James Wolcott, apparently feeling the need to punish himself for who knows what reason, subjected himself
to a bold, fresh piece of falafel, and came away wondering if time had stopped back in 2005. 2005?
Oh, I can only dream
of such a far-off, science fiction-y day and age, surrounded as I am by reactionary relatives and acquaintances whose calendars haven’t shuffled off old pages since, oh, 1988 or so. Just the other day, my brother was bewailing the omnipresence of Communists in the Obama administration, and it wasn’t until I checked in with Media Matters that I realized that he wasn’t engaging in hyperbole (at least, not intentionally) — his hero Glenn Beck has apparently been on a Red Scare-tear
Wolcott then asked the perennial question:
If you’ve won, why are you still whining?
Why, indeed. Thankfully, many smarter, better writers than me have addressed this mystery of why the reactionaries can’t seem to ever be happy with what they own or accomplish, so let me turn the floor over to them (for the most part) and stand in the wings, pensively stroking my beard and nodding sagely.
I recently quoted this from Matt Taibbi, but it applies here as well:
The problem not only with fundamentalist Christians but with Republicans in general is not that they act on blind faith, without thinking. The problem is that they are incorrigible doubters with an insatiable appetite for Evidence. What they get off on is not Believing, but in having their beliefs tested. That’s why their conversations and their media are so completely dominated by implacable bogeymen: marrying gays, liberals, the ACLU, Sean Penn, Europeans and so on. Their faith both in God and in their political convictions is too weak to survive without an unceasing string of real and imaginary confrontations with those people — and for those confrontations, they are constantly assembling evidence and facts to make their case.
But here’s the twist. They are not looking for facts with which to defeat opponents. They are looking for facts that ensure them an ever-expanding roster of opponents. They can be correct facts, incorrect facts, irrelevant facts, it doesn’t matter. The point is not to win the argument, the point is to make sure the argument never stops. Permanent war isn’t a policy imposed from above; it’s an emotional imperative that rises from the bottom. In a way, it actually helps if the fact is dubious or untrue (like the Swift-boat business), because that guarantees an argument. You’re arguing the particulars, where you’re right, while they’re arguing the underlying generalities, where they are.
Once you grasp this fact, you’re a long way to understanding what the Hannitys and Limbaughs figured out long ago: These people will swallow anything you feed them, so long as it leaves them with a demon to wrestle with in their dreams.
You know, when Junior Bush was handed the election in 2000, I, being the indefatigable optimist that I am, and worn out from eight years of anti-Clinton hysteria, tried to see the bright side of it: At least, I naively thought, they’ll finally stop their incessant goddamn complaining. They’ve got things going their way now, maybe they’ll finally be something close to happy. Of course, they proceeded to spend the next eight years convincing themselves that a doormat of an opposition party was somehow preventing a Republican-owned White House and Congress from…well, I’m not sure how, exactly, they thought the Republicans were being stifled. But whatever the stories they told themselves, the howls of perpetual outrage and the vein-popping, bug-eyed tirades only increased, and I quickly realized that nothing short of the utter extinction of everyone and everything they considered an enemy would suffice to soothe them (and of course, like all fanatical revolutionaries, they would have soon started extirpating heretics to keep satiating their bloodlust). They would rather be ruined than changed.
Speaking of revolutionaries, let me reiterate something I learned from the anonymous wisdom of the Internet once: the idea that “conservative” is the opposite of “liberal” is a tired old myth. Conservative is the opposite of radical. Liberal is the opposite of authoritarian. The famous revolutionary movements of the last few centuries have almost all been both radical and authoritarian. We’re all familiar with the results.
In what may be proof that we all
know deep down that God really is dead in our modern world, today’s “conservatives”, apparently not trusting Him to make things right in His own good time, have given in to pipe dreams of utopia in the here and now. I know it’s de rigueur
for the time being to favorably quote David Frum as one of the blessedly few sane conservatives, but as John Cole reminds us
, you know, fuck that guy. He’s perceptive enough to realize that Republicans have a marketing problem, that’s all. But anyway, remember when that crazy fuck actually wrote a book called An End to Evil
without being shuttled off to a madhouse? Does it get more starry-eyed utopian than that?
A genuine, sane
conservative like John Gray points out
the danger of this kind of thinking:
The search for meaning is dangerous when it spills over into politics. It’s not only dangerous when it produces the communists, the Jacobins and the Nazis, but also in the context of democratic or liberal meliorism, because it creates a preference for policies which satisfy this need for meaning rather than have an actual effect.
The belief that momentary feelings of unity or visions of perfection can survive permanently into everyday life this side of eternity is the ante-room of nihilism and fascism. Such beliefs give rise to ahistorical fantasies, which can never materialize beyond the notion. To the extent that they are relentlessly pursued, they progressively crush the moments of solace that precious moments of grace can in fact convey. Historically such fantasies have spawned generations of cynics, misanthropes and failed revolutionaries who, having glimpsed resolution, cannot forgive the grinding years of imperfect life that still must be lived.