These are weird times, made weirder every day by the immediacy and explicitness of our media-age. For the last two weeks, I have watched the many you-tube videos showing the creepiest of Americans storming town halls and local recreation centers to let their intransigent voices be heard in cheesy pseudo-patriotic splendor.
Unfortunately for these heroic true-blue-ers, it appears that the nefarious mustachioed forces of collectivist evil (i.e. free t-shirted volunteers and inept government bureaucrats) have barred many of the doors. Not surprisingly, chunky down-homey folks reacted as they are wont to do, with flailing, misguided and ill-informed indignation, followed, naturally, by short recap interview spots on Fox News. These are our post-post-modern counterculture revolutionaries. They don't really know how to chant or march per se, but they recite bumper stickers relatively well and have been on Wikipedia just long enough to have a third-grader’s understanding of historical American reform movements and co-opt some misused symbolism. The slightly more disconcerting part, however, is that they are poorly practiced in the ways of non-violent dissent, having done little throughout their largely disaffected lives. Regrettably, it only takes one or two slight shoves by a Popeye-armed plumber with gold-reflective Oakley sunglasses that are, evidently and counter-intuitively, still being made and sold somehow, of a guy that looks exactly like him and their preternatural instincts turn the party all headlocky and strange. But what is the actual root of this well-earned protestation? Well, that is where things get really obscure.
The issue de jour raising the ire of American conservatives is public healthcare. Like so many issues before it, this one too has little or nothing to do with reality or fact. It resides in the much more forgiving and flexible land of our sensationalist-media-caked, blogged and streaming you-tubed, self-indulgent political debate. The utter lack of substance of our current discourse is virtually impossible to overstate at this point. Political theater is hardly a novel idea, but today's version is so surrealistic, haphazard and devoid of substance or merit that it resembles what I can only imagine a Quentin Tarantino high school play would be like. Making it worse, this dumbed-down, trans-continental version of Crossfire exists almost entirely in a political vacuum, without any real arbitrator of truth or factuality to monitor the performance. The sides, if they can be called that, are entirely free to say whatever they want in furtherance of their cause, and there simply is no way to stop it any more. Ideally, one side's arguments would largely prevail on its merits, but the model is so warped and broken that the debate doesn’t even approach the merits. There is no speaking truth the power. It's about speaking emphatic falsity to broad idiocy. This country, and particularly the right, are media-herded political cattle, only shiny objects and loud noises do any good. I suppose I can guess why hardcore conservatives seem to me most susceptible to this brand of marketing. They generally have less information, but care desperately about appearing to be informed (see for reference the entire career of Bill O’Reilly), making them the perfect storm of dangerous stupid. They like the illusion of advocacy without the annoyance of investigation or study. Like the worst of their concentric-circled religious brethren, they can certainly quote scripture, but couldn’t find Judea on a map with both hands.
Truthfully, though, it’s our own fault. We tolerate it, primarily out of some obligatory notion that it’s good for the country and it furthers America’s greatest attribute, dissent. Listen, I am all for a good discussion, even more for righteous indignation when it’s actually righteous, but I am not going to pretend there is righteousness where there isn’t. I am proud to live in a country in which Klu Klux Klan-ers can march on Skokie should they chose to, but I don’t take pride in their existence in the first place, nor do I feel the need to pretend they hold a legitimate opinion. They don’t. They have a confusion and a problem, but it’s not really an opinion. We may not have many KKK-ers out in the open today, but an identifiable thread of inhumanity still lingers and finds expression elsewhere. You would have to intentionally deceive yourself not to see some philosophical overlap between the Birthers, the folks that use Barack Obama’s middle name as some sort of anti-Muslim fear tactic, the "God Hates Homos" hyper-religious crowd, and even to some extent a number of modern tea-baggers. These people are bound irrevocably by fear, fear of virtually everything (immigrants, communists, foreigners, the Hollywood elite, San Francisco, puppies....probably), and the ranting hatred that gives voice to that fear. They rail against what they deem to be communism despite some of the most overt contradictions imaginable. They truly, sadly and ironically, believe that Obama, a modern centrist democrat whose entire career has been powered by large corporations and wealthy individuals most assuredly bent on maintaining the status quo, and schooled in the Realpolitik ways of Chicago public service, is somehow, inexplicably, a dyed-in-wool Marxist. It's actually never occurred to them how counterintuitive that is. As Obama cuts back-door deals with monster pharmaceutical companies, bails out over-indulgent banks, hedge funds, car companies and every other powerful sector in the American economy with lobbyists on a speed-dial, savvy political observers in wood-paneled gentlemen clubs on K-Street order another glass of scotch and laugh at the inevitable, unflinching rotation of the political earth. Meanwhile, the intellectually feeble throughout the gritty real-America-land take to the streets like marionettes on strings running from the sausagey, greased fingers of Rush Limbaugh and Dick Army.
And when they go out, they go armed to the nines with stupid. Some recent highlights:
They wear confederate flag t-shirts and hold up signs that say "Abolish Federal Government," no doubt unaware that the preamble to the Confederacy’s Constitution very clearly contemplates the formation of "a permanent federal government" for which it was drafted (or copied really).
They compare Obama to Hitler, because rational people can of course recognize the vast similarities between the Holocaust and Nazi death-squads and a milquetoast house bill that may or may not include a potential option of government paid health-insurance for those citizens that chose it. Hitler rounded up and murdered millions of Jews, gays, artists and the infirm with the militant force of jackbooted thugs and Obama similarly wants to kill all of the old people by the more surreptitious but equally evil route of offering doctors under the public health-plan credit for providing penta-annual end-of-life consulting services for those that request it. I suppose in some gestalt sense of all things being intertwined to one great web of existence, these may be very similar, but in the normal-functioning-brain level of obvious historical comparison, they could scarcely be more different.
