Dé Luain, Bealtaine 11, 2009

Just Read This Old Goody


"Rush, Newspeak and Fascism" by David Neiwert, written back in of August 2003 when the right was in firm control and looked perfectly willing to do whatever they had to do to keep it. Thankfully the spell of post-9/11 panic-authoritarianism slowly wore off to the point where the GOP was soundly defeated at the polls in 06 and 08, and though they were and are petulant and stunned about these defeats, (they truly believed that we really were that stupid) they did of course submit to the will of the voters without violence.

2003 was indeed about as foul of a year as the United States has suffered through since Jim Crow. The war in Iraq was fresh and hot, and it was horribly clear to every peace protester violently derided as a terrorist-loving commie that the nutcases had taken over not just the Republican Party and by extension the federal government, but the popular culture. Of course, controlling pop culture for any amount of time requires the ability to have and provide fun; and since the far right's only idea of fun is to mock the different, and since everybody but them eventually grows bored with doing so, they lost the hold on pop culture long before they lost control of the federal government. So that those of us who were their Others had some space for ourselves to breath and endure. But at the moment Neiwert wrote this series the hard-right had that which they had always so openly lusted for; absolute dominion of every aspect of American society. It was hell and it was damned frightening. It was really starting to appear as if the screws were only get tighter and tighter from here on out. And though the peak of the Bush years turned out to only be a chaste grade school flirtation with tyranny, there were many like me who got a good enough whiff of its essence to know that we had better make it damned well-clear that we are not putting up with this shit again. It also became clear just who the 'they' to worry about most were, they are the same who publicly and without shame fein for the dominance they always wanted, had for a brief moment, and than so arrogantly (and, upon reflection, predictably) lost. It is the Real Americans, the ones who have always been among us, the smirking ones in the front of the lynching photos, and though they have always been a potent toxin on the national character, and though we have certainly had vicious and arrogant government before, the early years of this decade were the first time since Andrew Jackson that we were scared, angry, and stupid enough to put the Real Americans in charge. There was a time when they ran the whole show. The fact that we were lucky enough to pry them away and make it out is probably more than we deserve.

What makes the series relevant in 2009 is its detailed description of how extremist thugs were able to take over one of the two major parties at the time it happened to be politically ascendant. We can then in retrospect see how these same extremists ground the party into dust. Neiwert makes a convincing case that the current sorry state of the GOP can be traced back to Ross Perot; whose siphoning of the loony vote helped put Bill Clinton in the White House. The lesson that Republicans took from the 92 defeat was to always protect their right flank. This was the basis of Karl Rove's famed play-to-the base strategy, similar to the Nixonian Southern Strategy but not quite the same. Whereas the Southern Strategy plays on the latent bigotry and resentment over lost social status among rural whites, the Rove strategy calls for openly winking at those who don camos on the weekend and gear up for the black helicopter war. Energize the base. Rush Limbaugh was seen as a somewhat embarrassing figure by the mainstream Reagan-era GOP. He is what he is today because the party basis its strategy on his primal screams to all who are determined to defend their Purity Of Essense.

Then there is the link between conservatism and cockiness, though perhaps it is unfair to state it so simply. It would be better to say that conservatism appeals to those who view the world as essentially just and life as essentially competitive. A worldview like that tends to produce something of an attitude, and it is common for even the educated, 'mainstream' people of the right, the ones who sit in Congress and state houses, to overestimate their electorial advantages and underestimate the disadvantages. The famous nonsense of permanent majorities and such had actually been around since Ronald Reagan's 84 victory, and they were sincerely shocked by Clinton's 92 win. The foundation for conservative hatred for the Clintons is nothing more than this. It is the anger of a teenaged jock who sincerely believed that he was fated to win forever and has been betrayed by a world forever in his debt. It is the purest and most abiding of all hatreds, the rage of jilted entitlement, and it left mainstream conservatism open to radicalization. The scorn for Bill Clinton (and the bitch wife who dared to be more powerful than Real Men) wedded the Reagan coalition to the wackaloon segment of American society, (who could never totally unite behind Perot, Pat Buchanan, Jesse Vantura, etc.) George Bush Jr. "won" the 2000 election with the help of some screaming assholes in polo shirtys and/or cowboy hats. Karl Rove's Play The Base stratagy looked to have been proven right, and with the undying hubris of the eternal winner, Rove set about the work of building a governing coalition that would win 51-49 forever.

