responses to the book question, too. This is pure posturing: They are not even attempting to answer the question honestly. They are not thinking about what books they actually liked (notice how fast the responses come). They are thinking about what answer would win their base’s approval the most by referencing buzzwords. The one who mentions Bush’s book apparently doesn’t even know its title. In other words, it’s a dog whistle.
The posturing is also visible in the other questions. For instance, someone in this group has to be smart enough to know that Sarah Palin has the proverbial snowball’s chance of winning a general election, but anyone who knows that is also smart enough not to say it. You’d think that the ability to realistically assess candidates’ chances would be a benefit to a fundraising position, but saying so won’t help you get said position.
Or consider the magnificently-named Reince Priebus’ statement “I don’t believe that judges can redraft the Constitution,” another simple dog whistle. You can tell it’s a dog whistle partly because it’s something that everyone believes framed with the insulting implication that there are people who disagree, but mostly because the statement is irrelevant to the question, which was about marriage, which is not in the Constitution in any way, shape, or form.
Posturing instead of acting honestly is as poisonous in politics as it is common, particularly when Congresspeople move from posturing in speech to posturing in actual legislation (that is, voting based on what will win them the most political points rather than what they think is right), as Slacktivist pointed out.
Also observe the sheer homogeneity of the answers, so marked that the moderators had to reframe the favorite politician question so that everyone wouldn’t just answer “Reagan.” (I guess they learned from the 2009 debate, where not only does everyone name Reagan as their favorite president, but most of them refuse to name a least favorite Republican president.) I think this shows the marked influence of the Tea Party–not as a changing force, but a homogenizing one. It isn’t bringing new ideas into the Republican Party, it’s forcing old ideas out. Consider the Party Unity Pledge that they all support, or how the term RINO now gets applied to any Senator or Representative who votes with the Democrats, even once.
Of course there is posturing on the Democratic side, too (women’s issues, anyone?), but not nearly as much homogeneity. If you asked a panel of Democratic candidates a typical Democratic question, like “Would you legalize gay marriage?”, you’d get a variety of answers. That’s good, because the American people believe a variety of things. Ideally, the houses of Congress would contain the full spectrum of American views in their proper proportions. We can’t afford to dedicate half of our political establishment to one single opinion.