They claim that their protest to public healthcare program is a philosophical objection to socialist governmental services, while arguing in the same breath that this program will ruin the most conspicuous of all social public insurance programs – Medicare and Medicaid – all without even the faintest hint of irony. This is what allows them, beautifully and magically, to say things like "Keep the government out of my Medicare." Honestly, Jonathan Swift couldn’t approximate this level of pure, crystallized ironical genius. An avowed atheist most days, when I see a creepy conservative say something like this on television, I feel the divine elbow of God nudging and fucking with me just a little bit. Like he literally smirkingly says to me, while stroking his long white beard, "watch this shit, I am going to make one of your buddies here make no fucking sense at all." Oh, we giggle a bit (me and God) and go back to our mutual indifference to one another, but perhaps it does make me feel less alone in the vast expanse of nothingness.
This is what America has come to I fear. The problem is so much more pervasive than this particular issue. Large swaths of this country, simply put, are Sarah Palin-dumb. What’s worse, it’s a country of self-aggrandizing Joe "the Plumbers", who almost literally (as literally as possible given the inherent limitations of the poorly-used phrase) know nothing. I usually feel sorry for people like them, I do. It's not entirely their fault - but society does them no service in pretending to listen to them, any more than it does a blind hooker by letting her drive a Smart-Car on the interstate, or really any blind person for that matter. These people are dangerously unaware of the world, politics and, most significantly, their own gross and violent inadequacy to even remotely comprehend these issues in the first place. Ignorance is never conscious, but usually it’s at least a little insecure. Those days appear to be behind us. Ignorance likes to speak up at the dinner table now, and loudly. He blogs fiercely, writes Op-Ed pieces, has millions of listeners on the radio every day, runs for vice-president and shows off his pulpy gams to the drooling morons the rest of us call rightwing-nuts. This is the mind-numbingly ignorant United States of current America in which I must toil. It's so utterly demoralizing to thoughtful people, that I simply don't see how we can abide it any longer. Honestly, these Palin-ites need less town hall meetings, and more legitimate education. They need to pick up real-life books and newspapers once in a while, and stop deriving their political talking points from the hacks at Fox News or an email thread sent by the biggest moron they and ten other morons know. And most importantly, they need to put down the internet and all the crazy that comes with it. Creepy conservatives and middling rightwing pseudo-politicos absolutely love the internet and its ability to make relevant their previously marginalized credos.
I quite understand that this will seem like elitism, so the better to deal with it frankly. I am not really an elitist, at least in any palpably historical sense. I am by no means wealthy, and not a single identifiable member of my lineage has ever lived on Park Avenue, or owned a home in or on (not sure which) a Cape or Vineyard or a Hampton. My education, though post-graduate, is relatively pedestrian. I am neither terribly fit, nor white-toothy good looking nor exceedingly tall, as traditional elitists indeed once were. But that's really the point. Elitism isn't what it used to be. It actually takes very little in our modern political culture. I can read, and care to. I try to remain thoughtful about things I understand and humble regarding the things I don’t. I don’t feign an undying love of the constitution and the Founding Fathers just so I can carry guns and dislike black people. I try not to randomly pray for shit in the middle of the day. I have little more than what should be a normal educated adult's understanding of the complexities of the world. But, to my elitist credit, I know just enough to not confuse jingoistic sloganism with patriotism, empty platitudes with righteousness or redundancy with political astuteness. Just enough not to think that a public option healthcare program is communism just because someone less educated than me can say it aloud relentlessly. Just enough not to buy into the over-marketed and trite notion that everyone in the heartland, bible-belt or who hunt moose are "real" Americans, and the fifty million people that live in the greater New York, Los Angeles and Bay Area regions somehow aren't. I know it’s verboten, but truthfully, I don't want moose hunters to be even remotely relevant in national politics ever again. I want them just to keep to being weird and, presumably, hunting moose. Let those of us with some lingering connection to the larger world take care of the important things.
Obviously, I have also referenced weight a good deal in this, but I do so for good reason and certainly not to seem body-type judgmental. I point it out for its intrinsic symbolism to the people I am generally describing. I think the world has long been able (me being its rational normal person spokesman for these purposes) to tolerate the lamentations of the indigent and the physically slight. However, the extreme indulgence, the gluttonous Walmart-ian lust, of the average current beefy protestor betrays his alleged plight. When I think of the significant movements of political revolt, I think of a shivering and war-torn Tom Paine sitting by a campfire scribbling of times that try men's souls, I think of great huddled angry masses of Russian proletariat reading obsessively their dog-eared mass-produced manifestos and striving for a better lot in life, I think of sweet cargo-panted campesinos in the Sierra Madre mountains, I think of soot-faced railway workers and miners that haven’t eaten a decent meal in days, and I think of Gandhi wasting away to the bone in the service of his beliefs. Whatever the ultimate cause, we general can empathize with those that bleed, die and starve for it. Today's raging American populist is hardly so romantic. We have traded in William Lloyd Garrison, Eugene Debs and Rosa Parks for Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. My peripheral vision flashing red dots go into overdrive and the inside of my mouth acidifies a bit when I think of Rush Limbaugh as a counterculture head of a reformist movement, or that we live in a society in which Glenn Beck fancies himself an intellectual satirist, or where Sean Hannity is somehow, inexplicably, allowed to even exist.
But this is who America is. Too fat and too stupid to realize we are so fat and so stupid. We are without shame, without apology, and, seemingly more every day, without prospect of redemption. Self-satisfied intellectual liberals, also overfed on their own sense of detached superiority, are left only to laugh at the absurdity of it all.