Monday, October 27, 2008
The Republican Spirit
I was reminded of this low moment in Republican attack rhetoric (Nov 2005 if you're wondering) by the recent examples of Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman. Republicans celebrate such ugliness - they cheer when Ann Coulter offers her crudest and most insulting sarcasm.
Lately I have attributed the anger and bitterness of Republicans to the shock they must be feeling as their era of rule comes to an ignominious end. But then I remember how profoundly miserable and angry these people were from the very start, and in the moments of their greatest power. They love the culture war, and now that they are losing, they cling to it. It is their safety blanket. It is their consistent theme, going back to Reagan and Buchanan, Gingrich and DeLay, Schmidt and Coulter, and now Palin and even John McCain.
In the final days of this campaign, we see the Republicans working overtime, striving mightily to close Obama's lead. They are pulling out all the stops - calling northern Virginia "communist country" while protesting that Obama's health care and tax policies amount to socialism; playing the race card wherever voters appear to be open to such tactics; and painting Obama as a foreigner, a Muslim, and a terrorist.
Mean-spirited and dishonest attacks seem to offer some relief to men and women for whom religious and political duty are tied together with Republican bumper stickers - people for whom tribalism trumps tolerance, evolution is a dirty word, Democrats are terrorists, immigrants are a threat, and global warming is just a liberal invention.
Sarah Palin is one of these people - clearly part of that sub-culture of ignorant, jingoistic, creationist, pro-life, nativist, corporate supply-side tax-cut populism, but John McCain seems to be riding the wave. Occasionally, he registers an objection, but mainly he surfs the sea of anger, ignorance, and racial resentment - hoping that he will manage somehow to land safely on the beach.
After the 2000 election, McCain expressed sincere regret that, in the pursuit of a few votes, he had expressed support for the display of the Confederate flag in South Carolina. What will he say when this race is done, and who will be inclined to listen?
More importantly, when we have won, and the government is in our hands, can we do right by these people - through tax relief, improvements in education and health care, and through growth in real wages and jobs - so that they never again can be played by the cynical Republican hate machine?
We face many challenges in the next few years, but in order to succeed we need to change some hearts. We need to move past the debilitating culture wars, and the limits imposed by the polarized politics of the past thirty years.
I believe Barack Obama understands this. He says it all the time, and he has run a campaign that has reflected this insight and commitment from the very beginning, through the primaries, and right up to this moment. That consistency speaks more loudly and clearly than any of his speeches or advertisments.
Let us hope that this election will result in a change in our culture - a movement away from the ugliness and polarization that has disabled our government and polluted our society. Perhaps in defeat, Republicans will recognize that Americans are truly tired of the nasty tactics, the personal attacks, the cynical appeals to patriotism, nativism, religion, and racial prejudice. Perhaps not.
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No subject for immortal verse
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse."
-- Cecil Day-Lewis from Where Are The War Poets?
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