Throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, GOP standard bearer (read: standard-lowerer) John McCain annoyingly addressed any gathering of more than one as "my friends." In the second McCain-Obama debate alone, he used the phrase 21 times. Even at a time when millions of Americans were learning how to accumulate anonymous Facebook friends by the thousands, this gambit proved counterproductive, though it did create jobs for the enterprise that peddled "John McCain Is Not My Friend" T-shirts and hoodies.
McCain lost his soul along with the presidency, so one had reason to hope that candidates would lose the bogus "friend" references this time around. But last week, to the delight of Democrats and comedians throughout the land, Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney managed to mash up "my friend" with an even hoarier sound bite. Picking up on the Supreme Court's gargantuan gift to Republican candidates in the 2010 Citizens United decision, the Mittster went all Soylent Green on an Iowa heckler, opining, "Corporations are people, my friend... of course they are." He even out-courted the court, adding, "Human beings, my friend."
While Steven Colbert and the DNC were having their fun, Iowa interloper Sarah Palin -- no fan of Romney's -- backed Mitt with this silly-gism. And leave it to Republican senator Rand Paul to ratchet up the crazy by telling Think Progress, "All of us are corporations... everybody who has a 401k has parts of corporations, so in a sense we are."
The Romney/Rand reasoning means personhood would accrue not only to corporations but also to armies, baseball teams and dinner parties. (To be consistent, Paul would have to concede that 401K-deprived humans don't pass muster.) Further, corporate mergers would be the equivalent of marriages, and Republicans would push for a Constitutional Amendment to codify once and for all that these transactions are legal only when one male corporation merges with one female.
Joking aside, the impersonal (McCainish) and sarcastic (Romneyesque) appropriation of "friend" and the equivalence of "corporations" and "people" reflect the increasingly money-driven, technological dehumanization of what passes for American democracy in 2011.
It's been widely observed that the most depressing moment in last week's Republican debate arrived when all the candidates -- having signed Grover Norquist's absurd "Not a penny of tax increases even if the world is coming to an end" pledge -- simultaneously raised their hands to indicate that they would reject a deficit reduction plan even if it had a 10 to 1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases. As Kurt Anderson observed in a New York Times op-ed, "What these pledges do is make the robotic quality of politicians more transparent and explicit by installing in each one a few crude lines of code that can't be overridden or rewritten."
This hair-raising hand-raiser hearkened back to a 2008 debate, when three Republican candidates -- Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback and Tom Tancredo -- revealed that they didn't believe in evolution. This, finally, was a bridge too far even for mavericky McCain, who haltingly supported Darwin's theory. The fact that all the Republican candidates agreed this time in support of an equally absurd proposition indicates how far (right) the GOP has come.
The only thing more degrading would be to associate those who support a robust public-sector with slavery. And Right on cue comes Rick Perry, the newest Republican superhero, capable of going toe-to-loony-toe with Michele Bachmann in linking government to slavery as spookily as Dick Cheney linked 9/11and Saddam Hussein. Perry made the connection this way to a TV host, "We're going through [these] difficult economic times for a purpose, to bring us back to those Biblical principles of, you know, you don't spend all the money. Not asking for Pharaoh to give everything to everybody and to take care of folks because at the end of the day, it's slavery. We become slaves to government."
How many Republican candidates will salute at the next debate if someone asks, "Is everyone to the left of Rand Paul the moral equivalent of a slaveholder?"