Thursday, November 04, 2004


Bushism: An ideology the future isn't going to understand

In the words of the immortal Dick Tuck: "The people have spoken. The bastards."

This is going to get me into trouble, but I don’t care.

Today’s ideology, 40 years from now, will be as inexplicable as Nazism is now. Just as today we can't understand why people followed Hitler, in the future people will not understand why anyone followed Bush.

Note: Before you get angry, I am not calling Bush Hitler nor the people who voted for him Nazis!

What I am saying is, just as we, looking back, find it unfathomable that anyone could have voted for the Nazis, based on what they must have known about Hitler and his proposed policies, future generations will be stupefied that so many people yesterday voted for Bush knowing what little he had accomplished in his first term. (Well, I guess they probably don't know he accomplished so little.)

I've studied Nazism most of my adult life. And I simply do not get it. I've read Mein Kampf, with its warped description of Jews, and I didn't recognize anything in it. "Jews" are my Uncle Hymie, with his obsession with cameras, or my cousin Bobby, the accomplished concert pianist, not the caricatures Hitler fantasized.

Similarly, I read the reasons people put forward to vote for George W. Bush, and I don't recognize anything there, either. The man David Brooks and William Safire describe - that is just not the man actually in the White House. I don't understand how anyone can think of him that way, and I don't imagine people in the future will understand either.

Nor am I alone. There's a lot of anger out there. Not just at Bush himself, but at the people who put him there. Some try to explain it, others just vent. Let's take a look.
Eric Alterman:

Let’s face it. It’s not Kerry’s fault. It’s not Nader’s fault (this time). It’s not the media’s fault (though they do bear a heavy responsibility for much of what ails our political system). It’s not “our” fault either. The problem is just this: Slightly more than half of the citizens of this country simply do not care about what those of us in the “reality-based community” say or believe about anything.

They don’t care that Iraq is turning into murderous quicksand and a killing field for our children. They don’t care that the Bush presidency has made us less safe by creating more terrorists, inspiring more anti-American hatred and refusing to engage in the hard work that would be necessary to make a meaningful dent in our myriad vulnerabilities at home. They don’t care that he has mortgaged our children’s future to give trillions to the wealthiest among us. They don’t care that the economy continues to hemorrhage well-paying jobs and replace them with Wal-Mart; that the number without health insurance is over forty million and rising. They don’t care that Medicare premiums are rising to fund the coffers of pharmaceutical companies. They don’t care that the air they breathe and the water they drink is being slowly poisoned and though they call themselves conservatives, they even don’t care that the size of the government and its share of our national income has increased by roughly a quarter in just four years. This is not a world of rational debate and issue preference.

It’s one of “them” and “us.” He’s one of “them” and not one of “us” and that’s all they care about. True it’s an illusion. After all, Bush is a millionaire’s son who went to Yale and Harvard and sat out Vietnam, not even bothering to show up for his cushy National Guard duty, and succeeded only in trading on his father’s name and connections in adult life. But somehow, they feel he understands them. He speaks their language. Our guys don’t. And unless they learn it, we will continue to condemn this country and those parts of the world it affects to a regime of malign neglect at best—malignant and malicious assault at worse.

Given the media’s talent for pandering to their lowest common denominator, the things that have driven us crazy about their past pathetic performance are bound to get a lot worse. Most of us—readers and writers of this web log and peoplelikeus-- derive an awful lot of benefit from being Americans. We owe it to our better selves, and though it sounds horribly clichéd, to our children-- not to walk away from this battle. I will admit, however, it’s pretty damn hard to see through this fog just where to turn before we march.
I feel this anger, too. Bush is a fraud, and anyone who can't see through that would seem to deserve contempt. But that attitude, however justified, isn't going to win us any additional votes. While Alterman speaks of learning to speak "their language," he doesn't really mean it. Because we can't learn it. We have to learn a new, intermediate language, one that presents our analysis in a way that doesn't threaten these people without simply letting the Republicans get away with their pandering.
Nicholas Kristof:

One of the Republican Party's major successes over the last few decades has been to persuade many of the working poor to vote for tax breaks for billionaires. Democrats are still effective on bread-and-butter issues like health care, but they come across in much of America as arrogant and out of touch the moment the discussion shifts to values.

"On values, they are really noncompetitive in the heartland," noted Mike Johanns, a Republican who is governor of Nebraska. "This kind of elitist, Eastern approach to the party is just devastating in the Midwest and Western states. It's very difficult for senatorial, Congressional and even local candidates to survive."

To put it another way, Democrats peddle issues, and Republicans sell values. Consider the four G's: God, guns, gays and grizzlies.

Finally, grizzlies - a metaphor for the way environmentalism is often perceived in the West as high-handed. When I visited Idaho, people were still enraged over a Clinton proposal to introduce 25 grizzly bears into the wild. It wasn't worth antagonizing most of Idaho over 25 bears.

"The Republicans are smarter," mused Oregon's governor, Ted Kulongoski, a Democrat. "They've created ... these social issues to get the public to stop looking at what's happening to them economically."

"What we once thought - that people would vote in their economic self-interest - is not true, and we Democrats haven't figured out how to deal with that."

Bill Clinton intuitively understood the challenge, and John Edwards seems to as well, perhaps because of their own working-class origins. But the party as a whole is mostly in denial.

To appeal to middle America, Democratic leaders don't need to carry guns to church services and shoot grizzlies on the way. But a starting point would be to shed their inhibitions about talking about faith, and to work more with religious groups.

Otherwise, the Democratic Party's efforts to improve the lives of working-class Americans in the long run will be blocked by the very people the Democrats aim to help.
It would be nice if Mr. Kristof recognized the essential lie involved here: the Republican leadership is no less "elitist," no less upper class. George Bush does not live in small-town America. Grover Norquist is not an evangelical. Tom DeLay doesn't give a shit about anything but keeping and expanding Republican power. If the press were to cover these facts about the GOP with the same zeal they use to sneer at the Democrats, it would be easier for Democrats to connect with the people they aim to help.
The Rude Pundit:

We are a nation of savages. That is what we decided last night. We belong to the "most advanced" society in the history of the world, and we decided that we would rather be barbarians, hunched over fire pits, ripping meat off the bones of our enemies, raping our women, howling out at the gods for peace in the afterlife.

Oh, how when this glorious nation began, we believed we knew who the savages were, the Indians, worshipping their mad array of deities, slaughtering each other in wars over hunting grounds, enslaving each other, living in caves and teepees, creating communal existences where each member of a tribe had his or her place and his or her job to contribute to the life of the group. God, how we hated them. How we entered their villages and tried to convert them to the single God. How we massacred them regularly when they would not give up their centuries-old existence in favor of the obvious good and rightness of the European way. Sure, sure, they tried to strike back, but that made our bloodlust even stronger. We white people showed them what savagery was, and it made their bows, arrows, axes, and (later) rifles seem like so many sticks tossed against a brick edifice. King George III loved his gifts of scalps, cut off the Indians skulls by loyal white subjects of Britain.

When the majority of the country voted for Bush yesterday, what they were saying, in Alabama, in Wyoming, in Indiana, is that they want blood for blood, and it doesn't matter where that blood comes from. The economy didn't fucking matter, health care didn't fucking matter, certainly peace didn't fucking matter, the Supreme Court didn't fucking matter. None of it. And the rest of the world can go fuck itself. It came down to who was the most bloodthirsty candidate, and George Bush transformed himself into a man who would shit on Saddam's cut open abdomen and eat his balls, and no Massachusetts peacenik faggot lover was gonna defeat that in our deluded American mindset.

