Friday, October 1, 2010

You're Either Laughing or Vomiting

After a brief aberration in which he linked to an actual sober conservative, my right-wing Facebook acquaintance reverted to form by offering up the latest effusion of classicist Victor Davis Hanson at National Review Online:
On his latest speaking tour, the president has continued to talk about a traditional midterm election — in which the country assesses the sitting administration’s agenda — as if it were some epic Manichean struggle, something akin to race relations: Jim Crow, civil rights, and now, most recently, the abolition of slavery. At best, Obama is implying that a referendum on his policies is of similar magnitude to an existential battle like the Civil War; at worst, he implies by analogy that he is the crusading abolitionist and his opponents the forces of slaveholding evil. And all of this from someone who campaigned on the notion of unity and national healing.
An embattled President who sees his glorious mandate and majority about to crumble can hardly be blamed if he heats up the rhetoric when he's on the campaign trail. Not that I have any sympathy for Obama and the Democrats, mind you -- they've dug, and continue to dig, their own grave -- but fair is fair.

It's not as if the Right hasn't cast its own struggle for hegemony in Manichean terms; they hardly know any other way to think. Look at the Tea Party Extended Tantrum (I'm not sure it really deserves to be called a movement), which has busily cast Obama, the Democrats, Liberals, and the Left as the Socialist Communist Kenyan anti-colonialist enslavers of America. The National Review itself has always been prone to the Manichean heresy. Hanson's column is basically a modified replay of Jennifer Rubin's, which my acquaintance linked to a couple of weeks ago, in which the Commentary blogger complained that liberals but not conservatives Hate Americans. As for "national healing," that's one of the most enduring and empty campaign tropes. George W. Bush, to name just one, promised to heal the nation.
I’m sorry, but opposing higher deficits or cap-and-trade is not the same as denying someone civil rights, and Obama, the Ivy League graduate, is not a Susan B. Anthony or Martin Luther King Jr.
You don't have to be a right-winger to agree with the second half of that sentence, but the whole premise of the Republican Right is that higher deficits are un-American -- despite their Presidents' consistent creation of vast deficits -- and a plot by liberals to destroy our country. (For that matter, the American Right was perfectly happy to deny civil rights to African-Americans and to demonize Martin Luther King Jr. while he was still alive. Ditto for women's rights and Susan B. Anthony.) Obama has shown that, far from being radical, his policies and aims are mostly consistent with those of the Republican Right. Hanson claims that Obama's policies "seem to millions to be radical and contrary to the notions of limited government, lower taxes, and personal freedom, notions that have long set us apart from our Western constitutional cousins in Europe."

Ahem; in a country the size of the US, you can find "millions" who'll believe almost anything. Bush's policies also seemed "radical" to millions, and millions more rejected them decisively in 2008. But Bush and his political allies never were interested in limited government or personal freedom; lower taxes, maybe, though Reagan raised taxes, and the US had higher income taxes than we have now for most of the twentieth century. The notion that a social safety net -- unemployment insurance, Social Security, public education, Medicare, Medicaid, public health measures, and so on -- is a threat to "personal freedom" is a particular and obsessive hobbyhorse of the American Right, but not one that seems to be shared by most Americans, even those who hate Obama.

Now, me, I don't think that most Americans agree with me, even though I think I'm right. It's not only the right that tends to succumb to the belief that whatever they want, everybody wants; but I, who know that I'm weird, am weird in this respect too.