Wednesday, September 15, 2010

THE NEW NORMAL. You'd think that as a connoisseur of right-wing comedy I'd be delighted with last night's GOP primary results. And in a way I am. Christine O'Donnell could be the most fun Republican quote machine since Michele Bachmann. And the racist lunacy of Carl Paladino should make for an entertaining six weeks in New York, especially with sad sack Rick Lazio contending on the Conservative Party line.

However, I'm not just a comedian; I'm also a citizen. And so I have an auspicious and a drooping eye because, along with the promise of lulz, I get an unpleasant feeling of deja vu.

Atrios says that with the ascent of the nutbags, the new Party leadership is Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and Rush Limbaugh. That's true as far as it goes, but leaves out that at least one of these worthies has already held the Chair. National Review was calling Limbaugh "The Leader of the Opposition" back in 1993. They meant that the talk radio phenom was supposed to provide the propaganda fodder for the GOP comeback. (Talk radio, for all you kids out there, filled in the 90s the what's-happening role now filled by the internet.)

Limbaugh riled the troops, and the benefit went to that other revolutionary leader, Newt Gingrich, with his Alvin Toffler and his blessed Contract with America. When Gingrich and his Now People took over the House, there was much mooing over the new era in conservative politics this allegedly presaged.

At Reason Virginia Postrel gushed over the new Philosopher-Speaker. The sheeple resented him, said Postrel, for his "fascination with big ideas," his Progress & Freedom Foundation that "attempted to expand Washington's mind" (i.e., provide yet another make-work project for wingnuts funded by corporations) and other such innovations. Why did they disdain this groovy revolution? Because
it threatens the controllers of convention because it says they, and even Gingrich, aren't especially important. It declares that the most significant people, events, ideas, and innovations are outside Washington, outside government, outside convention. It dares to suggest that society changes first and government (and media) must adapt...
In other words, Rush and Newt were leading the Tea Party of 20 years ago, the New Thing that was going to change politics.

We all saw (and students of human nature foresaw) how that worked out: Gingrich led a pack of con men who fattened their districts and themselves at the expense of their allegedly sacred public trust -- even copping out on the self-imposed term limits that were the big come-on in their Contact with the voters. The whole thing was a fraud top to bottom.

Now we have another New Thing, also said to be revolutionary, also right-wing. Only instead of being driven by the Power of Talk Radio it is driven by the magic of the internet. It's also supposed to be leaderless and "crowd-sourced," as is asserted in the latest guff on the subject, disappointingly written by Jonathan Rauch.

Rauch tells us that the tea party is "a coordinated network, not a hierarchy" -- which he knows because organizers from the Tea Party Patriots ("a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group") told him. (Rauch doesn't even mention Dick Armey's TP front, FreedomWorks, in the article; maybe he promised TPP an exclusive.)

The real oddity, though, is Rauch's refusal to acknowledge that the tea parties are a conservative movement. For the most part, he swallows the organizers' line that "the real point is to change the country's political culture, bending it back toward the self-reliant, liberty-guarding instincts of the Founders' era," and only gets around to mentioning near the end that the tea parties have a "right-wing, or at least libertarian, ideology."

This comports with the tea partiers' own propaganda: Our new futurist patriots now don't even admit they're conservative, even though their platforms are without exception extremely conservative, and they are backed almost exclusively by conservative activists and media outlets.

You can see the strategy here: Just a few years ago, the Republicans self-evidently destroyed the economy, which loosened their grip on the electorate. The smarter conservatives knew their best hope was to portray the Democratic rescue remedy as dangerously alien -- black socialist fascist etc. But to complete the trick, they also had to pretend that they were not who they had been back when America fell out of love with them.

Thus their candidates' advance men tell the world that they are beyond left and right, and stand merely for Freedom, which as Thomas Jefferson knew means no capital gains tax or teaching evolution.

Maybe in future iterations these candidates will refuse to even acknowledge they're actually running for office. They'll ask reporters why they're following them around; do their speaking engagements with their backs to the audience and, when people applaud, look around as if confused; finally, they'll walk into their election-night victory celebrations as if they're surprise parties, and announce, "Well, as long as I'm 'elected,' as everyone keeps telling me, I guess I'll do away with Social Security and Roe v. Wade."

But here we are onto science fiction: It won't be proper satire for another year or two. And by then it will be too late.

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