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Of Tea Parties and Teleprompters
Is it possible that the regressive right has, given its electoral unraveling of late, decided to swap the whole politics thing for vaudeville?
‘Cause if it hasn’t, I’m really having a hell of a hard time explaining what’s going on with these guys.
I mean, I’ve seen circus acts that were less hilarious. So I’m assuming that the right has simply decided to become a sort of public service provider in this most depressing at times. Presumably, they got together and concluded that if they couldn’t win elections, at least they could make themselves useful by treating the public to a hearty laugh. Or six.
What else can you make of last week’s tea party hysteria, for example? I suppose you could find a less spontaneous, less authentic expression of public sentiment if you looked really hard – perhaps by going to the latest Hannah Montana movie, for example – but I don’t think it would be very easy. Fox (Hardly Any) News literally ran about a hundred segments on the tea parties in advance of the magical date, a promotional tsunami masquerading as news reporting that would’ve made any Soviet minister of propaganda blush.
I suppose you could also find political elements more incoherent and less grounded in reality if you tried really hard – perhaps by attending services at some new age mega-church, for example – but that would also be pretty difficult. If the low rent, low IQ, low on laundry detergent (non) masses attending these events looked familiar, it was because we saw them on the campaign trail last year, angrily spouting utter fabrications and fulminating their vaguely anti-government screeds at Sarah Palin rallies. What they lack in quality dental care or concern about the health effects of obesity, they fully make up for in sheer gullibility and lumpen selfishness masquerading as vulgar capitalism.
My favorite bit from the coverage of the tea parties was the inadvertent reality intrusion episode, where some smart-ass got up at one of the rallies, got the crowd all excited about taxes and deficits, and then asked them to applaud Barack Obama for cutting their taxes. That little bit of cognitive dissonance produced a long, pregnant, troubled pause, and you could almost hear the rusty gears in their brains jamming into one another, screeching like a subway train, and ultimately shattering from sheer lack of prior use, as the attendees decided to stick with their advance programming after all, booing the mention of the shifty Negro in the White House despite the fact that he is cutting their taxes, just like they claim to want him to.
On the other hand, perhaps the most amazing sight of all was the Republican governor of Texas, successor to George W. Bush, and would-be successor again in Washington, not so vaguely hinting at the possibility that Texas might secede from the union, and falsely claiming that the state had a special legal right to do so. Golly, I thought we had settled that matter a century and a half ago, but then I’m one of those odd people who always thought Lincoln got it wrong. He should have let the backward, racist, theist, regressive South go its own way.
Of course, only if deceit happens to be a moral problem need one worry about the hypocrisy of all these red states bitching about taxes and the oppressive federal government while simultaneously receiving far more dollars from Washington than they kick in. But if they do check out, I only hope that Obama doesn’t make the same mistake Lincoln did. Imagine the last several decades without names like Bush, DeLay, Gingrich, McConnell, Armey, Lott and other fine specimens of Southern hospitality running the country into the ground. Let them have their little experiment in trying to form a more perfect union within their breakaway Confederacy. Maybe they’ll put Bobby Jindal in charge. You want to have a good laugh? Come back a generation later and see what it looks like. My guess is something like a crystal meth theme park, with nice colored folk to clean up after the revival meetings. “LeeLand”, perhaps?
You know who else showed up at tea parties, besides Rick Perry, the sesesh governor of Texas? That’s right! Joe the Plumber! And, just to make sure that no political sophistication of any sort whatsoever inadvertently crept into the crowd, Ted Nugent came as well. With head-liners like this, it’s hard to figure how these guys aren’t winning elections, eh? On the other hand, I can name at least one guy more clownish and more scary who was president of the United States and leader of the Free World for eight years running. And just recently too. Ironically, the explanation for the odd fact that the exact same stuff that seemed so great to Americans in 2002 seemed so awful in 2008 was of course George W. Bush himself. Yep, politics is truly weird sometimes, but it’s on the right were the weird absolutely turn professional.
All of this is emblematic, of course, of a political movement in utter free fall, and completely lacking any sense whatsoever of what to do about it. This week it was tea parties. Before that, he was Obama bowing to the Saudi king. Before that, it was the president giving the Queen of England an iPod. Or was it the fact that he uses Teleprompters when he speaks? Or was it the connection to Rod Blagojevich that was sure to be exposed any minute now?
Seriously, though. Where’s the outrage? Is there a surer mark of the end of Western civilization than that the American public is indifferent about the fact that its president – like every modern president – uses a Teleprompter when he gives speeches? Remember the burning anger on the right, when Ronald Reagan would use his ubiquitous 3 x 5 note cards at every meeting or event, even for small talk about the weather, and sometimes absentmindedly using the wrong set of cards for the wrong gathering of people? Talk about your Armageddon! It’s weird, though. I guess I need to lay off the drugs for a while, because I don’t remember any conservative umbrage about any of that. You’d almost think they were being ridiculously hypocritical in attacking Obama for using a Teleprompter, given what Reagan did…
And how about that business with the Saudi king? Doesn’t that represent Obama selling out America? Or apologizing for something United States did? He probably didn’t even have a flag pin in his lapel when he bowed to the king. He probably didn’t even thank Jesus for his falafel, before breaking bread with the monarch. Not George Bush, though. He would never do that. His family would never have close relations with the House of Saud, that’s for sure. He would never be photographed, say, holding hands with the old man, ‘cause that would disrespectful to America. And kinda gay, too. And, for sure, Bush would never inform Prince Bandar, lifetime buddy and Saudi ambassador to the US at the time, that the United States was invading Iraq, before he informed his own Secretary of State. And you know why? Because the right wing in America would be outraged if that ever happened. You can take that one to the bank.
