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7.05.2009

VERSUS X: Into the Wilderness by David Haslam

It’s early yet, but President Barack Obama is looking a lot like Slick Willie, playing the pragmatist and trying to satisfy most of the people most of the time. Of course his opponents are not satisfied, as Republicans fumble and fulminate, issuing hysterical and nonsensical diatribes about socialism, which are in turn dutifully lapped up by semi-literate autodidacts and graduates of the Rush Limbaugh School of Political Science, according to whom the left has a monopoly on big government. The problem here is the C word: corporatism. Either these people don’t know what it is, think it doesn’t exist, or consider the word itself a taboo best left unspoken in political discourse.

It is a tribute to the paucity of intellect on the Republican right that they do not know what they themselves actually are. The proof in this pathetic pudding came in last year’s nauseating spectacle of the lynching of Ron Paul by Republican media shills. Paul, an actual libertarian, would not stand for the pork doled out to pet Republican causes and foreign interventions abroad; his lack of respect for the corporate welfare state provoked the ire of people like Sean Hannity and the aforementioned lump of gristle Rush Limbaugh, despite their claims to being “small-government conservatives.”

But the Republicans can be at least partially forgiven for waging war on thought in the same way that a female black widow can be forgiven for devouring her male mate: it’s just what they do, they can’t help themselves. And it is necessary; as a contradictory coalition of self-described Christians and social Darwinist plutocrats, militarists and isolationists, NASCAR fans and Harvard MBAs, free-market fundamentalists and apologists for the military-industrial complex, thought, of the rational and perceptive kind, is precisely what must be repressed in order to maintain the viability of the coalition.

And then there was Mustardgate, inspired by Obama’s choice of Dijon mustard on his hamburger (I wonder if he got fries with that burger? What kind were they?). The story in this is not his choice of condiment but the fact that, however briefly, the incident became a GOP talking point. This latest bout of culinary McCarthyism is, many would argue, less than newsworthy. I disagree, if only because it proves how clinically unhinged right-wing culture warriors are, especially since their party was kicked to the curb. Then again, that’s not really a surprise; it is a lack of change we can surely believe in. Political parties see themselves only in opposition, and it is this instinct that takes over while we might consider bi-partisan cooperation to be the more desirable course of action. But what Mustardgate really demonstrates is the desperate effort of the right to co-opt populism to suit its own pernicious ends.

Populism has been a fickle thing throughout American history, sometimes leaning rightward, sometimes leftward, often in response to economics (the Progressive era of the 1890s to the 1920s), and sometimes in response to socio-cultural forces (the anti-war and civil rights struggles of the 60s and 70s, or the nativist movements of the 1800s). That there will finally be a populist groundswell in response to corporate kleptocracy is a given. But who will benefit from it? So far it’s been the Democrats. Will Obama do enough? Don’t count on it. Corporatism is a bi-partisan project, after all. But don’t expect any Republicans to be honest about that. The likes of Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann will continue to be the populist stars of the GOP into the foreseeable future, even while what passes for the intelligentsia in their party cringe behind closed doors. It’s the only direction they can take to truly differentiate themselves from their rivals. That, sadly, will be reason enough for them.

The sad state of the Republicans has led for calls to rethink their approach and tactics from within the party itself. Limbaugh scoffed at this idea, arguing that what the Republicans needed to do was not mount a “listening tour,” but launch instead what he called a “teaching” tour. It was a brilliant moment, as the populist pretensions of this Palm Beach millionaire were punctured once and for all; the American people did not need to be listened to, they needed to be told what to think. At around the same time, in an example of conscious projection that only party politics can generate, other Republicans actually debated the merits of rebranding the Democrats the “Democrat-Socialist” party. I call this conscious projection because it is of course the Republicans who need to be rebranded, though you can call Kraft Dinner ambrosia and it will still taste like shit. In order to shift the focus away from their own ineptitude, they have deemed the Democrats the party in need of a makeover--which is true, since it appears that Obama will largely betray or ignore the progressives who trusted him in the first place. But I like this rebranding idea, and think that it is the Republicans who should take it seriously. For too long they have made the noble word “republican” a synonym for self-righteous cretinism. I suggest something more honest and accurate, like the Christian Social Darwinist Party.

Maybe then voters will be forced to consider the name as something real, and not an illusion given form and shape by their own ignorance.

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