The Republican Imperium

Steven Johnston
Neal A. Maxwell Chair in Political Theory, Public Policy, and Public Service, University of Utah

Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and the Republican Party represent not just a disturbing, destructive social and political movement; they also pose a threat to the very ideas of democracy and democratic government. This can be seen (it’s not as if they work hard or consistently to hide it) in two distinct, if also ultimately related ways. 

First, Republicans have been orchestrating a nationwide campaign to suppress voter turnout. Invoking the possibility of voter fraud, their own fabrication masquerading as a cause, the GOP has managed to pass numerous voter identification laws, especially in battleground states, to disenfranchise American citizens. The identification requirement, supposedly neutral, discriminates against the poor, elderly, young, and minorities, all of whom tend to vote Democratic. Republicans have also been purging election rosters of eligible voters (claiming citizens to be noncitizens), curtailing early voting periods, sanctioning voter registration campaigns with criminal penalties for the smallest of clerical errors, and whatever else they can think of to depress Democratic turnout. In moments of candor, they publicly admit these electoral measures are designed to produce one result: the election of Mitt Romney. Furious at the presidential election result four years ago, the GOP targeted for suppression groups critical to Obama’s victory. The GOP also has at its disposal electoral vigilantes (True the Vote) who plan to harass and intimidate voters at the polls, effectively forcing or keeping them at home. The 2012 election could well produce an illegitimate president, a Republican who holds office by virtue of crimes against democracy. The GOP is utterly indifferent to such a possible outcome, believing that it and only it has a right to rule in the United States. This conviction, rooted in a sense of superiority, patriotism, and truth, informs another feature of Republican conduct dominant these last four years: a “politics” of total obstruction, even destruction, no matter the social or economic cost, of an African-American president they loathe. A minority party, the GOP acts as if it has a mandate to rule. Remarkably, Republicans believed from the start that there would be no political cost to their sabotage insofar as they also believed the American voter would ultimately hold Obama responsible for the wreckage they produced. Republicans, in short, indulge an ugly form of political entitlement, namely, that they can commandeer a system to produce their desired outcomes, which, by definition, are the right outcomes. The presumption of political entitlement matches their sense of social and economic entitlement, deploying the vast resources of the state (subsidies, tax breaks, etc.) to enrich themselves—again, no matter the cost to others.

This brings me to the second source of the threat the GOP poses to the very idea of democracy. To many observers of American politics, Republican machinations may seem excessive but nothing more. Yet the GOP conducts itself domestically much like European imperialism conducted itself in the heyday of Western colonization in Africa and the Middle East. The latter ignored the natives of the lands it conquered, unwilling and unable to see them or the ways of life they had cultivate for generations. Europeans would treat natives as effectively invisible and proceed to remake (read: steal, exploit) the country in their own grand image. The dominant motif of the Romney-Ryan campaign, similarly, is, “We can rebuild it.” This claim presumes and professes a sense of overwhelming power, a power capable of removing any obstacles in its path. The power is so fantastic that Romney believes his mere election will result in economic revival. He doesn’t actually have to do anything to spur renewal. His mere status as President suffices. The claim also suggests that nothing meaningful or valuable (no institution, organization, party, program, or policy) stands in the way of rebuilding, certainly nothing Republicans can see. They are thus free to dismantle the social safety system and network of public institutions that tens of millions of hard-working citizens built across generations and earned, through blood, sweat, and tears, the right to enjoy. It would afford a modicum of protection against the regular, predictable ravages of an economic system the GOP would like to unleash on them. Accordingly, when Romney talks about “getting government out of the way,” this does not mean freeing economic actors to create jobs; they can do that already. It means leaving tens of millions of people exposed and vulnerable to the inevitable depredations of an economic and political system designed to concentrate wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands—hence the pathological hatred of unions, whether public or private, and the drive to eradicate them from American life. Opposition, let alone resistance, cannot be tolerated.

