Sunday, September 6, 2009

Open Up

On a tip from Crooks and Liars, I checked out this Democracy Now! interview with Max Blumenthal in which he discusses his book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party. He says an interesting thing in this interview; in a discussion about Frank Schaeffer, an important figure in his genealogy of the religious right, he reports the following:

And his son says, you know, “My father would have been so upset to see what the Christian right and the Republican Party has become today. He despised the homophobia of the movement.”

And what Frank Schaeffer told me, which is most interesting, is that “This movement, we were like oncologists. We needed a crisis to keep occurring in American society in order for us to stay in business.” And that’s what we’re seeing with the healthcare debate, too. I mean, we’re seeing a movement that’s terrified that the government will start to be able to solve people’s crises, because they survive and thrive on manipulating people’s personal crises.
I found this really interesting, and it reminded me of something that my friend Nathan said to me the other night. Blumenthal's argument, in part, is that the religious right's M.O. is to oppose any and all efforts by the government to solve the problems of everyday people for the simple and cynical reason that by doing so, the government infringes on its territory--religion's capacity to serve as the crutch for any and all personal problems, no matter the size. This is an interesting hypothesis that potentially enables us to understand why the health care "debate" has taken the form it has.

But as Nathan, Anne and I were discussing health care, town halls, and the absolute weirdness of the right's characterization of Obama as an Orwellian overlord, Nathan made an interesting comment that I think better explains for me, at least at a topical level, the off-the-wall paranoia of recent conservative descriptions of Obama. In Nathan's view, the right promulgates a view of Obama as a dictator because it serves a psychological function; the Democractic dictator is the fantasy of the Republican party and the far right generally. Republicans would rather have a Hitlerian Democrat in power than a moderate one because such a situation allows the party to frame all political questions in terms of crisis. In other words, in addition to an ideology in which personal responsibility falls within the ken of a religious community, the right also thrives on the politics of enmity. Think of it this way: without a clear and present enemy like bin Laden or Saddam Hussein to rally around, the right has invented a new enemy. It's not a coincidence that the Right has tried each and every label on Obama. If they can't win an election against a "Muslim," maybe they should reach further back into the past and label him a socialist (not to mention a racist). Maybe that will work.

Maybe. The point here is not that this strategy doesn't work--in fact, it has worked well recently--but that by painting Obama as a 21st century Mao indoctrinating school children along party lines, the Right is in its element: he's not a citizen, Americorp is indoctrination, Obama is inflating the census count of minorities to redraw congressional districts, he introduced swine flu to the country, they're building death camps in the southwest, the legislation is going to result in rationing. On and on and on. These are just examples that I pulled off of the top of my head; they by no means represent a complete list of the crimes that the Right fantasizes about Obama committing. By creating this monster, the Right gets to relive the past; it's spring of 2003 again. And the reason for doing this is simple: the only way to win this fight is for the Right to change the subject. Never mind the crisis of health care; this is a constitutional crisis that strikes to the heart of American values.

Or so the logic goes. But buyer beware: that feeling of self-congratulatory righteous indignation that the Right is cultivating--it's is a placebo.

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