Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Stakes

posted by Armadillo Joe

Right on cue, just as I'm continuing to plow my way through Pearlstein's book on Goldwater and writing vague & incoherent rants about an ongoing right-wing conspiracy dating back to the 1940's and early 50's and running right on up to today -- right now this very moment, even -- to undermine the America we all know and love, I go and read a blog post that sums the whole situation up better than I ever have or could.

He somewhat cheekily refers to his website as "Der Stiftung Leo Strauss" ("the Leo Strauss Foundation") as in Leo Strauss the "Jewish Nazi" -- a villain in American history you should know about, if you don't already. He also seems to be some kind of Washington insider, I think, because he refers to conversations he's had with members of Congress in their offices. His vision of America is rather dark, which naturally grabbed my attention, and he has little use for the majority of politicians and pundits who still treat this whole process we call "politics" as a mere parlor game with not the slightest clue as to the actual stakes. He persuasively argues that this thing called the GOP "Base" or sometimes "movement conservatism" is in fact an entity apart from the "conservative base" which is itself a separate entity from the GOP. His imagery is spot-on:
The Movement is the controlling parasite astride its enfeebled Republican host.
Our Ruling Class, though, whether pundits or politicians, either don't get the stakes or they do and don't care, because...
Seemingly bright ‘mainstream media’ still do not understand the dichotomy. Or its implications. They still treat ‘Republicans’ and Democrats as equivalent political actors playing the same game by the same rules for the same prizes. As long as relative neophytes view politics in this prism, the Movement wins.
One side thinks we're all playing a gentlemanly round of paintball on a paintball court while the other shells the whole damned town with live artillery. Or, if you will, one side keeps bringing a knife to a gun fight. Whether Emmitt Till or JFK or Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, Kansas, how many people have to get shot down before we realize the other side isn't fucking around, that they actually want us dead?
the Movement within the conservative base always plays a different game for a different prize. The Movement may speak in normal political talking points from ‘Republican’ institutions. Yet is is not committed to Dahl-esque pluralistic politics. It has has never sought compromise or ‘moderation’. That’s because for the Movement, politics is existential warfare. Compromise is defeat.
I have tried at this blog and elsewhere to paint the Big Picture by arguing against the D.C. Establishment's cherished notion of bi-partisan centrism -- a notion that seems to soothe the tortured souls of our nation's punditocracy, worshipping as they do the blessed and elusive "middle" where one finds both moderates and roadkill. Choosing sides between the different parties is manifestly not like selecting a red car or a blue car, as though each is essentially the same in purpose and function and the selection is one of mere aesthetics and personal taste -- country music versus jazz, Dallas & Atlanta versus New York & San Francisco, BBQ versus granola and yogurt, Dunkin' Donuts versus Starbucks, beer versus wine. It's a little bit of regionalism, it's a little bit of ethnicity, it's a little bit of class and socio-economic status, but in the end we're all Americans and we all want the same things even if we disagree about process, right?

For the Movement ... politics is existential. And when survival is on the line, pluralistic compromise is for chumps. Democrats still are playing for political advantage within the confines of traditional two party politics. ... When the other side’s world view is existential, then the stakes are higher than something so trite as the Constitution.
The idea that one group may laugh at Larry The Cable Guy jokes and the other at Woody Allen movies, yet both love America and want it to succeed for all Americans, is silly and laughably naive. Such pablum may make for pat and comforting answers to gullible people who think we're all in this together as Americans and we just have different ideas about how to get there, but it's useless when steeling yourself for attacks from the other side, attacks not merely intended to wound, but to mortally wound. Digby calls this vague sense of "our side/their side" American Tribalism and I think the embrace of those outward trappings is an important component of the divided American soul, but more as external signifiers to fellow tribe members than any instrinsic affinity for the actual things embraced.

They are more like prescursors to learning the secret handshake, to getting invited into the club:
This I share out of personal experience talking with the Movement crowd over the years. Many of the conversations are carefully masked and there is almost a secret handshake and a ‘feeling out’ to see if one is receptive to test, and then small conversational overtures. If the Stiftung has seen and heard this stuff from Capitol Hill to refined salons in the Imperial City so has everyone else. From fatuous Tweety to Howard — to all of them.
To think that our problems in America are only about cowboy boots versus Gucci loafers is to manifestly not get to the heart of the matter where epic struggles over race and gender and class have been fought -- often to the death -- and will be fought again. One group of Americans wants the rest of their fellow Americans eliminated, in fact refuses to even acknowledge that they are fellow countrymen, and that spiteful, bitter group of people has the means, motive and opportunity, whether with guns or ropes or control over health-insurance policies, to make good on their secret wishes. That the talking heads on the Tee-Vee and in print don't, can't or won't incorporate this uglier, more existential threat to the health of American political discourse into their horse-race/game-day style analysis of the scene in D.C. reveals that they are morally vacant, willfully blind or just plain stupid.
The Krugman and Joan Walsh fantasy that some ‘Republicans’ are going to put a stop to the Movement is a joke. At one time there was a functioning Republican apparat apart from the Movement, capable of independent action. The Movement long ago slipped the leash.


Because Krugman et al. fail to grasp the fundamental difference between the Movement, the former Republican Party and the Democratic Party, talking heads refer to the Movement as the ‘Republican base’. As if somehow the Movement and its Manichean zero-sum nihilism is the same as the Democratic base.


It wasn’t always like this, of course. The Republican Party as an independent actor and entity was able to keep the Movement within bounds. But after Reagan, and especially the Bush debacle in ‘92, the Movement learned to seize power on its own within and without the Republican Party.
As Pearlstein depicts in his book, the transformation of Barry Goldwater from a stalwart political actor to the head of a full-fledged political movement represented the coagulation of a movement whose constituent parts -- once disparate and scattered between the two parties or even beyond them -- had been churning under the placid surface of a "Leave It To Beaver" 1950's America still basking in the glow of her glorious victory over fascism with FDR's "Arsenal of Democracy" -- tools and weapons built by mighty American industry -- before wheeling around to stare down another form of monolithic totalitarianism in the USSR, it too doomed to defeat by superior American ingenuity and culture.

America thought itself to be invincible.

Such an America imagined itself at the end of internal conflict and strife, that no problem was beyond the reach of Yankee grit and determination, even the "Negro" problem, hence the subtitle of Pearlstein's book "The Unmaking of the American Consensus," because a growing chorus of Americans throughout the 1950's simply no longer wanted to get along in the post-New Deal, pluralistic, ecumenical, multi-ethnic country that America had long purported to be and was finally en route to becoming.

Frankly, they never really had been down with that program and still aren't, to this very day:
In the case of racism, overt comments allow all quickly to depict a discovered outburst as ‘isolated, unacceptable incident’, etc. The nativism swirling around the immigration debates are an easy example. ‘You look different than me’ or the White trash psychology of another era trying to pick on someone below them socially is an ugly but known practice. The same argument on more upscale level is to mask it behind NAFTA, globalization and now economic free fall. Beyond the socio-economic critique, alleged health dangers, welfare freeloaders. Pat Buchanan long swam in those waters now plied by Lou Dobbs.


As a famous ‘Republican’ once told me, he’d rather live an American version of Franco than have to deal with multiculturalism. *That’s* how existentialism trumps liberal democracy.
Pearlstein's book just details how, over a couple of decades, the screeching, poo-flinging monkey hordes were driven or herded or bribed or otherwise willfully gathered under a single political banner for the simple reason that a large enough swath of the American public was finally demanding that this country live up to the high-falutin' rhetoric of its founding, but rather than man-up, admit that America's failures had done wrong by whole segments of her population and then work to make amends, enormous voting blocs got Pied Piper'd by sociopaths like Nixon and Saint Ronnie into the Republican fold, where their basest, ugliest, most anti-social impulses would never be condemned or even questioned. Then, like a virus, they multiplied and spread until the original Party of Lincoln no longer resembled itself. The Movement had triumphed. Our friend at the Stiftung continues:
All of the above are premised on loyalty to the Movement’s higher existential values rather than ‘mere process’ like democracy ... When you understand this dynamic, then the relative silence about Dr. Tiller’s murder, or the right wing extremism that led to Officer John's heroic courage makes sense.


What this means as a social, cultural and political actor, the Movement is unable to accept loss of power or control through liberal democratic means. The Movement’s eschatology is to higher truths than liberal democratic government: race, security, nationalism, order, security. The Movement’s psychology compels the rage as its Counter-Enlightenment agenda is revealed, in power and then snatched away again.
I fear we may simply be in one of the inter-glacial thaws between periods of Rethugli-goon mis-rule. It seems to only take a few years for the voting public, helped along by a prostrate and compliant corporate media complex, to forget just how bad things tend to get during Republican regimes and to view past GOP administrations through a gauzy lens.

Take, for instance, the Republican beatification of a third-rate Hollywood meat-puppet as The Greatest President in the History of Human Civilization™. Saint Ronnie of the Ray-Gun is the only other Republican president -- going all the way back to Lincoln -- not to die in office, bolt the party in disgust, lose a bid for re-election, leave office amid widespread corruption or be hounded from office by scandal. Except of course for Eisenhower, but he was barely a Republican anyway. Many in his own party accused him of being a Communist sympathizer.

Thus, considering the weakness of the competitve field, Saint Ronnie being the Greatest Republican President since Lincoln is a pretty low bar to hurdle. Upon his death a few years ago, one would have thought Pericles himself had returned to earth just die all over again, to hear the corporate media tripping over each other to issue ever more thoroughly unquestioning paens to his great and glorious era of prosperity, strength and greatness. It made me sick to my stomach to hear all that "Morning in America" bull-pucky again, as though he had led us from the Dark Ages.

I can't wait to hear how Jimmy Carter will be spoken of upon his passing. I suspect the tone will be somewhat different.

The resurrection of Richard Milhouse Nixon's career as an elder statesman in the 1980's is the clearest indicator of The Movement's not-so-latent authoritarianism. For them, the problem was never that he did something wrong, just that he got caught. His re-emergence paved the way for all those unreconstructed Nixonites to weasle their way back into government throughout the 1980's and early 90's and eventually into the Bush43 White House.

Therefore, when I hear people on our side talk about how this or that move makes Republicans look dumb and boy howdy, they're just gonna keep acting all dumb and losing elections, I can only join in the schadenfreude to a point. These people aren't engaged in a merely political program. Politics is but one facet of their agenda and since violence and a willingness to kill is one of their primary and most effective tools, they have the power to de facto enact huge swaths of that agenda, even if they fail de jure.

From race-relations & immigration to the health-care showdown, these are the stakes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are so right and the fact that they have a stacked "Supreme Court", all those federal judges Bush appointed and now that they have their own network that helps spew their propaganda just emboldens more.wheather it be fixed elections or assassinations they will do whatever it takes to get things their way.