It’s no coincidence that Romney and Ryan champion more of the same policies and programs that led to the greatest economic crisis and social destruction since the Depression. The superrich thrive in these circumstances. The country may suffer, but they continue to prosper—and further separate themselves from the rest. The GOP relishes the brutality of a class warfare in which it enjoys a virtual monopoly of the social, political, and economic weapons needed to wage it. The GOP disdains the so-called 47% (the real figure is actually much higher) which would be left to fend for itself in a world where it has been effectively disempowered, stripped of its prior social democratic accomplishments and protections in the name of free market utopianism. After all, the 47% are parasites: they produce nothing; they create nothing of value themselves; they only take from the government, which means they take that to which they have no real right. They can thus be ignored, despite their real presence throughout the country. Worse, they can be acted upon, which is what the GOP plans to do as Republicans rebuild a country in no need of their imprint.

The GOP dreams of a world in which the very rich arrogate to themselves the vast wealth a capitalist economy produces, an outcome made possible by rules, regulations, and practices they devise; given the force of law thanks to “representatives” they usher into office courtesy of a political system they have bought; and sanctified by an activist Supreme Court they have installed. It’s a vicious economic-political noose that threatens to tighten the grip on democracy and make it yield to the slightest pressure from its masters. Republicans must rule the country they profit from, even pillage, while the rest are to be marginalized and dismissed, essentially foreigners in their own land. Those who think Romney and the GOP live in the 1950s may need to reset their calendars. They’re not nearly so modern.

Level 3 External Brief

Level 3 are working on a series of projects with external partners. Plymouth Museum have asked the student to consider developing interpretive work for the China Connection Gallery.



Alison Cooper Keeper of Decorative arts Explaining the history of Porcelain

Level 3 External Brief

Level 3 are working on a series of projects with external partners. The Royal Cornwall Museum have asked the students to develop ideas for something based on the collection that can be sold in the Museum Shop


Myles Ward discussing the project at the Museum

Level 3 External Brief

Level 3 are working on a series of projects with external partners.  Truro Cathedral would like students to examine objects used in worship, to interpret them and to display them in the building.

Visiting Truro Cathedral

Sarah Hughes Education and Interpretation Officer at the Cathedral explaining the history of the building, HAVING TO MAKE HERSELF HEARD OVER THE amazingly loud organ recital 

The whole place is smothered with complex details, fantastically crafted and loaded with meaning.


The wooden font cover is on a counter balance and can be lifted with one hand.

1st Year Boat trip to trip to Truro 

Its a big boat
The Enterprise coming in to Truro high tide

“Women are not an interest group”: The Issue of Women’s Issues in the 2012 Presidential Campaign

Michaele Ferguson
University of Colorado

Mitt Romney’s infelicitous phrase “binders full of women” has dominated coverage of the second Presidential Debate over the past few days at the cost of a deeper exploration of how both he and Barack Obama are framing so-called “women’s issues” to appeal to female voters. Romney and Obama use feminist rhetoric to appeal to women while also occluding the possibility of a more radical analysis of the issues they claim are important.

The way that Romney appeals to women voters is by arguing that the true women’s issues in the current election are economic issues. In the debate, he recited statistics that the “Women for Mitt” segment of his campaign has been pushing for months now: that more women have lost their jobs than men since Obama assumed the presidency, and that 3.5 million more women are living in poverty now than in 2008. His supporters argue that it is Obama, not Republicans, who is truly waging a war on women by not having turned around the economy fast enough.

This technique – expressing support for women’s issues by arguing that some other issue is the real women’s issue – has been a favorite among Republicans at least back to the “W is for Women” Bush/Cheney campaign of 2000. The logic of this rhetorical technique is to claim that if women care about an issue, it is by definition a women’s issue. Obama borrowed this approach in 2008, claiming on his campaign website that everything from national security to education to Medicare to the economy was a women’s issue.

Interestingly, on Tuesday night Obama flipped the logic of this rhetorical technique on its head. In response to a question about gender pay equity, he said, “This is not just a women’s issue, this is a family issue, this is a middle-class issue, and that’s why we’ve got to fight for it.” He repeated this rhetoric when speaking of contraception: “These are not just women’s issues.  These are family issues.  These are economic issues.” Women’s issues matter not only because they impact women, but because they impact the entire society.

Back in the spring, Obama gave us a preview of this rhetorical shift in his recorded message to supporters of Planned Parenthood.  In that speech, he argued that “women are not an interest group.”  Supporting women’s access to affordable health care and contraception is not about serving a special interest, it is about supporting our families and our community as a whole. Women, he explains, are “mothers and daughters and sisters and wives. They’re half of this country.” We should support Planned Parenthood because it benefits all of us, not just women.

