In my observation, Republican politics in the Obama era has, in the aggregate, come to be grounded in two things: self-congratulation and resentment. The theme of "We Built This" (or, "We Did Build This," or however they ultimately decide to formulate it) encapsulates this very well.
We all know the background behind the phrase/sentiment, so there's no need to re-hash it here. Given that context, "We Built This" is the perfect slogan for a Republican party, and a "conservative" political cohort, that deeply admires itself and deeply resents the suggestion or implication that such admiration might be misplaced or unwarranted. I've lost count of how many times I've heard and read "conservatives" (a term I'll use here for brevity's sake to include the GOP, its candidates, officeholders, media enablers, voters, supporters, fans, &c., including libertarians and Tea Partiers) talk about how hardworking, self-sufficient, independent, law-abiding, upstanding, charitable, &c., they are, and almost always in direct comparison to how lazy, shiftless, dependent, weak, needy, amoral, &c. non-conservatives supposedly are.
It's not unusual or unprecedented for political candidates, and members of a political cohort, to talk about things they admire about themselves, and to compare that to what they don't admire about their opponents. But I think the emergence of the Tea Party has elevated this aspect of Republican politics to new heights. Indeed, I've never seen a political cohort that admires itself as much as the Tea Party does (which is one reason why I don't take their self-description seriously). The GOP took the baton and made self-congratulation and resentment its central ethic for 2010, and now its central National Convention theme for 2012.
Conservatives admire conservatives; they admire themselves for being conservatives and for not being "liberals" (meaning, essentially, not wanting or believing any of the things their 1970s caricatures of "liberals" want and believe). Everywhere I look, I find conservatives listing things they admire about themselves, right alongside and in direct comparison to things they disdain about "liberals." Conservatives believe in freedom and liberty and self-reliance and personal responsibility and limited government and private charity and family values, while liberals believe in big government and dependency and high taxes and punishing success and blah blah blah. Here are a few comments I read yesterday over at HuffPo, from just one commenter on one thread:
Liberals hate [public services, public works, &c.] because they are trying to destroy them through financial collapse. Conservatives love these things because they are trying to save them by rescuing our finances.Even ignoring the standard caricaturing of "liberals," and allowing for the fact that this person is probably a paid troll, look at the self-admiration in these comments. We hear this from Republican officeholders and candidates on the stump all the time; "We believe in freedom and opportunity; they believe in dependency and government control." They admire themselves, and expect everyone to admire them, just for being the former and not the latter.
Republicans believe in personal responsibility and initiative-the things that made us great. Liberals believe in destroying real America and replacing it with a sure-to-fail socialist state.
Conservatives emphasize positive things, liberals advocate weakness and dependency.
Conservatives are the party of responsibility and reality, and liberals are the party of me-no responsibilities and the nanny state.
If you are a responsible, mature, independent, hard working, patriotic American-vote Republican. If you are a helpless victim, you think the world owes you something, all your problems are someone else's fault, successful people are evil, and the nanny-state life is the life for you-vote Democrat.
Conservatives don't single out specific groups for hand-holding and nose-wiping-that's the liberal pc way of doing things.
If we divided the country into two sections, and put all the liberals in one and the conservatives in the other, the liberal side would be a living version of "Lord of the Flies." The conservatives would have a healthy, functioning country based on maturity.
(Notice also how some conservatives obscure the inherent selfishness and cruelty in certain Republican policy positions by couching them in something admirable; in terms of something conservatives admire about themselves. Denying civil rights to gay people is masked behind "support" for "traditional marriage" and "family values." Forcing women to bear rapists' children is masked behind "support" for "human life." Enabling unchecked corporate greed, exploitation and destruction is masked behind "support" for "freedom" and "success.")
And, as we've seen, this self-admiration carries with it a deep resentment that stems from an intense desire to feel heroic, and to be perceived as heroic by others. Conservatives see themselves as heroes; pioneers, entrepreneurs, good, fine, decent, moral, upstanding citizens who've earned everything they have without any help from anyone. They can't help but resent the "help" they perceive has been "given" to non-conservatives or non-Republican constituencies (at conservatives' expense, naturally), which conservatives have never needed and never received. A person can't truly feel heroic on the basis of his own perceived accomplishments alone; proud, maybe, but not heroic. He has to feel that he's been victimized, that he's had to overcome some obstacles, some sinister forces that stood in his way. And he has to be perceived as heroic by others.
So this year's RNC is a chance for our Republican Heroes (a term I've actually heard/read conservatives use in conversations with me) to congratulate themselves for building whatever it is they think they've built, and to resent the suggestion that they didn't build it on their own. I wouldn't have thought it possible, but they've actually chosen the perfect theme.