Sunday, February 08, 2009

What's Good About Bad Times. Why Liberalism Is Not An Ideology (and Conservatism Is).

One good thing about the current collapse of our economy and society in general is that it plucks us from the realm of debating theories of government and unceremoniously drops us, hard, onto the pavement of reality.

Under Bush and in the wake of 9/11, the Right famously mocked the "reality-based community" for not seeing radical Islam as the new "Soviet Threat Plus" that required all-out war. The Right saw no distinction between the old USSR, with its thousands of nuclear warheads ready to launch at the U.S. and our allies around the world, and Al Qaeda, a small fringe group of violent wingnuts within the larger culture of Islam, who were so unpopular that they had to hide in Allah-forsaken hellholes like Afghanistan and Yemen just to survive.

When reality-based folks dared to mention that no credible intelligence linked Al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein, and that weapons inspections were working just fine, thank you, the sigh of exasperation on the Right could be heard across the land like the wheeze of a dying giant:

Who cares if Saddam Hussein sought to help Bin Laden or destroy him? Who cares if there really are WMD's? Who cares what the difference is between Shiites and Sunnis? Who cares what's real?

Who cares! Who cares! Who Cares! This attitude eventually reached its comical apotheosis in Sarah Palin's "drill, baby, drill!" rallies, where revelers so thoroughly delighted in angering imagined "elites" with belligerent right-wing nonsense that they completely forgot the real, enormous problems looming over us all, problems that actually need real solutions.

This is why they lost not only the election, but millions of reliable future voters. It seems that scaring people who are already truly terrified about losing everything they have is far less effective than scaring comfortable people who are merely angry, ignorant, and bigoted.

The delusional Republican ideology is not confined to the Bible belt. At the top of the economic food chain this same dismissal of reality allowed the world of extreme financial voodoo to thrive. Giving carte blanche to enormous investment banks and high-flying Wall Street tycoons to create their own speculative instruments, make their own rules, and police themselves fit as nicely into right-wing economic ideology as invading Iraq fit into Right-wing paranoia left over from the fall of the USSR.

Reality, international cooperation, economic oversight, measured investigation and response to problems - in short, the careful business of statesmanship - were ridiculed as liberal holdovers from more innocent, pie-in-the-sky days. Weapons inspections and sanctions were out, secret prisons and torture were in.

Lofty rhetoric always falls before the alter of the Gods of Stomach and Skin, of Empty Pockets and Want. Desperate hordes of formerly-middle-class workers don't have much need for think tanks and policy debates.

Today we teeter on the brink of a new great depression, and the country has loudly stated its desperate hope that our new president will be able to break the partisan blockades and rescue the nation as it hurdles toward a very "reality-based" cliff. And it is the GTL's position that he can succeed, with or without Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin and their angry mob of "real Americans."

It occurs to me, as I read the saga of a wounded Republican party, cuckolded by the people's love affair with Barack Obama and held in the sweaty thrall of Limbaugh, that the Left is fighting for the survival of our country and our way of life, recognizing the need to solve actual problems in actual time, with actual human consequences should they - we - fail.

Reality is not ideological.

By contrast, the Right continues to labor in the battle not against economic collapse, starvation, the closing of hospitals for the poor and foreclosures of millions of homes of the recently-not-poor, but against "liberals" and "socialists" on the Left, who were, as we recall, a blip on the radar of American politics when the disastrous policies that brought us to this historic, imperiled moment were concocted.

McCain famously stated during the presidential campaign that Obama would gladly "lose a war to win an election." How shameful that no one called him out on this and beat him about the knickers with a rattan cane like the prep-school bully gone to seed that he is. Especially since, as we now see, the Republicans seem to be clearly articulating their new rallying idea:

"If Barack Obama and the Democrats succeed in preventing disaster, we'll never stand a chance of winning an election against them later. They must fail."

The Republicans' playbook is open for all to see:

We are willing to lose our country to win this war. No, not the war in Afghanistan. Not the one in Iraq. It's the liberal majority here, at home, who is the real enemy.

Party before Country.

The real war, in which we must sacrifice everything our nation has and holds dear, is against ourselves.

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