But then arrogant did what arrogant does when give responsibility, and when the resultant loss of Congress in 2006 made it clear that Republicans had lost the suburban center it was clear that they had no choice but to; well, continue to energize the base, apparently. And why would they carry on with a strategy that wasn't working anymore? Well there's the hubris of course. Even now we are being treated to the spectacle of a party supported by 28% of the public complaining that a president more than twice as popular as they has ideas 'out of the mainstream'. One side effect of the radicalization described by Niewert is an array of right-wing media outlets blaring their slogans at no one but each other, shadowboxing in a hall of mirrors, so that the old inflated sense of power and popularity has gotten even worse than before, to the point of being quite unbelievable.

Then there is the fact that nearly all politicians are conservative when it comes to the rules of their own game. The intransigence of the Electoral College, elections during the workday,one-state-at-a-time primaries etc. can be explained largely by this. Hillary Clinton was outmaneuvered in last year's primaries because she was playing the same game of "triangulation"; appealing to the white, high-school educated, socially moderate, and economically conservative, that her husband played a fifth of a lifetime ago. This segment of the electorate was indeed the key to victory in 1992, but since then their cultural dominance has waned. Levels of education are up. Levels of interaction between city and suburb, between white and otherwise, are up. It is in short now possible to win solely on the backs of dijon-eating elitists who look French. The Clintons, with a downright Republican level of hubris, consciously refused to accept this. The truth is that politicians are not that much smarter than the average person, in fact are often much dumber. (If you haven't noticed that by now, you may be one of them.) They play checkers, not chess. Even the most successful typically have one series of moves that they've learned to run like clockwork, take that away and they will simply stick to the plan unto oblivion.

And this is why the Republican Party is now in a graveyard spiral. The Reagan coalition is dead. The loss of suburban moderates has put the party even more firmly in the hands of the batshit base, who will naturally insist on continuing to appeal to themselves. And the radicals don't take to losing any better than they ever have, indeed take to it even worse after tasting that sweet sweet power juice and then letting it slip away. They will console themselves the same way they have before, by growing progressively angrier and crazier.

Finally you will notice that the word "fascism" is in the title of Neiwert's series. Neiwert was writing about latant fascist elements taking over the GOP. Considering that it controlled the government at the time and was very willing to use the military, this was indeed a bit worrisome. For the moment though it thankfully seems to be a problem for no one but the infected party. There have been many brilliant studies by brilliant people exploring just what fascism is. This post has gone on too long to get into those here. Basically fascism is love for power, hatred of those who, in truth or imagination, threaten that power, and adulation of combating the hated ones in defense of that power. Worst of all for whatever reasonable Republicans are left, fascism is openly scornful of reason and logic. To reason is to admit to the existence of doubt and vulnerability in the self. No. There is only unyielding belief, proudly proclaimed to the enemy, whether he happens to be in the room right now or not.

This then, is what the GOP will give us when asked why they should be back in power. Arguments that are intellectually insulting to blind newborn squirrels, delivered with full force and spittle, through the loudest possible forum. The Bush administration has indeed been the death of competitive democracy, at least for now. A new generically right-of-center party will develop in time and this is nothing but a good and necessary thing for free and honest government. but it's not going to be the Republican party of Lincoln, Grant, Theo Roosevelt, the Tafts, or Eisenhower, and I must say that's more than a little sad.

Well, surely now our majority is permanent. The dissenters need only be brought in line.

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