As we learn from the religious right every day, a well-told lie trumps the truth every time. And that's what those motherfuckers in the Bush campaign did, day after goddamned day - they trumpeted lies as if they were the truth. The caressed lies like they're lovers, like you could make 'em hard and make 'em cum all over the eager faces of the public. They revised history and expected everyone to fall in line in complete ignorance of the facts. Dick Cheney could have been caught on video eating the still-beating heart of an Iraqi child that he just raped with a gas pump nozzle, and they'd be able to make a majority believe that Cheney was a victim of the liberal media and that to bring up Dick Cheney's child-raping, heart-eating ways is "beyond the pale." Christ, how the yahoos in Kentucky would lap that shit up. It confirms what they want to believe, that somehow they are cozy-buddies with those in power, when really, Bush and the Bushettes are laughing at them, toasting with single malt scotch that they tricked the savages once again by appealing to their savage nature with the Iraq war. Yeah, man, bleed the Iraqis, set them against each other, shoot 'em all down. They're the savages, not us, motherfuckers, not us. We'll keep bringin' them the good graces of America, and, goddamnit, those fuckers'll accept it or we'll slaughter 'em in the name of bringing civilization to the savages, when really, in the end, we are blinded to anything but the crude reduction of power to the kick of an assault weapon in our hands, the acrid smell of burnt gun powder, and the sweet, subhuman screams of the savages we kill. And in the background, the bleating of the prone media, getting fucked over and over, and screeching to be fucked again, cheering on the killing 'cause that's what motherfucking America has come down to: kill or be killed. If yer not doin' the killin', then yer just waitin' to die. In God We Trust.
It's hard not to feel this way, and this is part of the Rude Pundit's essay likening the process of dealing with this election to Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross's famous "five steps" of coming to terms with dying; this is the "anger" part (following "denial"; "bargaining" and "acceptance" will be posted tomorrow).

I look at the big map and all of the red in flyover country and I feel like I've been locked in a room with the slow learners. We have become the country that pulls a dry cleaning bag over its head to play astronaut.
Well-written, and true, but a sentiment that ain't going to earn us a single additional vote. People don't stop being stupid just because you express to them your righteous contempt for their stupidity. They get defensive and obstinate.
Charles Pierce:

OK, now I'm starting to feel the gorge rise. Let us content ourselves with this. The country voted for these guys with its eyes open. Let us hear no complaining about "bait and switch," and a "uniter, not a divider," and on and on and on. It even returned a national legislature consonant with the incumbent's agenda. There will be permanent tax cuts that will institutionalize a national debt that will force some sort of evisceration of Social Security and Medicare. There will be continued military adventurism in the Middle East. There will be Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Chief Justice Antonin Scalia. There will be more lying and more vengeance.

So let there be no whining when your husband's National Guard obligation leaves him under fire for six extra months, or when Granny and Gramps are eating cat food, or when it become increasingly impossible to meet the economic needs of the middle-class family.

No complaining. None of it.

You wanted this guy. Now you have him, unleashed.
If they had their eyes open during the past four years and still voted to reelect the guy, what makes you think they're going to learn a damn thing during the next four? George Bush has spent his entire life being insulated from the consequences of his actions, and his supporters appear to have no inclination to remove that insulation - or to open their eyes. Waiting for them to connect the dots - the problems this country faces and George Bush's responsibility for making them worse - you'll be waiting a very long time. John Kerry made the case about as well as it can be made. By the end of the campaign even the press was beginning to point out the discrepancies between Bush's rhetoric and his actual performance.

As I said, future generations will be dumbfounded that this man won such a big victory. Fifty-nine million people didn't give a shit about record and endless deficits, a morass in Iraq that will lead to a renewed draft, the destruction of our reputation in the world, corporate cronyism, the slow diminution of our scientific and technological leadership, lagging education, environmental despoliation, erosion of civil liberties, failure to really keep us safer, etc. Fifty-nine million Americans ignored all that - and for what? Even reading all the explanations above - and many others - I don't get it. And I think they'll get it even less 30 or 40 years from now.

I know that liberals have felt this way before. How could anyone have fallen for Richard Nixon in 1968 or 1972? How could anyone have fallen for Ronald Reagan in 1980? How could anyone have fallen for George W. Bush in 2000? But objectively, Nixon was far more qualified than George W. Bush. Reagan was far more popular in the rest of the world than Bush, even during the early 1980s when he was trying to force a new generation of US nuclear missiles on a reluctant Europe. Their legacies will be debated by scholars and by non-scholars alike, but their success will not be a puzzlement.

This is different. This is baffling. It's hard to accept, and even the belief (or maybe it's the hope) that the future will look back and scratch its head is scant consolation.
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