Friday, February 20, 2009
Well, I guess I do have another thing to say, and it's at the center of the crisis in which our country finds itself. Watching the situation unfold, and the responses to it, it strikes me that it's almost as if the Republican party has deliberately and systematically destroyed every aspect of our ability to right the ship. I'd not (quite) go so far as to say that was their intent. But it doesn't matter: whatever the reason, their fingerprints are on every single failure, the causes of the fall, and the prevention of recovery. To me, it's undeniable.
For years we've heard from the Republican party that government is the enemy, that it must not be trusted. And for the past eight years, they proved it, beyond doubt. That's the first, and maybe the most central nail. Meanwhile, they've said that our most important business is business, that there's no higher goal than to unburden all business from the constraints of regulation and taxation. Making vast wealth at the top of society should be our over-riding ethic and the sole purpose of government; for then it will trickle down to the rest of us. That that is the central economic philosophy has been stated by virtually every Republican at least since Ronald Reagan. And finally, with the rise of fundamentalist religious influence in the party, there's been the steady erosion of intellectualism. Derided as elitist, overtly denigrated as unBiblical, the process of scientific inquiry has been equated with everything evil. Quite literally, we are losing the ability to think and to reason critically. Reduced by their own actions to a regional and furiously ideological party, few Republicans remain in Congress willing or able to compromise or coöperate, much less to think beyond their reflexive inculcations.
Whether the first were simply unhappy consequences of empty ideology, or part of a cynical attempt to plunder the country, I can't speculate. But the last -- the attempted replacement of education with indoctrination, the clear disdain for scientific method (which is our most powerful tool for evaluating and advancing understanding of our world) -- that, I'm quite sure, has been entirely deliberate: the less educated a populace, the more easily manipulated to vote against its own interest. And what more perfect example of mass manipulation is there than organized religion? How better to prevent questions than to substitute religion for reason in our schools, carefully eliminating the ability to assemble and judge information?
Meanwhile, as all this was taking place, there has been the rise of right-wing media, changing the very nature of civil discourse and honest opposition into a screaming and hate-filled force of destruction. Once again, I mean that quite literally. Nor do I believe it's accidental. The concerted efforts of talk-radio and Fox News to cheer-lead the craziest of the right wing and to destroy all credibility of the left, using distortion and lies as easily as they empty their colons, can't be accidental. There is no line of civility that can't be crossed, no untruth that can't be told. The insanity spewing forth, after only a month of Obama's presidency, ought to be frightening to anyone who thinks our problems are serious enough to require all oars in the water. Honest criticism, putting forth other ideas: simply not in their lexicon. How do people with talent for talking but with no actual ideas and zero command of facts become influential spokespeople, favor curried by politicians? There simply are no counterparts on the left: even Olbermann feels the need to have facts on his side.
So, to use a worn-out cliché, we have a perfect storm of failure. We're foundering on the resulting rocks of Republican reactionaries. Gone is the ethic of shared sacrifice, of common purpose; replaced by a desire for wealth and things. Gone is confidence that businesses are trustworthy, or that government is a proper source of support. In steep decline are the engines of creativity that come from critical thinking. And all the while, the right wing scream machine absolutely demands that we remain poles apart. From the right there is literally no ability to flex; so successfully have they been propagandized, there's not even a thought that these are unique times calling for unique solutions, and unique cooperation. The only arrows in the quiver are polemics, and tired ones at that. And it's left us wounded; the party of "values" has convinced us that money is the over-riding objective, that it's every man for himself.
It's hard to believe it's come to this. There was a time -- many times -- when this country faced huge crises and faced them with a measure of unity, with common effort, with a sense that we could do anything if we did it together. I think that's literally impossible now. To listen to the venom spewed by Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, Coulter; to hear Alan Keyes speak from his crazed world and all but call for Obama's assassination in the name of saving our country, is to have the end well in sight. To read of the innovations in energy being developed in India and China, to witness China, still flush with cash, on a buying spree around the world, is to see the US slipping into irrelevance.
Maybe it's okay. Maybe the world is better off not relying on US any more, for innovation, for moral clarity, for competence of any sort. Okay or not, it is the way it is and will be for a long time. Maybe forever. Barack Obama can only do so much. He can hit the right notes, make the right calls; but if enough people are too ideologically hidebound to hear it, if they prefer to listen to falsehoods in order to cleave to discredited beliefs, if the foundations for recovery have been brought down by years of narrow politics, it won't matter.
If it weren't so sad to see, there'd be humor: it's Pythonesque. Insisting the parrot isn't dead, that the knight isn't mortally wounded, the Republicans say the same things they've been saying for decades, as if they haven't failed, as if they haven't brought us to where we are (and no, ss, it doesn't wash to claim George tried to warn us of the mortgage problems: he bragged continually about the rise of homeownership under his watch, fuelled by disregarding the actual warnings delivered, among others, by Barack Obama four years ago). All they have is to insist Obama is a communist, that he isn't really president, that government spending is always wrong, no matter how unique the economic challenge, no matter that there's no other source of spending left. Run up all the debt you want in tax breaks for wealthy people, bail out big business; cry moral depravity if you lend a hand to the poor in the worst of times. While their media lead them happily over the brink.
Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, Tom Delay had a vision of a permanent majority, fueled by religious fervor, abetted by ignorance, distracted by a coördinated and dishonest media effort. Certain they could bamboozle enough people, they set about doing it. And it worked. Their followers are no more able to reassess the data than they are to relinquish their faith that they're right, against all evidence.
They got something permanent, all right: unprecedented and wide-ranging destruction of everything we need to find our way back. Nice work.