The future of humanity, and possibly of our planet, may hinge on the results of the November election. And this being America, the campaign has devolved into adolescent accusations that one candidate called another candidate a “pig.”
I can pretty much guarantee that many hours of television programming today will be dedicated to serious discussion of whether Barack Obama intentionally called Sarah Palin a “pig” — a phony controversy generated by the McCain campaign that could be dismissed in a few seconds with a simple review of what Barack Obama actually said.
I can pretty much guarantee that at no time today will any of the major cable news networks dedicate even a few seconds to substantive discussion of the candidates’ positions on health care, even though Americans place health care very high on their list of concerns.
The McCain campaign consists mostly of frantically throwing red herrings in all directions, hoping no one notices that John McCain and his moose-shootin’ sidekick have no idea how they might govern. And this is working very well for them, it seems. The American public has gotten so used to content-free campaigns they think this is normal.
Over the years Americans have been conditioned to respect utter nonsense, because they see our national leaders and the “pundits” in mass media respecting utter nonsense. If by some miracle we woke up tomorrow morning in a world where our leaders were engaged in sincere, factual, and substantive discussion of issues, most Americans would be dumbfounded.
Because of the way Americans hold elections and declare winners, it is impossible for a third party to challenge the Big Two. And one of the Big Two has become more of a social pathology than a party. The American Right has taken over the Republican Party, and the American Right does not want to govern. It wants to destroy. Years of cheap political demagoguery have filled a large part of the American public with a seething resentment of just about everything — other nations, racial minorities, religious diversity, cultural diversity, intellectuals, the poor. And on and on.
Most of all, they resent American liberalism, which these days seems to be defined as “any doctrine that calls for running the government responsibly and in a way that addresses the real-world needs of American citizens.” Can’t have that.
Many Democrats have contributed to this sorry mess, of course. But, basically, we’re looking at America’s extreme Right; the descendants of Richard Hofstadter’s pseudo-conservatives. These are the people of whom Hofstadter wrote back in the early 1960s,
The difference between conservatism as a set of doctrines whose validity is established by polemics, and conservatism as a set of rules whose validity is to be established by their usability in government, is not a difference in nuance, but of fundamental substance.
Today’s Republican Party is entirely about polemics. It has nothing to offer in the way of responsible government, either in domestic programs or foreign policy, but fantasy narratives, tired slogans and ideas that have already failed. No amount of real-world examples showing why their ideology is inapplicable to governing can sway them.
Hofstadter continued, quoting Theodore W. Adorno:
“The pseudo conservative is a man who, in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them against more or less fictitious dangers, consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition.”
Writing in 1954, at the peak of the McCarthyist period, I suggested that the American right wing could best be understood not as a neo-fascist movement girding itself for the conquest of power but as a persistent and effective minority whose main threat was in its power to create â€œa political climate in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible.â€
Back in 1954, Hofstadter didn’t believe pseudo-conservatives would ever win elections. Here his vision failed him. Because once they had created â€œa political climate in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible,â€ they were able to win elections.
What Hofstadter didn’t foresee was that in the 1970s pseudo-conservatism would join forces with old money — right-wing family foundations and wealthy individuals — to build a media message machine that would utterly confound rational political discourse in America.
Thus, in November, Americans will march to the polls without having once had the candidates’ stands on issues clearly and factually and un-hysterically explained to them.
It’s true that citizens can learn a lot by reading candidates’ web sites and party platforms, if they bothered to go there. But most won’t. And many have bought into America’s whackjob political culture and don’t see why it should change.
Worst of all, after more than 25 years of nonstop right-wing demagoguery coming at them from every media outlet, Americans have been conditioned into a kind of learned helplessness. Government doesn’t work. We mustn’t even think about using government to solve national problems, because it won’t. We’re on our own. That’s the American way.
Update: See Glenn Greenwald.
Update: The wingnuts are in such a state of hysteria they twist obvious compliments into insults.
Update: Joe Klein is disgusted. A miracle.