It was minus twenty-six this morning. My loaner pickup didn't crank. I am visiting family in a small, snowy town in the upper Great Plains. The truck was supposed to carry me back to the Rapid City airport today. Right now I'm debating whether to drive Mom's car in and let my brother worry about the pickup later. It's supposed to get warmer over the next couple of days. Warm up fifty-five degrees to almost freezing.
A surprising number of people here are right-wing dittoheads. I say "surprising" because many of these people are otherwise intelligent folk. I saw Uncle Bob the other day and talk turned immediately to the weather. I prefer politics, so I said, "Sure, we've had a lot of rain out in Washington. There was a drought. Then we got a new Democratic governor. She declared a drought emergency. It started to rain and didn't stop for four months."
"Now, Al," said Uncle Bob, who was a math teacher before he retired and who recently restored an Allis Chalmers tractor from a pair of rusty fenders and a gear shift knob, "I don't think it was because she's a Democrat it started to rain."
"Well, Bob, you might have a point there. Democrats are competent, but not that competent."
"You know how it is, Bob. They don't even let Republicans call the numbers at your Bingo games."
Here between my brother and my uncle, I have discovered the core vulnerability of the Republican Right. Competence. They got none. Bush listened to years of ideologically heavy speeches and then tried to run the country. It was like trying to drive a plane after reading a couple of comic books. No wonder they're in the ditch.
As it turns out, my brother did expect me to go out there in his insulated Carhartts and start that truck. A cousin was going to drive the pickup back, she could have driven Mom's car, but ... Bro would do (and has done) a lot for me. But this is a right of sibling passage. Again, it has to do with competence. It's a test to see if the city mouse can get it done.
And I did. I was energized by the challenge. It was a bit complicated by not being able to get under the hood because the hood latch was frozen, but I stuck the oil pan warmers on it for 45 minutes and it opened. Got the charger hooked up to the battery, warmers stuck to the oil pan, and here comes the bro. It took him half a glance to figure out I was inadequate. He's out there right now running the charge out of the battery. His starter fluid didn't work, I guess. I wished he'd waited like I asked.
The lesson? A very valuable lesson: Only the other guy is incompetent. If we can get the multiple offenses of incompetence to stick to the Republicans, they will become the "other guys" in the hearts of the Heartland.
Just like right now I am perfectly able to criticize my brother (in my head). At the same time, to him I am still the city mouse, and he is the capable and self-reliant country mouse.
There aren't very many people in South Dakota, so if you want to have a very big family, or even a modest sized gathering, you have to include a variety of opinion. I don't convert any right wingers at these meetings, and us progressives just nod at each other's rants (even my dear old Mom's). The rest of the folks think politicians and their partisans are in a perpetual cat fight, and they talk about the weather or their medical problems. They vote, but they hold their noses when they do. Unfortunately it is these people we have to reach, and if we try to reach them with a line that the Radical Right is moving us quickly to an immoral, authoritarian, corporatist state, we're out of luck.
The correct line is: "These guys are stooges, the Keystone Kops, boobs, grinning boobs." The Heartland may not understand the grotesquery of Guantanamo or the looming danger of an imperial presidency, but they do understand that Medicare is screwed up, the budget is screwed up, Katrina was screwed up, military readiness is screwed up, energy markets are screwed up, et cetera is screwed up. They may not be willing to point fingers at Cheney or Rumsfeld (though they do call him "Dumbsfeld" at Ellsworth, the local Air Force base) or Gonzalez, but they do know when something is not being done right.
In the past, the Republicans have been able to paper over an inability to govern with a consummate ability to run a political campaign. Karl Rove in the Office of Character Assassination has done a particularly good job. A campaign becomes a trial government, and Presidential appearance, staying on message, and appropriate backdrops create a show of competence.
This was the genius of Bill Clinton. He was more ruthless, more capable, a better campaigner, and he kept the pressure on till their false fronts fell over and the shantytown behind was exposed for all to see. Clinton would win again, if we'd let him.
Inept Bush jokes. Gotta have 'em. For the Heartland.