Romney and Obama are both walking a very fine line in their appeals to women voters in this campaign: they want to address women specifically (or at least those demographics of women that are likely to support their campaigns), yet they cannot alienate male voters. As a consequence of this balancing act both candidates obscure the structures that cause the gender inequities they say they want to redress.

Romney and his supporters frequently mention that women have been disproportionately affected by the economic downturn since Obama took office, and yet they never talk about why this is so. More women than men have been laid off since the start of 2009, yet this is because job losses over the past four years have been primarily in the public sector, where women are more likely to have been employed. Romney cannot explain why women have lost more jobs under Obama, because that would require recognizing that the cuts in local and state government that his Republican base champions have been primarily to blame. Similarly, he cannot talk about why women are more likely to be in poverty because that would require examining the gendered division of labor, the causes of the gendered wage gap, and the lack of quality, affordable child care – let alone contraceptive care. Romney’s support for economic issues as a women’s issue, therefore, is only ever expressed in general terms.

This strategy, moreover, gives him a way to address women without alienating the white men he needs to win the election:  if women’s issues can be reduced to economic issues, then he helps women by fixing the economy – which is also how he proposes to help men. As he said at the debate, ”I’m going to help women in America get good work by getting a stronger economy and by supporting women in the workforce.” He doesn’t specify what he would do to support women in the workforce as President (although he suggests it might have to do with those binders), and so he appeals to women without promising them any special treatment that might alienate his white male base.

Obama, by contrast, noted that women in the workforce face discrimination, but it is a peculiar kind of discrimination: it oppresses women, but does not create any corresponding male privilege. He said, “One of the things that makes us grow as an economy is when everybody participates and women are getting the same fair deal as men are.” Men are getting a fair deal in the workplace. The men who surpassed the glass ceiling that kept his grandmother limited to the vice-presidency of a local bank deserved the promotions they were given. It is just that she did not deserve to be held back. Here, we can see Obama making his own version of the tradeoff that Romney has to make: he wants to appeal to women by talking about issues he thinks they care about, and yet he does not want men to think he is blaming them for discriminating against women, or claiming that they do not deserve their higher positions and higher wages.

Both candidates get caught in an odd dance between appealing to women while trying not to alienate men because they treat “women’s issues” as important primarily as a way to get women’s votes. It is no wonder that Obama had no evidence to demonstrate how he has opposed gendered discrimination since he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act when he first took office. For all his talk, his actions suggest that women’s issues matter only when women’s votes are on the line.

Hydrofracking and Home Rule

Jake Greear
Johns Hopkins University

With world leaders failing to make headway toward curbing carbon emissions at the 2009 Copenhagen Conference, and quietly throwing up their hands at this summer’s Rio +20 Summit, it may be time for environmentalists to focus energies on the dispersed global sites of fossil fuel extraction.  To that extent, the political battles now playing out in the Northeastern U.S. over the natural gas extraction process called hydraulic fracturing, a.k.a. “fracking,” merit attention. 
As energy companies run up against the political and natural limits of petroleum and coal exploitation they are turning to increasingly outlandish means to tap alternative fossil fuel deposits like tar-sands--where extraction means scraping the living surface off vast swaths of Canada--and the natural gas held in the Marcellus Shale under the northern Appalachian Mountains--where extraction means shattering billion-year-old rock formations that undergird the North American continent.  

