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INTERMITTENT NOTESXML

Zombies on the March

How the GOP Became a Death Cult

By Werther*

The penny dropsDoes anyone still remember the GOP of the chowder and marching society, Jell-O salads, Buicks, and cloth coats? Is it conceivable that a Republican could have written the following? —

"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."

That was President Eisenhower, writing to his brother Edgar in 1954.

But the Republican Party of 2011 is not your grandfather's GOP, not by a long shot. To be sure, the party always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King! Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well)! Paul Broun! Patrick McHenry! Virginia Foxx! Louie Gohmert! The Congressional Directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.

The Republican Party of 2011 believes in three principal tenets (the rest of their platform is essentially window dressing):

1. They solely and exclusively care about their rich contributors, and have built a whole catechism on the protection and further enrichment of America's plutocracy. Their caterwauling about deficit and debt is so much eyewash, intended to con the booboisie. Whatever else President Obama has accomplished (and many of his purported accomplishments are highly suspect), his $4-trillion deficit reduction package did perform the useful service of smoking out Republican hypocrisy. The GOP could not abide so much as a one-tenth of one percent increase on the tax rates of the Walton family (net worth: $86 billion) or the Koch brothers, much less a repeal of the carried interest rule that permits billionaire hedge fund managers to pay income tax at a lower effective rate than cops or nurses.
2. They worship at the altar of Mars. While the me-too Democrats have set a horrible example of keeping up with the Joneses with respect to waging war, they can never match GOP stalwarts such John McCain or Lindsey Graham in their sheer, libidinous enthusiasm for invading other countries. McCain wanted to mix it up with Russia — a nuclear-armed state — during the latter's conflict with Georgia in 2008 (remember? — "we are all Georgians now," a slogan that did not, fortunately, catch on), while Graham has been persistently agitating for attacks on Iran and intervention in Syria. And these are not fringe elements of the party; they are the leading "defense experts" who always get tapped for the Sunday talk shows. If we are to believe Eric Cantor, a majority of House Republicans will not vote to raise the debt ceiling; yet these are the same people who just passed a defense appropriations bill that increases spending by $17 billion over the prior year's defense appropriation. To borrow Chris Hedges' formulation, war is the force that gives meaning to their lives.
3. Gimme that old time religion. Pandering to religious nuts is a full-time vocation in the GOP. Beginning in the 1970s, religious cranks ceased simply to be a minor public nuisance and grew into the major element of the Republican rank and file. Pat Robertson's strong showing in the 1988 Iowa Caucus signaled the gradual merger of politics and religion in the party. The results are all around us: if the American people poll more like Iranians or Nigerians than Europeans or Canadians on questions of evolution versus creationism, scriptural inerrancy, the existence of angels and demons, and so forth, that result is due to the rise of the Religious Right, its insertion into the public sphere by the Republican Party, and the consequent normalizing of formerly reactionary or quaint beliefs. The Constitution to the contrary notwithstanding, there is now a de facto religious test for the presidency: major candidates are encouraged (or coerced) to "share their feelings" about their "faith" in a revelatory speech; or, some televangelist like Rick Warren dragoons the candidates (as he did with Obama and McCain in 2008) to debate the finer points of Christology, with Warren himself, of course, as the arbiter. Politicized religion is also the sheet anchor of the culture wars. But how did this toxic stew of beliefs come completely to displace Eisenhower Republicanism?

It is our view that the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism (which is a subset of the decline of empiricism in America) is the key ingredient of the takeover of the Republican Party. For politicized religion provides a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes — at least in the minds of followers — all three of the GOP's main tenets.

Televangelists have long-espoused the health-and-wealth/name-it-and-claim it gospel. If you are wealthy, it is a sign of God's favor. If not, too bad! But don't forget to tithe in any case. This rationale may explain why some downscale whites vociferously defend the prerogatives of billionaires.

The GOP's fascination with war is also connected with the fundamentalist mindset. The Old Testament abounds in tales of slaughter — God ordering the killing of the Midianite male infants and enslavement of the balance of the population, the divinely-inspired genocide of the Canaanites, the slaying of various miscreants with the jawbone of an ass — and since American religious fundamentalist seem to prefer the Old Testament to the New (particularly that portion of the New Testament known as the Sermon on the Mount), it is but a short step to approving war as a divinely-inspired mission. This sort of thinking has led, inexorably, to such phenomena as Jerry Falwell writing that God is Pro-War.