Except, of course, that we don’t really have much in the way of banks anymore, after the right wing’s deregulatory religion got through with them. Which I guess explains why all those things did happen, and the same people who are now foaming at the mouth over Obama’s simple gesture of courtesy were completely silent during the Bush years.
These antics only prove how deeply sunk into it regressivism now is. I assure you, if the right had a better way to attack Democrats and the Obama administration then this pathetic garbage, you’d be seeing it. These guys aren’t exactly famous for playing to lose. What we’re seeing, instead, is a political movement that is utterly bankrupt, literally and figuratively, and is desperately searching for any sort of remotely plausible line of attack, but only managing to make itself look absurd in the process, at least outside of Appalachia.
Today’s conservatives remind me of nothing so much as an elderly lab chicken, used in countless undergrad psychology experiments, but now abandoned in its dotage. Over and over again, it keeps pecking the red bar, even though the last time a food pellet actually appeared was in 2004. Peck! Let’s play the race card! Peck! Let’s play the taxes card! Peck! Let’s play the deficits card! Peck! Let’s play the gay card! Peck! Let’s play the foreign bogeyman card! Peck! Peck! Peck!
Shit! No food pellets! The red bar is in tatters, the chicken’s beak is worn down to a nub, but still it pecks, and still no food pellets.
The frustration and anger you see among regressive politicians and their cheerleaders comes from fifty years of operant conditioning all of a sudden gone massively awry. It’s like they fell into some parallel universe or something. Every step forward leaves them two steps backward. Up is down, down is up. White is black, and black is now president. What the hell is going on?
Poor regressives. For half a century they got an entire country full of people to suspend disbelief, and nod their heads in all the right places whenever they were poked with the appropriate stimulus. For half a century, they continued to win elections by fooling people into voting against their own interests. For half a century, they could turn lead into gold. But the alchemy no longer works. Suddenly, precipitously, none of the responses appear anymore when all the old stimuli are trotted out. And it all disappeared so fast. In 2003 they could sell any kind of bullshit imaginable. Three years later, they were handing over control of both houses of Congress to the evil, socialist Democrats.
The great news is that, as bad as it now is, these are still the golden days of the regressive movement. It’s gonna get a lot worse from here. As they continue their antics, they only look more and more foolish, while President Obama looks more and more statesmanlike, less and less like his predecessor, and better and better in the polls.
The logical move for the Republican Party would be to abandon the insanity of the last three decades and returned to the days of Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller, when people like Ronald Reagan were rightly (very rightly) considered to be the lunatic fringe. But this is impossible today. Indeed, the GOP will be lucky if it is able to even stay where it is ideologically, as opposed to being pulled even further to the hysterical right.
Arlen Specter will provide the archetypical case for the Republican conundrum as he runs for reelection to his Pennsylvania US Senate seat this year and next. As an established, long-standing moderate figure from a swing state, normally someone like Specter should have no problem as an incumbent retaining his seat. In fact, the opposite is now the case. Specter is being challenged from his right in the primary election, and there is no indication that the Republican establishment will come to his aid, while every indication suggests that he’s in deep trouble. One recent poll had him fourteen points down among Republican voters behind his primary challenger. Specter will have to tack to the hard right to have a prayer of obtaining the nomination. But even if that make-over can possibly succeed, he will then be stuck in the general election trying to defend the monster he became during the primary in order to placate his party’s voters, in a state that is trending the other direction.
Watch and see if the few remaining moderate Republicans don’t learn from this experience, and abandon the party. This will leave the GOP in excellent position to succeed everywhere that Jefferson Davis remains a hero, and pretty much nowhere else. Even the governor of Utah, arguably the reddest of red states, has come out in support of gay marriage.
If Republicans want to form themselves into a permanent minority at the national level, I suppose that’s just fine with me. But even that isn’t terribly sustainable. Situations like these tend toward becoming self-reinforcing cycles, in this case far more virtuous than vicious. Over time, a party that cannot compete at the national level will not attract voters or candidates even within its stronghold. And a party that cannot bring home the bacon because it has been relegated to a permanent minority status in Congress will also drive away voters. A party that is unable to change its stripes because of the viciousness and narrow-mindedness of its base is also a party unable to change its electoral fortunes.
When you see the supporters of the GOP saying, as they often do, that they would rather stick to principle than win elections, they’re not kidding. And when you see them describe the likes of George W. Bush as insufficiently conservative, they’re not kidding either.
Rather, they’re on a suicide mission.
All I can say is: “Hey, works for me!”
DAVID MICHAEL GREEN is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (firstname.lastname@example.org), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond.