Sunday, September 26, 2010

Yesterday Once More

I want to write about something other than politics, but life keeps throwing me provocations.

The other morning a right-wing acquaintance on Facebook posted a link to this article from the Commentary blogs, by Jennifer Rubin. According to her,
After the across-the-board defeats in 2008, conservative pundits didn’t rail at the voters. You didn’t see the right blogosphere go after the voters as irrational (How could they elect someone so unqualified? They’ve gone bonkers!) with the venom that the left now displays. Instead, there was a healthy debate — what was wrong with the Republican Party and with the conservative movement more generally? We had a somewhat artificial debate between traditionalists and reformers. If anything, the anger was directly (unfairly, in my mind) against George W. Bush (whose tax cuts even many Democrats now want to extend, and whose strategy in Iraq allowed Obama to withdrawal troops in victory), and to the hapless McCain campaign (which spent the final days of the campaign ragging on its VP nominee).
That's one way of looking at it, I guess. Another way is that the right was furious at their loss, and while they blamed their candidate, they attacked everyone else in sight. To say that they "didn't rail at the voters" is, well, bonkers. Roy Edroso, whose alicublog is most useful as a Rightwing Watch, started collecting the evidence right away. Here are a couple of his examples, the first from Ace of Spades:

America is a special country for going for the Jeremiah Wright's and Bill Ayers' most famous disciple.

We might have elected more qualified blacks to the presidency -- Colin Powell, Michael Steele, the guy who does the funny sound effects in the Police Academy movies -- but we went for the guy who would do his level best to demolish the country.

I couldn't be prouder.

Then this, from Dave Smithee at American Thinker (oh, click through anyway, to see the image of Uncle Sam):
The cyclical nature of human wisdom is well documented in both secular histories, and the biblical record. Blessing, Discontent, Rebellion, Suffering, Penitence, Restoration. Wash, rinse, repeat. As ancient Israel whined to have monarchs rule over them to be like their pagan neighbors, so too are American leftists smitten with the illusory sophistication of the crumbling European economic and social models. They salivate for the esteem of tyrants, socialists, and every manner of grandiose failure; the more extravagant, the better so long as the mission statement is sufficiently lofty. It's said that liberals are like any other people; only more so. In this case, it's their turn to perpetuate the ancient cycle of rejecting what works, turning their backs with disdain on America's incomparable blessings and crying "Give us what they have!"

Well, we've gotten it.
Admittedly, Smithee blames "American leftists" for Obama's election, but if 67% of the American electorate are leftists, then the Republicans have little chance now or ever. His claims only make what little sense they do if he is blaming the voters. (See also the comments on this post.) This sort of equivocal blurring all the American people and those the writer hates is also common among liberals and leftists, of course. In any case, a good portion of the right blogosphere, while they did ask what the Republicans did wrong, claimed that Obama had led the American people astray with his socialist promises and Jeremiah-Wright/Bill-Ayers anti-Americanism, which always goes over well with Liberals (though how did it win over the honest yeoman average Americans who also voted for Obama against McCain?) -- and they were quite willing, as these examples show, to blame the lazy, greedy American masses for being gulled by Obama.

Rubin also says:
When things go wrong for the left, it blames the people; when things go wrong for the right, it blames the governing elites. It is not in the nature of conservatives to demean and attack fellow citizens. To the contrary, conservatives’ vision is grounded in the belief that Americans are competent, decent, and hardworking, and it is the heavy hand of government that threatens to squelch American virtues.
First, as already noted, the right also blames the people; and the left also believes, or claims to believe that Americans are "competent, decent, and hardworking." Neither really believes it. The right favors government regulation of sexuality (laws against fornication, adultery, and sodomy, for example), marriage and divorce, and other private conduct (drug laws), opposes contraception and abortion, and wants the government to set a good example by exemplary religious observance: enforced school prayer, official days of thanksgiving (not fasting, though, that is so 18th century), and a President who pays lip service to Christianity even if he rarely attends church. (By "religious" of course they mean Christianity, and usually Protestant Christianity, though anti-Catholicism isn't the political force here that it used to be). They also want most Americans to suffer nobly when disaster (hurricanes, oil spills, catastrophic illness, old age, unemployment, bank failure, etc.) strikes. They also like officially enforced patriotism, except when their party is out of power; then they feel free to attack the government as vehemently as any hippie.

Second, the right enthusiastically supports government elites when the right is in power. They adore spoiled rich kids like George W. Bush and movie stars like Ronald Reagan. They celebrate captains of industry and are very worried that the rich might have to pay an extra percentage point or two in taxes. As Noam Chomsky says, when you hear about "special interests" in the media, what is meant is usually working people, the elderly, the young, people of color, the poor -- the overwhelming majority of Americans, in short. When you hear about "the national interest", that refers to a tiny minority of business and political elites. Something like that is going on with Rubin's claim that the right doesn't attack "the people," since by "the people" she means right-wing Republicans, an embattled and dwindling minority; by "governing elites" she means everybody else. Therefore the Tea Party movement, representing a rather small and not especially popular portion of the electorate, presents itself as We The People, and demands that the new administration listen to the voters who voted Republican, not those who voted Democratic. (On the other hand, the new administration has been happy to oblige.)

Rubin is correct that there is elitism on the left; I've written about that myself. But as with the essay by George Scialabba I criticized, in more charitable moods the right agrees that the People are good, but since they obviously don't know how to vote correctly they need to be educated. Thus we get jokes like the Pledge to America, which among other things proposes to replace the Affordable Care Act with the Affordable Care Act. The Republicans humbly present themselves as ordinary Joes who happen to be in Congress, and so will lead America out of the Wilderness and into the Promised Land.

However, rejecting elitism (as I hope I do) doesn't mean you can't criticize the people. White America is still pretty racist, in varying degrees of virulence. The United States has brought war, chaos and pestilence to much of the world through war, neoliberal economics, and multinational corporations; most Americans are either unaware of this or don't much care -- which has something to do with why they are unaware of it, I suppose. The passage from Joe Klein that Rubin linked (in the first paragraph I quoted) was not disrespectful and made a good point: that many Americans on the right (but also elsewhere) are noticeably ignorant about their government and what it does, and very inconsistent in what they want it to do. ("Keep the government's hands off my Medicare!" for example, as if Medicare wasn't a government program.) I'm not a fan of Joe Klein, but Rubin's blithe dismissal ignores some serious problems. I think Americans need to educate themselves; there's no one else to do it.

I posted a snarky comment to my right-wing acquaintance's Facebook status when he linked Rubin's post, thanking him for giving me a laugh to start the day and expressing surprise that the Right was into glossolalia. Maybe I shouldn't be snarky; but remember, Rubin is the kind of conservative that my acquaintance considers "sober" and rational, as opposed to Koran-burning Yahoos.