One of the most interesting cultural echoes to emerge from the right wing echo chamber over the nomination of Elena Kagan is also one of the most unsurprising.
With scant out of context catch phrase "gotcha-isms" available to the usual cast of right wing actors playing pundits on T.V., the conservative movement has had to dip into its long and inglorious bag of tricks to resurrect one of the classic tropes of right wing reactionary hysteria.
And it delves into the long undercurrent of anti-Semitism that has bubbled in the Conservative movement since the early 20th Century and the rise of Hollywood.
21st Century Conservatism can no longer be understood as an intellectual movement. It has long ago abandoned any pretense to critical thought, becoming instead a cult-like emotion based series of triggers, whistles and bells used to signify and resurrect long-standing and age-old pre-existing narratives already embedded in the minds of its followers.
Think a five year old looking at pictures and being asked to associate images. A pig means "oink." A lion means "growrrr!" That sort of thing.
The conservative movement, now a series of emotionally triggered hate-porn images masquerading as political thought, relies entirely on disconnected buzzwords presented by actors pretending to represent intellectuals (Gingrich, Kristol, et. al.).
For the ascendant personalities in this movement, namely Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, language itself is merely fodder for the Manchurian Candidate trigger words that prey on that most basic of human instincts:
I am defined not by what I am, but by what I am not.
We are all familiar with the "Other" -- the long history of nation building in which patriotism, jingoism, nationalism, ethnicity and regionality are defined not actively, but reactively.
For the snake oil salesman, the charlatan, the carnival barker or the half-term former governor from Alaska who sees life as a perpetual beauty pageant, this divide and conquer strategy is as comfortable as it is comforting.
There is real America. And there is fake America.
"This person is who you are not. Therefore you are."
For Christian America, there are two kinds of "Others" at work to be defined as outsider, contagion and threat to the purity of the Nation-State.
1 - The clearly demarcated ethnic Other (black, latino, Asian, European)
2 - The ethnic Other within.
It is the second group that causes the right wing white Christian movement the most anxiety of all. For while the first group can be rounded up, placed in urban ghettos or harassed with paperwork demands (see Arizona 2010) or poll taxes and/or voter purges (see Jeb Bush Florida 2004), the second group cannot be clearly marked. The second group cannot be defined by "what you are not" and, in so doing, provokes an intense crisis in "who you are."
There are only two groups that can "pass" as normal while not being normal in the dominant republican hierarchy of white, Christian heterosexual normativity.
1 - Gay
2 - Jew
Unlike other ethnic Others, gay people and Jewish people can "pass." They can integrate. They cannot be marked, or clearly seen, or clearly compartmentalized.
For the reactionary movement we call conservatism in 2010, there can be no greater threat to their perceived (and quite fictional) construction of the "real America." Sarah Palin's Norman Rockwell fantasies of a white, middle class of "values" that never existed, and never will exist, except in the fever dreams of the snake oil salesman preachers. For the conservative actors selling reassurance to a populace too afraid to use logic and facts and real world thinking they must clinging to cartoon simplicities. They must offer childhood reassurances of a safe past from long ago that exists somewhere deep in their subconscious longings for the safety of the crib. There are "us." And there are the clearly marked "Other."
Except where the lines break down: Gay people and Jewish people.
Long connected by Christian hucksters as "deviants." Sexually suspect and capable of corrupting Christian youth from within. A hidden menace that cannot be seen or located with ease.
This is what fueled the 1930s and 1940s red scare, in which Jews were marked as the face of left wing labor leaders (Saul Alinsky, Emma Goldman), and of course the Jewish Karl Marx the face of anti-national "globalism." The same "globalism" the right wing hysterics in Maine actually put on their charter. The notion of a "one world government" being secretly enacted by those behind Obama, like the hidden Shylock Rahm Emmanuel and duplicitous moneylender George Soros.
In 2010, when republicans invoke anxieties about urban "elites" or "cosmopolitans" working inside government to sell America out to a hidden "world government," they are invoking the age-old right wing anti-Semitism borne of the 1910s and 1920s, seen in the papers of Henry Ford's Dearborn Independent, who reprinted the famous French forgery, "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion" as it were fact of the secret Jewish conspiracy to sell out the United States on the global market.
This is what fueled the HUAC and McCarthy trials of the 1950s, that the gays and Jews in Hollywood were corrupting Christian youth through subliminal messages implanted in movies and T.V. The same fictions of "liberal media" we see today. That the "media" are working to undermine Christianity, like we saw from that clueless young woman the right wing media machine is currently propping up with her new book on how the media is assaulting Christianity (seen last week on Bill Maher's show).
