Friday, September 19, 2008

A guest post you must read

A friend of mine who's in academia and prefers to remain anonymous has written a terrific essay about the culture wars, the Reagan-era roots of Gen X cynicism, the divide between the ivory tower and NASCAR fans, and the current presidential campaign. He started it as a blog comment here, but it expanded into a full-out essay. Read on:

The Palin nomination made me sad in a way I would not have thought possible. Why would McCain, who at one point had seemed to me admirably independent, thoughtful, and above all, responsible, put someone on his ticket who (politics aside, and I mean it) is so radically unqualified, both in experience and general temperament, to be president? Surely there are other people out there who could have appeased his base - people who, I don't know, have some interest in and curiosity about the world, who exhibit some capacity to have an intelligent discussion about a major issue, some basic understanding of how the world works and how it might work better. Someone. Dear god, someone. I'm looking at you, Orrin Hatch. Seriously. Orrin Hatch. I disagree with the man on virtually every issue, but he is thoughtful, competent, and, at his core, decent.

"Country First????" Those placards at McCain rallies ... it's like some kind of dystopia. Yes = no. Day = night. No one who truly puts his country first would have nominated Palin. Everything you say about her, M5k, is true, including her possible future competence (in theory). Comparisons to Obama's own relative lack of experience are laughable. How do I know? OK, imagine it's 3 a.m. and the phone rings ... I am half serious. Obama always seems to want to know more, to find things out, to learn (even when he clearly already knows a Ton). Palin knows what she knows. She has "that certainty." No blinking!

Again, this has gone beyond politics. Disagree with me on issues, fine. I've been in the minority on most issues my whole life (pro gay marriage, pro drug legalization, anti death penalty, etc.). I can handle losing. But if you're going to beat my guy, please please, have the basic knowledge, competence, and thoughtfulness to be President Of The United States of @#@$#ing America.

In conclusion [HA ha, not really]: I have this theory about Reagan. People talk about my generation (X) being all ironic and sneering and detached. And it's true. And that's one of the great lasting effects and triumphs of the Reagan era. He made empty sloganeering an art form. Everything he said was about being strong and certain and essentially unthoughtful (no blinking!) - and he had a lot of followers, obviously, but for those of us who were just coming into political consciousness at the time of his early presidency ... to see such hucksterism work, such irresponsibility reign (re: living beyond our means, having whatever we want when we want it, saying we support democracy while arming strongmen, undermining democracies we don't like, etc.) ... to look around you and watch people adore this man and think to yourself "Are you @#$#! kidding me? People are buying this @#$#?" It was devastating, in a way. Couple that with the quick onset of the MTV and then digital age, and you get a generation of people who are, happily or not-so-happily, tuned out, who find it very difficult to be "patriotic" when every self-styled patriot they've ever seen has been in the service of a fundamentally dishonest regime; people who retreat into isolated, technologically enabled enclaves, which only strengthen that already strong sense of detachment and isolation from the greater community. When a generation of kids opts out of concern for country due to a deep cynicism fostered by manifestly dishonest political role models, that provides fertile ground for manipulative, anti-intellectual, hateful culture-war-mongers to thrive and thus control the terms of public debate (and the meaning of American symbolism, i.e. the flag).

And now we're grown up and we all watch TDS and Colbert and laff as Rome burns and burns and burns.

Carter was prescient about so many things, but he was a terrible leader. So maybe I should blame him for Reagan. Or maybe I should blame Nixon for Carter, who was like the anti-Nixon. I don't know. But the mess we're in now - Carter didn't create it. Nixon, though his resignation plus our failure in Vietnam did cause massive disillusionment, didn't create it . Reagan, arguably, did. Reagan / Bush's cynical manipulation of the symbols of America / patriotism, their celebration of mindless consumption, their exploitation of "values voters" (screw them financially while doing Nothing about their alleged "moral" concerns), and their Orwellian disregard for truth all made me and many like me retreat into Academia, where we could sneer at the idiocy of the country from the comfort of our sinecures, as if the plight of our country were just a bad movie. "Why is everyone so stupid!?" cries the disgusted, befuddled, over-educated liberal. The answer is, at least in part, because academics hate "people" and 20 years ago almost completely gave up on the idea of addressing the public in terms it could relate to / comprehend. We're now in the odd position of seeing the "people" as oppressed and deluded. I.e. we're many of us tacit-to-explicit Marxists. Except we hate workers and the stuff they like (God, NASCAR, American beer...). Much as I hate conservative critiques of "The Ivory Tower," there is a hint of truth there. And so here we are.

This ironic sense of detachment - It's an affliction (at least in part self-induced) that I'm still getting over. Ironically (!), getting over it means starting to see Republicans and conservatives as (occasionally) decent and principled people. You sort of have to opt out of the culture wars at some point if you want them to stop. Right now, I just want this comment to stop. And I want very much for Obama to be my next president. Not because Democrats are better than Republicans, or because magical "Hope" will make everything better - just because, in addition to his basic intelligence and charisma, Obama seems genuinely committed to a post-Reagan, post culture wars world. A genuinely conservative world, where what's being conserved are what I like to think are basic American values (honesty, decency, financial prudence, a respect for difference, a strength that has peace as its ultimate goal). A dream world, maybe, but if I'm going to put my Faith in anything but God, that's where I'm going to put it.

—by X Patriot


Mo said...

Wow, Orange, thanks for posting that. That was one great commentary and I really agree with the last paragraph.

Anonymous said...

It just kills me that for all their so-called "maverick" qualities, we're getting absolutely more of the same Bush/Cheney style with McCain and Palin:

Scion of a well-known family who has some dad issues? Check.

Did only enough to get by in school, and seems to mistrust intelligence? Check.

Out of touch with the lives of actual people in this country? Check.

Partied hard and expected others to bail him out and cover for him? Check.

Makes decisions based on gut feelings, without consulting a wide range of people? Check.

Insists on complete loyalty in her administration, and punishes those who don't comply? Check.

Speaks of transparency and reform, but operates with complete secrecy, proactively trying to stall investigations into how her administraion operates before they even start? (Which email accounts can we operate that can't be supoenaed?) Check.

Has a super annoying smirk? Okay, that's petty, but check all the same.

Sigh. How can people be falling for this stuff all over again?

Jeff Janusch said...

I'm currently reading Thomas Frank's new book "The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule", and it has made me even more frustrated with and resentful of Republican voters. You will never convince them that any candidate they support is unworthy of office because of their inexperience or incompetence because that is exactly what they are looking for. In the book Frank writes, in painful and maddening detail, about years of Republican sabotage of government by intentional mismanagement since Reagan was elected. Offering up someone worthless like Palin is just business as usual.