The Modern GOP: Addicted to Porn, Addicted to the Paranoid Style

by Will on February 16, 2013

President George W. Bush and porn actress Mary Carey, 2005
President George W. Bush and porn actress Mary Carey, 2005

Kevin Drum sums it up nicely (h/t Mark Thoma):

It seems to me that something has happened over the past three months: the nonpartisan media has finally started to internalize the idea that the modern Republican Party has gone off the rails. Their leaders can’t control their backbenchers. They throw pointless temper tantrums about everything President Obama proposes. They have no serious ideas of their own aside from wanting to keep taxes low on the rich. They’re serially obsessed with a few hobby horses — Fast & Furious! Obamacare! Benghazi! — that no one else cares about. Their fundraising is controlled by scam artists. They’re rudderless and consumed with infighting. They’re demographically doomed. …

The framing of even straight new reports feels just a little bit jaded, as if veteran reporters just can’t bring themselves to pretend one more time that climate change is a hoax, Benghazi is a scandal, and federal spending is spiraling out of control. It’s getting harder and harder to pretend that the same old shrieking over the same old issues is really newsworthy.

The present-day GOP presents a curious spectacle, one unusual in American history. It behaves more irresponsibly than the average child or house pet. Its only predecessors in this would seem to be the Jeffersonian Republicans of the 1790s, the southern Fire Eaters of the 1850s, and the Birchers of the 1950s and 1960s. At present it operates by creating an endless series of manufactured “crises” that its leadership badly wants to resolve, but that the base is too invested in to give up. Though the Republicans have a majority in the house, the real balance of power appears to lie with the Democratic caucus and the handful of reasonable Republicans from the Mid-West, Northeast, and West that will vote with them so that business can go on and disaster be averted. Speaker Boehner even acknowledges this reality in his pronouncements and actions, demanding again and again that Democrats themselves produce spending cuts, changes to Medicare, or whatever Republicans are at present demanding — only to attack Democrats for whatever plan they do suggest, after the fact.

This is a movement that ranks theater higher than outcome, spectacle higher than reality. This has been so since George W. Bush lost control of his party’s base over the issue of immigration reform during his second term. Rather than bargaining to make that proposed reform as conservative and anti-immigrant as possible, most Republicans chose to take an absolutist stance and reject any reform whatsoever. The balance of power within the party shifted away from the big-money establishment on the eastern seaboard, and into the rural hinterlands of aging white America, in the thralls of con-artist entertainment celebrities like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and dozens of other similar mediocrities.

What these artists offer their listeners is a form of pornography. The reason that pornography is held as a very low, undistinguished art form is not simply its subject matter — the Bible is replete with expressions of sexuality, lust, and depravity, and yet even its critics allow that it is a literary masterpiece of the first order — but because of another feature. In pornography, instant gratification is the order of the day. Features of the real world such as tradeoffs, contrary interests, the necessity of compromise, transaction costs, and the fact that actions have consequences — the very features whose treatment marks the best works of art — are eliminated from consideration. The desire of the present moment is given tyrannical omnipotence. In terms of Hegel’s conception of history, this narrative form corresponds to despotism — the primative form of society that recognizes the freedom of only one, the despot whose will is command.

In the narrative conjured up by the entertainment demagogs of the right, every issue becomes an absolute struggle between good and evil, between liberty and tyranny, that Republicans can win by holding firm and spurning all compromise. The command to win this symbolic battle becomes absolute, and all consideration of how this will affect future negotiations or other actors’ behavior or anything at all is eliminated from the picture. To achieve the policy objective of the day — defeat of compromise on the “fiscal cliff”, humiliation of Secretary of State Clinton over the Benghazi “scandal”, defeat of Republican nominee Chuck Hagel, defeat, in short, of whatever the administration is proposing at the present moment — becomes a matter of absolute necessity, a source of instant gratification to the naive consumers of this pornography.

These same demagogic pornographers make liberal use of what historian Richard Hofstadter termed “the Paranoid Style.”  Hofstadter writes:

Any historian of warfare knows it is in good part a comedy of errors and a museum of incompetence; but if for every error and every act of incompetence one can substitute an act of treason, many points of fascinating interpretation are open to the paranoid imagination. In the end, the real mystery, for one who reads the primary works of paranoid scholarship, is not how the United States has been brought to its present dangerous position but how it has managed to survive at all.

The basic elements of contemporary right-wing thought can be reduced to three: First, there has been the now-familiar sustained conspiracy, running over more than a generation, and reaching its climax in Roosevelt’s New Deal, to undermine free capitalism, to bring the economy under the direction of the federal government, and to pave the way for socialism or communism. A great many right-wingers would agree with Frank Chodorov, the author of The Income Tax: The Root of All Evil, that this campaign began with the passage of the income-tax amendment to the Constitution in 1913.

The second contention is that top government officialdom has been so infiltrated by Communists that American policy, at least since the days leading up to Pearl Harbor, has been dominated by men who were shrewdly and consistently selling out American national interests.

Finally, the country is infused with a network of Communist agents, just as in the old days it was infiltrated by Jesuit agents, so that the whole apparatus of education, religion, the press, and the mass media is engaged in a common effort to paralyze the resistance of loyal Americans.

The president’s exotic name and exotic complexion cannot be ignored, and find their natural counterparts in an endless litany of other accused exocitisms: the man is a Muslim, a Marxist, a Kenyan anti-colonialist, an Alinskyite, an opportunist, a traitor. He agrees with Elijah Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan that the white man is the devil. He holds Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin in the highest esteem of all men of history. He naively assumes that socialism can be imposed by his dictate. He hates America and acts intentionally to destroy its economy and national defense. He is aloof and out of touch. He is ruthlessly engaged and seeks to actively insult ordinary Americans. He ingeniously implements his secret agenda to fundamentally transform the country. He is a lazy boob who can’t read a teleprompter. He is a true believer. He is just a welfare bum who wants to be president for the free stuff and the lavish vacations. He’s gay. He’s after our white women. The fact that these charges tend to contradict each other does not stop demagog pornographers from using each and every one of them.

If the administration is actively seeking to destroy the military, as many entertainers allege, why does it matter who is secretary of state? Why expend political capital blocking Chuck Hagel or anyone else? How much difference could it make? If the president is destroying the country with unconstitutional executive orders, what does it matter what the Republicans do, short of impeachment? Minutia of this sort is inconsequential to the game at hand: the rush of virtuous gratification that comes with such symbolic opposition is all that demagogs care about. That keeps the rubes tuning in.

Porn is, of course, big business. There’s a lot of money in it. However, it makes for poor political strategy, and even worse governance.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Marsha March 5, 2013 at 2:12 am

Will, This is a wonderful article. Keep them coming.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

Previous post:

Next post: