Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On the Center-Right Myth

We've all been hearing about this for some time.  In fact, we've been pitched this same piece of bologna for decades--ever since the 1980 election, it seems.

It is also a favorite of the talk radio blowhards like Limbaugh and Hannity.  It is almost as if they believe more in the understanding that if you repeat something enough times it will come true than they believe in their ideology itself.  They say it so often that one can't help but think that they are trying to convince themselves.

The recent spate of belief in the United States as a conservative nation (or "center-right" as they are saying today) is an obvious powerplay to discourage the Democrats from doing what they are supposed to be doing.  But there's something else here: that we could be center-anything.

Back in the middle of the Bush presidency when he put up two ridiculously inappropriate candidates for the Supreme Court, whose governing ideology seems to be whatever-I-think-the-Constitution-Framers-meant-regardless-of-what-they-said-as-filtered-through-a-20th-Century-conservative-lens (or in other words, fundamentalism), there was a move by the self-tagged "moderates", whose position wasn't so much to find a "center" position, but merely end debate--which meant ending the filibusters.  In Congress, there is no such thing as a moderate.

It is like the current en vogue classification as "independent".  The independents make the following argument:
I'm my own person.  I don't let a party govern my ideology.  I do what I want.  I vote for what I want.  Look at me!  I'm an independent!  My view is more important than those partisans.  The 100 million or so people in the country that call themselves independents--we're different.  We're our own people.
I never quite understood how one person can be an independent when the plurality of people claim to be independent.  How can you be independent together?  I might also suggest the following dictim:
  • If you voted in 2008 for more Democrats than Republicans, then for the next two years you shall be a Democrat.
  • If you voted in 2008 for more Republicans than Democrats, then for the next two years you shall be a Republican.
  • In the event of a tie, your party affiliation will be determined by your previous vote for president (2004).
  • If you did not vote for any candidate from any party (including Greens, Libertarians, etc), but only for non-partisan races and ballot initiatives, then you are allowed to maintain your independent status.
  • Independent status may be revoked when a vote for a non-partisan race contains candidates that have been endorsed by a party.  This status will be brought before an unelected court of my choosing.
It seems to me that this Center-Right Myth says more about Daddy issues than it does about who we truly are.  It is a desperate plea by conservatives to not be left behind in the new era: as if they don't actually believe in their own ideology.  They need to stack the deck in their favor.

But the daddy issues are about us.  About how we want to see ourselves.  About who we are in relationship to our ancestors.  Clinton and Bush II both seemed to reject their respective party's heritage in their models of governance.  In an age in which the American people have had the most tremendous social influence on the world of recent memory, we have allowed a 'culture war' to lead us into regression.  At a time in which we believe ourselves to be post-racial and beyond bigotry, we have allowed politics of race and sexual orientation to make our government one of the most oppressive in the world.  Immigration, terrorism, torture, and rights for LGBT have revealed deeply-rooted racism, religious intolerance, and sexism in our political process of late.  But these things in no way match our social ideology, personal philosophies, or the vision we have for the future.

In truth, when asked about virtually any issue, the vast majority of people take a liberal position: on education, healthcare, civil rights, free speech, religious tolerance, you name it.  The only one that isn't that way is gun-rights, where it is something like 49% favor gun control.  Everything else has the country supporting typically liberal positions.  Cenk Uygur recently wrote the following in his column:
By the way, one more thing -- this has never been a center-right
country. Of course, there are pendulum swings in the political spectrum
and the country is more conservative at times and more progressive at
other times. But overall, we built the United Nations, we started the
idea of human rights, we expanded voting rights and civil rights for
everybody, we spread the idea of individual rights throughout the
world, and we even rebuilt our enemies after World War II. It is no
exaggeration to say that America is one of the most progressive
countries in the history of the world.
What Uygur gets right is American vision and a country at its most populist.  Liberalism and conservatism in their classical senses are essential to the US's very constitution (and Constitution).  But the truth of the American spirit is that progressive, liberal values must be the guide, as conservatism must serve as the conscience.  Conservatism's very philosophy makes it unsuitable for governing, but essential for checking liberalism's ambition.

I don't think that the United States is center-anything.  We are liberal and we are conservative.  We are progressive and regressive.  We are isolationist and boldly interventionist.  Having disperate ideologies represents an American ambivilence, not an American Centrism.  If the US is a nation of exceptionalism, then it is one of bold, progressive action.  And if it isn't, than we must be one of the pack, like our European cousins.  Neither description could be called "center-right".  Perhaps it is time we claimed American Ambivilence as our honest rallying cry.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Civil war and the strange soul of the Republican Party

According to juliewolf on Daily Kos, the Republican Party can be described according to 6 factions which are beginning a civil war.  I actually agree with her completely.  The suggestion is that each prominent Republican right now only represents part of the coalition, that seems close to losing libertarians and have already lost a great deal of religious and "values" voters.

But a question does remain, even after a resounding Democratic victory a couple of weeks ago: where is the Republican Think Tank crowd, the ones that have been spinning and re-spinning Barry Goldwaterisms for decades on this?  These six groups represent the character, perhaps the various persona of the Republican Party, but where is its soul?

If Reagan is its patron saint, and his undergirding philosophy is wedded to the Goldwaterian bedrock, then what does the Think Tank Republican (TTR) think of the future of the Republican Party?  I can't help but think that their answer would be "yes." 

You read that correctly: What is the future of the Republican Party?  Their answer would be "yes."

Confusing as a yes or no answer is to an essay question, I would suggest it is actually fitting.  The anti-government wrecking crew that are the TTR have been actively seeking the end of government for decades.  The purpose has been to both cripple the government so that it can't do anything and demoralize the public persona of government so that it cannot be relied upon.

I'm not really sure what the true purpose of this goal could be, as TTRs don't seem that interested in anarchy, and obsess enough about tax policy and unregulated profiteering to lead us to believe that they are most interested in a future in which the government goes bankrupt and corporations pick up the slack.

Also strange in this group of elite intelligensia is an inconsistent relationship with the place of and value of the United States.  There appears to be an obsession with American superiority, while championing a system that erodes nationalism.  In fact, "market fundamentalism" encourages us to worship a deity called "the market"--not only implying, but also flatly admitting that the market is more important than the nation.  Evangelism begins the shift away from national boundaries toward incorporating diverse elements that are newly converted.  But just as 19th Century missionaries (and even 21st C versions), the implication is that the newly converted are lesser and must continue to follow the lead of the originators.  This creates a ruling class ideology that undergirds the authority of the United States. 

This model seems to therefore reinforce its most blatantly absurd elements by relying on conflicting concepts: Western superiority and international equality.  Throw in the dead government and you have world run by US-based multi-national corporations (who no longer need to have their offices in the Cayman Islands).  But where does the authority come from in this model if companies are adversaries and the government is worthless?  The pundits and Think Tankers, of course!

I know this may come off as ridiculous to most, but I can't help but wonder what is really going on in Grover Norquist's mind--and why he continues to get invited to Republican strategy sessions.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What it means

This election has been a lot of things. And, if we know anything about the parasitic relationship between pundits and the media, then one thing is assured: we will have no shortage of evaluations that are a bit too simple, and just a bit too easy.

This is the election phenomenon. There can only be one reason for anything, or at least one big reason for anything, or perhaps the reason that things happen, as if it can be isolated from reality, put in a jar and placed on a shelf for future observation.

The last presidential election was that way. The people were split pretty well in half, just as they had been in 2000. The Iraq Conflict, Bush's approval, and the economy were all tanking, but hadn't reached catastrophic yet. Rove's slime machine was in force and the Democratic Party was in chaos. Exit polls showed "traditional values", Iraq, and economy as important issues, with only a few points separating them. And yet, we remember '04 as the "values voter" year. The height of the political power of the Right-Wing Evangelical Block Vote.

So what will 2008 be? Probably the 'change' election and the 'economy' election. Not to mention the 'historic' election.

But like 2004, there's a whole lot to it. And to see it, one thing has to be acknowledged: President-elect Barack Obama slaughtered McCain. He absolutely destroyed him.

Here are the Electoral Vote tallies for the last few decades:
2004: 286-252
2000: 271-267
1996: 379-159
1992: 370-168

Since the 1960s and the birth of the "Southern Strategy", the only Democrats to win have been Southerners (Carter and Clinton). Nixon, Reagan, and Bush I all won big.

The truth though, is that Bush II actually represents the end. The end of the life of this strategy. His two "elections" represent two of the three closest in modern history.

Obama's campaign seems to represent the next cycle as much as McCain's tried to exemplify the old one. This is why I consider this entire election to be a broad and complext rejection of the 'Neos'. It isn't just a rejection of the Republican Party (which it clearly was), but a rejection of the characteristic ideology of both parties: neoconservatism and neoliberalism. In defeating Sen. John McCain, Obama not only will end the reign of neoconservatism in Washington, but has made the very ideology appear grusome and inhumane: a direct reflection of the Southern Strategy's use of race and culture (xenophobia). The Obama campaign seemed to simply pulled the cloak off this dispicable approach to politics, driving the vampires into hiding.

But in as much as Obama's election repudiates neoconservatism and its unholy marriage between market fundamentalism and war/human lives as a comodity with which the market could be fed, it also is a repudiation of neoliberalism. Both ideologies required hawkishness toward and blind devotion to both market solutions and military interventions. Obama's victory over Sen. Hillary Clinton in the primaries is a visible and symbolic victory over the neoliberal ideology that predominated the Democratic Party in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s.

Both of these ideologies, that ushered in an era of innefective government, served to strip the country of its community and ability to collaborate--the very heart of Obama's appeal.

So, as we all put the champaigne down and begin to stare at the harsh realities around us, perhaps we should avoid those simple and easy descriptions, remembering how significant the time is, how different it is from 2004, 2000, even 1992, or 1980. Obama's dramatic defeat of the two predominating ideologies will take a while to process. It will take a new president to guide us to what this means. Is it traditional liberalism in the mode of LBJ and FDR, or is it something new? Something that we might not even recognize?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008