Paul Thomas Anderson’s film There Will be Blood poignantly dramatized the violence inherent in fossil fuel extraction.  However, the sites of large scale hydrocarbon extraction are often either sparsely populated or inhabited by communities with few means of resisting the insults and injuries that are the usual local byproducts of extractive industries.  Most consumers of fossil fuels live a world away from their strip mines and oil fields.  
The Alberta tar sands are an example.  The construction of pipelines needed to carry tar sands oil to markets has been stalled for now, but the oil companies are not really worried.  They will get the oil out one way or the other.  The fortunate thing, from the industry’s perspective, is that not many people live in northern Alberta, so there is relatively little opposition in defense of the forests and rivers that are being destroyed there.  
The Marcellus Shale formation, by contrast, runs under densely populated parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York.  The directional striations of the shale dictate the topological terms of methane extraction.  The industry sees the entire area divided into a staggered checkerboard of 1/2 x 2 mile quadrants oriented north-northwest, with a gas well in each one.  But to achieve this ideal energy companies must contend intensively with innumerable landowners and residents.
For many people living on the Marcellus Shale the revenues from gas extraction offer a way to ride out tough times on family farms that are obsolete by agribusiness standards.  But the opposition movement that has grown throughout the region voices serious concerns about quality of life, environmental health, and safety.  And in the ensuing political discussion bigger-picture issues like energy security, economic sustainability, and global warming have also become part of the conversation.  
In New York state particularly, fracking has come to the forefront of local politics in many municipalities.  Corporations long ago began haggling with willing landowners for drilling leases.  However, they have not yet been cleared at the state level to frack New York, and while they wait for the state’s go-ahead several townships have moved to protect the neighbors who stand to be fracked against their will, adopting ordinances ban fracking locally.  Although these efforts have met legal challenge, local anti-fracking ordinances have so far been upheld. 
The opacity inherent in the fracking process has served to stoke an already heated controversy.  First there is the fracking fluid injected underground in massive quantities.  It is known to be toxic, but the contents are protected as trade secrets.  Then there is the opacity of the earth itself.  Seismic imaging, lab tests, and trial and error tell us something about what is happening in the fracking process, but there is a limit to what we can know about the deep earth. No one has ever been down in a fracking well--they are six inches across and miles deep.  Like many other amazing technological feats, fracking remains an art even though it is served by science.  And because it is an art there cannot be any guarantees of ecological safety.  As with deep water oil drilling, no number of government inspectors will eliminate the extra-ordinary risks to lives, places, and ecosystems that an undertaking of this scale and technological complexity poses.
What we do know is that the earth is a big, complex thing full of surprises.  Paleo-ecology tells us that our particular world is characterized by both resilience and fragility--prone to tipping points, feedback mechanisms, and emergent phenomena that are not predictable.  Fracking is an amazing and ingenious technology that can do big things, like releasing a planetary amount of methane from the earth’s crust.  But the problem with doing big amazing things is that other amazing earth-scale events can be unintentionally triggered.
So far the unintended consequences appear to be relatively localized--methane gueyser eruptions, man-made earthquakes, poisoned waterways, and a few polluted aquifers.  Of course, few of these phenomena can be linked with certainty to fracking--once again, due to the opacity and complexity of the process.  Corporate representatives use this opacity to industry advantage as “merchants of doubt” painting themselves as practical and reasonable--“just show us the proof?!”--while slick TV ads promise “clean burning natural gas” is the “transition fuel” that will usher in a green-energy economy... any decade now!  The lie by omission is that the methane that necessarily escapes during the extraction process is many times more potent than other greenhouse gasses.
The fragile bulwark that some New York townships have erected against this well-lobbied industry draws upon the strong political tradition of “home rule” in the Northeastern states.  Home rule is the decentralizing political principal within a federal system, giving local municipalities the right to institute any statutes not prohibited or superseded by higher levels of government.  
There are voices on both sides who oppose New York’s adventures in ecological home rule.  Some claim this issue is too complex and important to be left up to town councils.  And of course whenever fracking is ruled on locally--either to permit or to ban--there will be a minority who feel strongly that their rights have been trampled upon.  Moreover, some fracking opponents even worry that while each local anti-fracking ordinance seems like a grassroots victory for the cause, deference to home rule may give Governor Cuomo just the political cover he needs to give fracking a foothold in those townships that approve it.  And yet, at a time when corporate money is bathing the machinery of the republic like never before, technocratic centralization is itself a suspect principle for environmental politics.  
So whither ecological home rule?  History tells us local direct democracy is no political panacea.  Democracy can eat itself at any level.  However, the fact that townships in the Northeastern states are taking a hard look at fracking is promising, whatever comes of it, if only because it has brought some of the complex political and ethical issues inherent in fossil fuel extraction home to many U.S. citizens as citizens.  An active citizenry with a taste for the complexity of ecological politics is what we need most if the worlds leading carbon economy is to become an ecologically responsible representative democracy.