As a fan of HBO's Deadwood, I was fascinated by Matt Welch's Salon article, The new face of the Democrats, the title of which appears beneath the glaring mug of Ian McShane as the remarkable Al Swearengen.
Welch notes that conservatives are busy re-branding themselves by co-opting various parts of pop culture, while liberals are left simultaneously grasping at fading remnants of the dying counter-culture of the 1960s and 70s and contemplating sanctimonious battles against the coarsening of popular culture. This is an interesting thesis—and there may be more than a grain of truth in it.
For years now, commentators on the right have been appropriating whatever strands of friendly popular culture they could grasp—"The Incredibles," Dennis Miller, even "The Simpsons"—in an often comical yet undeniably successful attempt to overhaul the default image of the Grand Old Party from the home of scary old creeps like Jesse Helms to "Star Trek"-quoting smarties like Jonah Goldberg. Anderson argues that a new generation of feisty Republicans has used talk radio, cable TV, blogs, book publishing and "fiercely anti-liberal" comedy to roll back the "liberal monopoly" in Hollywood and Manhattan. "A new post-liberal counterculture," he says, "has emerged."
[W]hile the right commentariat has been appropriating genuinely racy and transgressive content, the left political establishment has been crusading against it. The worst national nanny on the Federal Communications Commission is Democrat Michael Copps; Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman have taken up where Tipper Gore left off; John Kerry pledged in his campaign bio that a "major focus" of his administration would be "saving the Internet from hype and filth"; and during the 2000 Democratic National Convention then-chairman Joe Andrew canceled a party at the Playboy mansion, explaining that it was "neither appropriate nor reflective of our Party's values."
To me it seems that conservatives, in "appropriating whatever strands of friendly popular culture they [can] grasp," are merely doing something analogous to what country- and Christian-music entertainers have been doing for decades: recycling, homogenizing, and re-branding popular forms that are five to ten years old. In my view, conservatism is naturally antithetical to creativity (thus accounting for the preponderance of liberals in academia and the arts). As for liberal desires for a less vulgar culture, I'm sympathetic yet ambivalent; any effort along those lines would surely be counterproductive as well as futile.
Something really does seem to resonate in Welch's call for liberals to "get in touch with their inner Deadwood"—something beyond the obvious intuitive parallel between the free-flowing profanities of Deadwood and much of "Left Blogsylvania." *)
Under Bush, and too often with the Democrats' acquiescence or even support, the federal government has butted into our bedrooms, our locker rooms, and our living rooms. Right now there is wide open space on the political spectrum for someone to treat government as a grudging necessity to meet specific and limited goals, whether those are policing Deadwood's murderous streets, or guaranteeing healthcare for children while balancing a budget. There's electoral gold in them thar hills!
Welch goes on to point out that there is "a natural connection between the Wild West and anti-authoritarianism" and that it should be embraced by Democrats.
My feeling is that we need to renew, cultivate, and better understand the natural connection between liberalism and anti-authoritarianism, and I believe we're already pointed in the right direction. So forge the fuck onward, cocksuckas!