The Children’s Hour

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.”

And finally,

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 “a political climate in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible.”

Back in 1954, Hofstadter didn’t believe pseudo-conservatives would ever win elections. Here his vision failed him. Because once they had created “a political climate in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible,” 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.

See also: Read Jonathan Freedland, then take a glance at some of the typically adolescent wingnut reaction to Freedland. I don’t need to comment; it all speaks for itself.

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.

13 thoughts on “The Children’s Hour

  1. 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.

    You’re right about the right — though I wonder how much our side (inadvertently) abetted this by exposing the corruption of Nixon (and LBJ on foreign policy). I feel as if the Reaganite and post-Reaganite right really made more political hay out of that disillusioning era than we did (see? politicians are sleazebags by definition!). Ah, that law of unintended consequences….

  2. Maha,

    Excellent post, although somewhat depressing. I have really detected a shift in the tenor of this election in the last month. As McCain’s campaign has gone completely Rovian, the sheep like media have followed. This lipstick on pig shit is just the latest and most juvenile example. As you point out this is the environment that the wingnuts need to win, this is why they don’t believe in public education, higher education, or any education (they prefer creation) the dumber we are as a nation the easier to put this bullshit over on us. I know right now it looks bad but I really believe that Obama will squeak this out by the slimmest of margins. The wingnuts can create all the phony diversions they want but the economic realities are just too obvious this time. And lets be honest (a little straight talk) had we democrats not been so progressive and color blind (both good things) and elected the usual presidential candidate we would not even be close right now. It shouldn’t be this close and the fact that it is, is proof as to how ignorant many in our electorate have become since Reagan spoke the 9 most dreaded words in the English language.

  3. It is vital that government be and be perceived as on the side of the ordinary citizen, in order for ordinary citizens to regard government as an ally. In a democracy, we are the government. Sadly, America has not been very democratic in a long time. This needs to change.

  4. “The American public has gotten so used to content-free campaigns that they think (this) is normal.” Agree, Maha.

    I often wonder, since campaigns are now part and parcel of television presentations in general – along with packaged news, celeb crap, a plethora of misleading advertising, non-reality reality shows, commentary from agenda biased air-heads posing as experts…- we, in a sense, may have lost the ability to recognize a content-free campaign.

    If what we’re daily fed is content-free programming and campaigns are now folded into that programming, what’s to differentiate campaigns from ‘regular’ programming.

  5. Well, one thing is now decided–I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but I now have even less respect for John McCain than for George W. Bush. The difference here is that John McCain’s past record shows clearly that he should know better. Whatever vapors are floating around in Bush’s head may have congealed into a genuine belief that everything he does is right and honorable, but that excuse isn’t really available for McCain.

    Lose a war to win an election? John McCain would destroy America to win an election.

  6. tristero is on fire:

    “…Because of the way conservatives constructed the playing field, and no one jumped all over them in time to stop it, liberals aren’t allowed even to use common phrases like “lipstick on a pig” to describe an opponent’s plans. But describing blacks as “uppity” is fair game.

    “At the risk of losing my temper at some decent, honest commenters, this is the reason why Democrats should have jumped all over the convention the Friday afterwards and said loudly and clearly that they were perfectly happy to have Sarah Palin call herself a violent bitch and would honor her self-description by repeating it again and again and showing how, in oh so many ways, she was telling the truth. This is why you never, ever, let a Republican dominate a news cycle or set the terms of a rhetorical encounter. This is why every lie and distortion must be treated to a loud howl especially when our side misses the point or an opportunity to attack. This is why the race is a nailbiter.

    moonbat interjects: And in a sane world, why should this race even be close? Outside America, Obama is overwhelmingly favored, as the Freedland article points out. tristero continues:

    “Folks, we are way beyond the gentle wordplay of Alice and her Humpty Dumpty, despite his obvious visual likeness to so many GOP delegates. This is a war in which one side, ours, is being deliberately and systematically disarmed. How many times does this exact same scenario have to play out, before Democrats get it?”

    Maha, your article is depressingly true, but the fact is, we let them get away with this. We simply have to learn how to fight back. We have no control over what others do, but we certainly have many options ourselves, and that’s where the focus should be.

    I’ve said it many times: the moment Obama/Biden can successfully fend off the Republican bullies, is the day this country will respect them, and trust them to defend this country against its enemies. Not before. It’s the day the wall of BS coming from the Republicans will be piereced, and rendered vulnerable. Until Obama/Biden realizes this, our side is going to be continually pushed to the ropes, our cause lost, no matter how great our ideas or our candidates.

    One quibble (which I’m sure you understand) – you wrote:

    Most of all, [righties] 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 address the real-world needs of American citizens.”

    Righties don’t see it that way. They have been conditioned to see government as The Enemy, which takes things away from them, favoring others over themselves. Righties cannot see past the ends of their own noses, and so It’s All About Them. Doing anything collectively is socialism, anathema. Concepts like “responsible government” are completely alien to them. They’re brainwashed with dogma, even while their lives disintegrate because of these myopic dogmas.

    All of this plays really well with the elites who really own this country, who are the true beneficiaries and architects of this death spiral our politics is in. They’re the ones who like the system just the way it is, with its phony dramas hiding real crises. It’s perfectly fine if America is destroyed – their wealth is fungible and can be moved anywhere. They are the locusts devouring this country’s wealth, and then moving on.

    The American Right has taken over the Republican Party, and the American Right does not want to govern. It wants to destroy.

    And destroy it shall.

  7. Righties don’t see it that way.

    I know they don’t see it that way, but that’s the reality. The Right is opposed to running the government responsibly and in a way that addresses the real-world needs of American citizens. Any suggestions that we should govern that way — i.e., imposing fair and responsible taxes, using government to address the health care crisis — is what they deride as “liberalism.”

  8. To build on Felicity’s comment–it feels like Survivor, Big Brother and American Idol as virus that has infected all of us, but controls and dominates those with lower immunities (that would be swing voters).

    I can’t predict the future so I am not yet descending into defeat and woe. Chin up goddamnit!

  9. Uh, wait! I said that wrong! The U.S. isn’t even *in* the top ten! I was thinking the countries were listed in the order of casualty numbers, but obviously not.

  10. I think there must be a way to hold the main street media’s feet to fire for their complicity in the current situation.

  11. I have been wondering all day just how anyone could have gotten that Obama was calling Palin a pig. Her name was not a part of the talk. The only thing I can come up with is that McCain WAS slurring Clinton when he said it, and assumed (you know what they say about that word) that Obama was doing the same to Palin.

    tsk tsk
    wish these people would grow up BEFORE they try to lead our country

  12. As far as the Republicans are concerned, anyone who thinks Obama wasn’t referring to Palin is guilty of a pre-9/3 mentality.

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