“This has never been about who the nominee is,” Paul Ryan said yesterday, explaining why his party will fight any Supreme Court justice nomination made by Barack Obama in 2016, and why they are specifically going to fight the nomination of Merrick Garland.
This, from a party ostensibly dedicated to the Constitution. This response to the President’s nomination has proved something: the Republicans have lost all sense of identity, becoming the contemporary political equivalent to the villains that Batman fights daily in the fictional Gotham City.
How so? In Batman media – whether comic books, films, or television – there is a running theme that the Batman’s “rogues gallery” is defined only by being the yin to Batman’s yang.
Their ideals, their missions, their goals and visions are all ethereal, shifting, defined not by what they are but by what Batman is not:
- Poison Ivy has been described as Batman’s “toxic mirror;”
- the Joker is chaos to Batman’s order, evil to his good;
- Tommy Elliot becomes the villain “Hush” due to his hatred for Bruce Wayne, with the “Black Mask” having a similar motivation;
- Hugo Strange dresses like Batman in private and has dedicated himself to unmasking and tormenting Batman;
- Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins prioritized crashing Bruce Wayne’s birthday party above the attack on Gotham.
It becomes even more striking when you consider that many of Batman’s villains ultimately cannot kill him or defeat him because this would be to strip their own lives of meaning. They have staked so much on defining themselves against him that, in the threat of his absence, their lives become empty, undefined, lacking substance. When the Riddler learns that Batman is Bruce Wayne, he chooses not to share it, needing Batman’s existence to continue; Two-Face chooses not to kill Batman, even when his coin tells him to in the graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious Place on Serious Earth by Grant Morrison.
“What would I do without you? You complete me.” – the Joker, to Batman in The Dark Knight.
So it is with what the Republican party has become over the last eight years. They are not dedicated to a set of ideals or any common code. They are dedicated to being the opposite of President Barack Obama.
It has been this way since the 2008 election. “If he was for it, we had to be against it,” said former Senator George Voinovich regarding the Republican opposition to anything Obama stood for. The senator also said that all Mitch McConnell “cared about was making sure Obama could never have a clean victory.”
Since then, we’ve seen the Republican Party make one move after another in order to define themselves against Barack Obama at all costs. Examples include:
- The “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007” had bipartisan support and included phasing out incandescent lightbulbs by 2012, only to be overtaken by the Republican “Better Use of Light Bulb” act, when the Grand Ol’ Party decided that the original plan was actually Obama using big government to steal your precious light bulbs.
- John McCain pivoted on “cap-and-trade,” in a scenario described by Politico as “a major reversal for the self-proclaimed maverick who once made defying his party on global warming a signature issue of his career.”
- Common Core, originally a Republican concept, was abandoned entirely by any member of the GOP.
- Obamacare had not a single Republican supporter, despite that it was based on the bipartisan Romneycare of Massachusetts (which Romney famously denied and then famously admitted.)
- Ted Cruz’s undisputed Canadian birth raises no eyebrows, while a conspiracy about Obama’s birthplace fueled hysterical conversation among Republicans for years.
- Even the deified Ronald Reagan’s policies are not enough, with the contemporary Republican party completely pivoting from his stance on immigration.
- And of course, the latest example. Republicans have declared that Obama not be allowed to appoint the next Supreme Court justice, even when it’s the Constitutional process, 58% of Americans think he should, and the nominee is a centrist previously described as a “consensus nominee.”
But there is one remaining question: does this make them villains?
“Your enemies will define you.” – Arkham Origins tagline (2013 Batman video game)
“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” – Mitch McConnell, October 2010
If I said fish live in the sea, they’d say no.
“Even on things we usually agree on, they say no,” the President said in an address on Labor Day in 2010. “If I said the sky was blue, they say no.”
The question is ultimately what it means, and why.
What it comes down to is storytelling. The Republicans have chosen to define Obama as evil. As Marco Rubio has repeatedly said, Obama is “trying to change this country.” The Republicans have determined that Barack Obama is the enemy, that change is the enemy, and that they will define themselves against this enemy.
As analyzed in the essay “Superhero Comics as Moral Pornography” by David A Pizarro and Roy Baumeister in the collection Our Superheroes, Ourselves:
“The characterizations of good and evil that comic book readers find so entertaining are, in the end, gross caricatures that hopelessly distort the real nature of immorality in everyday life.”
For the Republicans, the approach has become to resort to those gross caricatures in responding to Barack Obama – both characterizing him as a gross caricature, and becoming ones themselves.
But, of course, the limits of this argument must be realized. As the writer and creator of this argument, I have resorted to gross caricatures, to stark views of morality, in painting the perspective I wish to convey.
At this point, it may make sense to again recall a moment from Christopher Nolan’s 2005 film Batman Begins, in which Batman and Captain Jim Gordon discuss Batman’s effect on the city of Gotham.
Gordon: You’ve started something – bent cops running scared, hope on the streets…
Gordon: But there’s a lot of weirdness out there now…the Narrows is lost…we still haven’t picked up Crane or half the inmates of Arkham that he freed…
Batman: We will. Gotham will return to normal.
Gordon: Will it? What about escalation?
Gordon: We start carrying semi-automatics, they buy automatics. We start wearing Kevlar, they guy armor-piercing rounds.
Gordon: And you’re wearing a mask and jumping off of rooftops.
Gordon fishes in his pocket.
Gordon: Take this guy…armed robbery, double homicide. Got a taste for the theatrics, like you…
Batman turns the card over. It is a Joker.
There seems to be one theme in the politics of the USA over the last eight years, and the current atmosphere: escalation. The question, at this point, is what it is escalating into, and what the Republicans will do when they have lost their Batman to blame.
Looking for more in this vein? Check out Politics and Batman.