Like InstaPutz, I too am tempted to do horrible things if I read another post about the ‘epistemic closure of the conservative mind’ (besides, the obvious joke writes itself). Instead, I want to discuss Marc Ambinder’s recent post, “Have Conservatives Gone Mad?” To his credit, he’s one of the first ‘big names’ in political punditry to raise what regular readers of this blog already know: the conservative movement is batshit loony. Ambinder also makes this very good point:
Can anyone deny that the most trenchant and effective criticism of President Obama today comes not from the right but from the left? Rachel Maddow’s grilling of administration economic officials. Keith Olbermann’s hectoring of Democratic leaders on the public option. Glenn Greenwald’s criticisms of Elena Kagan. Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn’s keepin’-them-honest perspectives on health care. The civil libertarian left on detainees and Gitmo. The Huffington Post on derivatives.
But where I think Ambinder goes wrong is his description of this lunacy as a result of politics as entertainment (italics mine):
…the base itself seems to have developed a notion that bromides are equivalent to policy-thinking, and that therapy is a substitute for thinking.
It is absolutely a condition of the age of the triumph of conservative personality politics, where entertainers shouting slogans are taken seriously as political actors, and where the incentive structures exist to stomp on dissent and nuance, causing experimental voices to retrench and allowing a lot of people to pretend that the world around them is not changing. The obsession with ACORN, Climategate, death panels, the militarization of rhetoric, Saul Alinsky, Chicago-style politics, that TAXPAYERS will fund the bailout of banks — these aren’t meaningful or interesting or even relevant things to focus on.
Here, he misses the point of movement conservative politics. They do not exist to solve problems. Consider healthcare reform: conservatives should have been thrilled with this plan, because it was a conservative plan. But this assumes solving problems is the primary motive of conservative politics. It’s not.
Instead, conservative politics are the politics of blood, a politics of restoration through exclusion of the other. That is to say, the Palinist impulse is fascist, albeit non-violent in its current form (mostly, anyway):
Her policy ignorance isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Palin is conceptually and intellectually poor because her politics are not about policies, but a romantic restoration of the ‘real’ America to its rightful place. The primary purpose of politics is not to govern, not to provide services, and not to solve mundane, although often important, problems. For the Palinist, politics first and foremost exists to enable the social restoration of ‘real’ Americans (think about the phrase “red blooded American”) and the emotional and social advantages that restoration would provide to its followers (obviously, if you’re not a ‘real’ American, you might view this as a bad thing…). Practicalities of governance, such as compromise and worrying about reality-based outcomes, actually get in the way. Why risk having your fantasy muddied by reality?
In this way, symbols and short phrases are the goal, not a means.
This isn’t traditional ‘identity politics’, since an equal seat at the table isn’t the demand, but rather a desire to be primus inter pares. That, of course, is a zero-sum politics that can’t be negotiated with. It also is impervious to reality.
The point is that this isn’t entertainment: it’s reaffirmation of a creed and a mythical societal position. History is very clear about the end results of such movements.