It is the apocalyptic frame of reference of fundamentalists, their belief in an immanent Armageddon, that psychologically conditions them to steer this country into conflict, not only on foreign fields (some evangelicals thought Saddam was the Antichrist, and therefore a suitable target for cruise missiles), but also in the realm of domestic political controversy. It is hardly surprising that the most adamant proponent of the view that there is no debt ceiling problem is Michele Bachmann, the darling of the fundamentalist right. What does it matter, anyway, if the country defaults? — we shall presently abide in the bosom of the Lord.

But while the rank and file of the faithful believe, deludedly, in whatever nonsense they believe, their tactical allies and paymasters may be playing a more cynical game. Behind a lot of crazy movements in history there were rational actors who made money off them (Krupp and I.G. Farben vis-à-vis the Nazis, etc.). We may be wrong to blithely assume the "business community" is unanimously supporting an increase in the debt ceiling. There could be vultures who are pushing a default so they can buy up the pieces at a fire-sale price. What else could explain all the money the Koch brothers are pumping into Michele Bachmann's campaign?

The sleep of reason breeds monsters.


* Werther is the pen name of a Northern Virginia-based defense analyst.

« "Evil Will Always Triumph Because Good Is Dumb" | Main | A Further Reflection on the 'Constitutional Option' »



Comments


It's probably worth noting that, according to a recent report in the Guardian, the world's richest people are now richer than they were before the crisis, and that there are now a few more of them. I daresay that these richest people would welcome another crash and have every interest in working behind the scenes to produce one. Though few in absolute numbers they wield a tremendous amount of influence...


I think Werther is spot-on. I would just mention one rather glaring omission, which is that the fundamentalist-GOP symbiosis is also crucial for the irrational and disgraceful support of the Zionist initiatives in the Middle East, and for the remarkable status of taboo that Israel has in this country. Being pro-Israel is an integral part of the "last days" paradigm of the fundamentalists. There is now even emerging a "Christian Zionism" of all things. The capture of the Bible Belt and much (by no means all) of the formerly anti-Semitic current in this country — represents a triumph of Zionist propaganda — and money.

I think Werther is also quite right regarding the cynicism of "big money" regarding the debt ceiling, but he may be unaware that the fiat paradigm makes that debate pointless.

Another important item: the "corporatization" of the country is an absolutely crucial factor in the demise of the republic, and among its chief enablers is the GOP mindset in the Supreme Court, staffed with the likes of a Scalia and co.


While I always enjoy Werther's eloquence, the points he is making have, I believe, now been made often enough. For some reason your country seems to have descended into a morass; only the greedy and the stupid have a voice.

I think it is time to start working on the solution instead of continuing to lament the problem. The reason the Right is so firmly in control is that since the socialist program led the world into the stagflation era of the '70s it has not had any new ideas to counter the neoliberal/neoconservative platform.


OK, no takers. How about this as a start: Americans will do practically anything in the name of freedom. Maybe it's time to come up with another definition of this highly emotive term to contest the neoliberal one, which is simply the freedom to accumulate.

[The thing is, David, that while most thoughtful Americans realize something/everything is wrong with the manufactured "debt ceiling" crisis, not so many — perhaps out of an abundance of charity — are ready to ask the question 'who benefits?' So Werther's complaint has a great deal of merit. To your point, the "freedom to accumulate" seems to me illusory, as does most of the argument over "freedoms." A starving person can't be "free" in any meaningful sense, nor an uneducated, ignorant one. The framing, then, isn't between "freedom" and something else, but between exploitation and sanity. Which goes to a more profound question: how can one describe a government's actions as moral? I've been thinking about this and may have more to say later. g.]


"Freedom to...?" If people were aware that life is a hard thing with a rough beginning and often a rougher end, perhaps they'd get on board with the idea that "freedom from..." is a better perspective.

Not in the cards, I admit, but I just thought I'd chime in.

I'd like to have me a few basic freedoms from things/activities/behaviors/worries. Freedom-loving selfish buggers on loud motorcycles. There's one. That'd be a start. And duped morons complaining about the threat to their taxation levels (NOT). And on and on. I would enjoy so many of these.

Alas. I must now go roll me up another dung ball and act glad to have some toils to distract me from the outside world.


George, you're being too cerebral! Since, as we agreed, too many voters have no basic world knowledge and cannot reason logically, you have to find another way to appeal to them.

I recall an Alberta politician, "Bible Bill" Eberhart, who was able to hold power for almost 30 years by running campaigns when all he said was things like he and his cabinet "mean business". This meaningless statement was utterly impervious to the cerebral arguments of the Left.

So, take a word like "freedom", which, as Karl Polanyi points out, can enable a lot of bad things as well as good, and define it your way. Then start the incessant pounding of the drum.

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