Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Jumping the Shark

It's official: I'm worried about conservative America.

It's been building for a while but I really became aware of it during the VP debate when Sarah Palin straight up told the country that she wasn't going to answer the questions given to her. This was followed up a few days later with the McCain campaign straight up telling the country that they were going to go negative on Barack Obama because the economy is a losing issue for them. Funny, most Americans feel that way these days.

Over the weekend, I went and performed my patriotic duty (according to several right wing radio hosts) by seeing An American Carol, an ugly patchwork of slapstick comedy that, quite literally, finds joy in celebrating the idea that America is being attacked from within by liberalism. During one particularly disturbing scene, ACLU lawyers are gunned down like zombies. "Try it, it's fun," says judge Dennis Hopper. Although, the movie really outdoes itself by re-imagining Hitler as a kumbaya-singing liberal. Jonah Goldberg would be proud.

It's a chilling feeling to be in a theater with, say, 5-6 other people who get their kicks by demonizing their fellow Americans. Thankfully, most of the non-slapstick humor in this movie requires the viewer to be versed in either right wing talk radio (Hannity in particular) or blogs (see the Jonah Goldberg reference). The movie isn't "funny" because of conservative values, but rather its pop-culture references to things talked about on Fox News, AM1280 The Patriot, and KTLK. In that sense, it's not conservative at all. But then again, what is these days?

Anywho, aside from a disturbing example of what passes for conservative humor, Sarah Palin's gloves have been taken off and she is now engaged in some of the most fantastically ugly campaigning in American history. Of course, it's attracting exactly the type of crowds one would expect it to.

This morning I read that the Pennsylvania GOP has called Obama "a terrorist's best friend." The first thought that ran through my head was that the folks who made An American Carol are probably upset they didn't think of this little gag first. The second was how on earth are liberals and Democrats supposed to react should McCain-Palin actually get elected?

It's only going to get uglier:

Barack Obama, [Palin] told 8,000 fans at a rally here Monday afternoon, "launched his political career in the living room of a domestic terrorist!" This followed her earlier accusation that the Democrat pals around with terrorists. "This is not a man who sees America the way you and I see America," she told the Clearwater crowd. "I'm afraid this is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to work with a former domestic terrorist who had targeted his own country." The crowd replied with boos.

McCain had said that racially explosive attacks related to Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, are off limits. But Palin told New York Times columnist Bill Kristol in an interview published Monday: "I don't know why that association isn't discussed more."

Worse, Palin's routine attacks on the media have begun to spill into ugliness. In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric's questions for her "less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media." At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, "Sit down, boy."

I don't think most Americans have an appreciation for just how much the modern conservative media apparatus relies on portraying liberals as The Other--a threat-from-within that equals Al Qaeda in its ability to destroy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This portrayal typically unveils itself in one of two ways: "humor" and rage. As most of you can probably attest to, these two often cross paths.

In an age where conservatives have largely been in control of each branch of government, the military, and corporate America; and during a time when they have no trouble getting their message out through the media; it is a scary thought to think that such a mainstream movement would be able to celebrate authority by demonizing people who are not and have not been in control for quite some time. While sitting in the theater watching a handful of 60 year olds laugh at all the silly ways in which those damn liberals have fucked with George Bush's America, I couldn't help but feel a little afraid of the answer to the opposite of a question I asked myself earlier in this post: What would these people do if Obama won? They're obviously not going to view his victory as being legitimate. They can't. After 2000 and all of the bridges that are being burned with this election (including right here in the 3rd District), the next 4 years of an Obama presidency will be nothing but a Hannity-fueled rage-fest. It's the same sort of gun-to-the-head politicking that movement conservatism grew up around:

When this bunch has finished their work, what do they tell us then?

They say, with a laugh, that the only way to keep them from doing it again is for us to give up. To have a government that tries to redistribute wealth inevitably attracts the gnawing and the blighting of creatures like them. And they will get through the slightest loophole, they boast; they will take the whole structure down using the smallest crack they can find. "The problem is that the federal government hands out billions of dollars, and people will lie, cheat, steal, or bribe to get it," Grover Norquist once told a libertarian magazine.

If you have a big cake, and you put it under the sink and then you wonder why the cockroaches are in your kitchen, I don't think any sprays or blocking the holes in the walls are going to get rid of the cockroaches. You've got to throw the cake in the trash so that the cockroaches don't have something to come for.

It's a funny thing, though: I've been eating cake all my life, and I've never had problems with cockroaches. And just as there are millions of other people whose cake-eating experiences are largely cockroach-free, there are also millions who liver under governments run by capable professionals, not hacks bent on wrecking the operation; entire countries where American-style scandals are as rare as sweatshops. But conservatives block out this possibility as though it were some kind of schoolboy utopia, some French absinthe dream. For these hardheaded pragmatists it's one or zero, remember, government or no government. If you don't like what Norquist's buddies are doing in Washington, your only alternative is to give up on economic justice altogether, to throw the whole thing in the trash.

-Thomas Frank, The Wrecking Crew pp. 247-8

In the case of electoral politics, it's conservative rule or no rule. Don't believe me? Tune in to Hugh Hewitt every day to listen to him talk about how electing Democrats will literally get Americans killed. Tune in to Sean Hannity every day to listen to him talk about how a vote for a Democrat is a vote for Osama bin Laden. Go to a McCain-Palin rally and see how many people express disgust should you shout out that Barry Hussein Obama is a terrorist-loving Muslim communist. Hell, that's probably the best way to make friends at an event like that.

As a dedicated follower of conservative talk radio, I can tell you that this phenomenon has been building for quite some time and that should push come to shove (as it did in Florida in 2000), the humor (which never really was there in the first place) quickly turns to rage and suddenly, after all those hours spent listening to radio propagandists go on and on about how Democrats will get you killed, you have found yourself face-to-face with a Democrat who has gotten himself in the way of what you know is good and right. Suddenly, after all those hours spent laughing at jokes where Hitler is a liberal and where ACLU lawyers are gunned down in a court of law, an honest-to-god liberal is standing between you and...well, have I mentioned that electing Democrats will get you killed?

Where does something like this stop?

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