McCarthy was so aware of the anti-Semitic tinge of the witchhunts, he needed to select the odious gay and Jewish Roy Cohn as the face of the very witch hunt of which McCarthy sought.
As we see today when the republicans trot out tokens like Michael Steele and Eric Cantor. The conservative movement must constantly couch its nativism, its hysteric racism and anti-Semitism through code words and behind token faces.
But it is not the Mexican or the Black or the European that truly threatens the conservative hysteric. Those groups can always be tracked and counted and contained and quantified.
It is the conflation of the unknown that truly threatens the conservative cultist's attempts to construct a singularity of self not by what they are, but by what they are not. And if they cannot mark what they are not, then they do not know who they are.
Jewishness and gayness.
What Susan Sontag noted in 1964 as the twin pillars of the modern sensibility are also the twin pillars of the modern Conservative crisis. To long for an idealized past must mean the railing against any iconography of the complexities of the present. The notion of a "contagion" lurking in society, rotting it from within like a plague, is of course, nothing new.
This is the very image Hitler used to create anxities in the German population. That Jew could be invisible, and therefore needed to be marked by a yellow star so his deeds could be tracked. This anxiety that led Richard Nixon to count up the Jews in the state department, or the shameful racist Pat Buchanan to count up the Jews on the Supreme Court.
Because the Jew, and the Gay, cannot be easily marked. They are the unseen deviancy that haunt the anxieties of the white, Christian conservative.
And this leads us to Elena Kagan.
As we've all learned through our many decades of Jewish comedians, performers, songs and entertainment, Jewishness is gay, whether or not it is gay. And by this I do not mean literally gay. I mean Jewish masculinity fractures normative definitions of masculinity, just as Jewish femininity does the same.
Milton Berle created televion by putting on a dress. Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie had to dress as a woman to find his masculinity.
Sacha Baron Cohen can play Bruno and kiss other men with ease. Icons of gay movement like Barry Manilow, Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler, conflate Jewish "loudness" and gayness as stylized act of inscription as performance.
For the Jew to announce he or she is Jewish, the Jew must "perform" Jewishness. Just as the gay, to announce he or she is gay, must "perform" gayness.
The outing is done as performance.
If the Jew or the gay person do not announce their status, they could very easily be mistaken by Sarah Palin for a "real American."
And there is no greater crisis for the modern conservative hysteric than to be fooled by an "Other" passing as normal.
This is why it was natural for Elena Kagan to be marked as gay.
Sonia Sotomayor, also unmarried, faced none of these concerns. Because Sotomayor was clearly and distinctly marked as ethnically "Other."
Kagan could pass as "white." She is the contagion personified.
Her queerness is her Jewishness, and both provoke anxities in the conservative movement that date back nearly a hundred years to the early boatloads of immigrants who arrived through Ellis Island.
The Jewish sexual deviant/pervert is one of the great icons of the last half century, the stereotype Woody Allen made a career lampooning (and, some say, eventually becoming), is perhaps the greatest threat to the Conservative mindset.
Jews unbound by self immolating notions of Christian "sin" will lead to sexual bacchinals and Studio 54 orgies.
These same haunting specters that lead to the ugly anti-Semitism on display by a Bill O'Reilly with his annual "war on Christmas" nonsense, or Sarah Palin's vile narratives of "urban elites" assaulting the "real" Christian America.
"San Francisco Values" can mean gay, but it can also mean Jewish.
The McCarthy attempts to purge Hollywood of "Communist influence" echoing the bizarre (yet wholly consistent) resurrection by Glenn Beck of the Jewish social organizer, Saul Alinsky, as the ideology "behind" Barack Obama.
This is what will be on display in the Kagan confirmation hearings, and we should all be attuned to the historical narratives that will run through the right wing interrogation of her, not as a potential justice and as an intellect, but as a contagion of unspecified and undefined (and therefore anxiety provoking) pollutant.
Kagan will be marked as "white but not white." Normal but also "Other" and therefore the most suspect of all. Unlike Sotomayor, who was clearly dangerous simply for her ethnicity, Kagan will provoke a very different response.
And it will be the anxiety of a political party that is the end product of a hundred years of racism, xenophobia, rampant paranoia and hysteric fear of the "Other" contaminating their notion of country and of self (or as Kubrick put it in Dr. Strangelove, their "previous bodily fluids").
Whether or not Elena Kagan is literally gay is entirely beside the point and completely irrelevant to this reaction.
To them, Kagan is gay, just as she is Jewish, because she is unclassifiable as "Other." She is white but not white. And this is what queers her.
Kagan will provoke a distinct and historically noteworthy response at the point where anti-Semitism and homophobia meet in the paranoid and delusional subconscious of the right wing movement.
We should all take note.