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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Send in the Clowns: Why the GOP Is Likely to Be Sarah Palins All the Way Down for Some Time to Come

Jonathan Bernstein asserts that many or even most Republicans are now "running for President" not because they are qualified or even really seeking that office in earnest, but as a way of raising their public profile to sell books or pitch tee vee shows or get bigger fees for speaking gigs.

If he is right about that -- and I believe he is -- then it seems especially dangerous that the GOP is still regarded, perhaps more or less inertially at this point, as one of two legitimate political parties in this country fielding candidates to represent and administer it. It is dangerous because this means that a non-negligible number of profoundly unqualified unserious people, some of them not even really wanting the job but taking it on as a kind of unpleasant risk of their marketing strategy, are going to keep getting invested with the power to do untold damage to millions upon millions of people.
Why is this year’s Republican presidential field so, well, weird? … [It's] the growth of the market for conservative books, television shows, and speaking engagements has made a presidential run a good brand-builder for those not seriously seeking to be president but eager to exploit that market…. [T]here’s been a marked increase in fringe candidates who are “running for president” for reasons other than actually attempting to obtain the Republican nomination. There have always been ideological minorities who used the process to press their views or issues… But what’s relatively new, and is now apparently more attractive, is using the presidential race as a way to create or build one’s brand in the conservative marketplace…. Their incentive is to stake out the most extreme positions and court controversy in order to get themselves noticed by the most partisan customers of conservative books, talk shows, and other products, instead of developing carefully constructed issue positions designed to build party-wide support… [N]ow the GOP field is lousy with them, from Newt Gingrich to Rick Santorum to Michele Bachmann to the man of the hour, Herman Cain. Of course, some of these “candidates” may think of themselves as serious contenders or, perhaps, ideological crusaders. But their behavior reveals them to be more concerned with selling books or getting a syndicated radio show… My guess is that Republicans will be dealing with this situation for many elections to come.
Note that Bernstein doesn't even mention Sarah Palin, who didn't run for President, but who managed very much to be a part of the process anyway, stalking the early actual contenders, all the while pretending to flirt with announcing her own run, in a cross-country campaign bus, yet, all in order to keep her face out there and sell more books and pitch more product. I agree that today's GOP will likely remain vulnerable to this deranging celibridacy phenomenon for quite some time.

Just as browning, secularizing, urbanizing, planetizing demographics feed an emerging democratic majority and also, importantly, will push it wholesomely leftward, these same developments will impel the ever more marginalized white-racist patriarchal incumbent and elite minorities who make up the sad stupid sick coalition of the Republican party to retreat ever more desperately into the alternate-virtual reality of separatist Fox News and megachurch and hate radio and big print hardback polemic archipelago reflecting back at them the reassuring delusive verities of the lost world.

It is the inevitable prominence of such virtual reality enabling celebrity reactionaries at the heart of the Movement Republican project that suggests the GOP Presidential contest qua self-promotional slog will remain with Movement Republicanism through its twilight years as a structural matter.

For a time, remember, the desperation inspired by the increasing marginalization of white-racist patriarchal theocrats invested the GOP with the ferocious energy and disciplined unanimity of culture warriors fighting the last war, yielding after the early humiliations of the Birchers and Goldwater and Nixon first the sunny suicide of the Reagan Devolution, then the Gingrich Contract Hit on America, then the Killer Clown administration of George W. Bush that lowered taxes while embarking on illegal immoral ruinously expensive war adventures based on lies, and then the consummating lunacy of Summer of Tea which won the superannuated Republican "Young Guns" the House of Representatives and a number of Governor's Mansions and brought governance to a halt and then sent millions of citizens to revolt in State Capitals and in the streets at last.

It is crucial to realize that the left won the culture wars and the right failed to achieve its goal of the total dismantlement the New Deal that has fueled them since WWII and now they can no longer exploit incumbent America's deep-seated racism or paranoia sufficiently to manage the feat: America's bigots and puritans must observe instead for the rest of their miserable lives as Democrats in a multicultural America concerned with shared planetary problems of sustainability, inequity, violence and immersed in peer-to-peer media formations partner with the people of a democratizing world to build an American social democracy in the context of secular sustainable equitably democratic federalist planetary governance.

The GOP will either become a more or less regional neo-confederate rump in which bitter "Real American" assholes plot the Rise of Dixie or the Fourth Reich until they die unremarked by the world, or the GOP will return to viability by finding a way to reorient conservatism into an actually governing philosophy, appealing to a diverse continental electorate, and sensitive to factually real planetary problems. Until then, a Movement Conservatism that did untold damage to the world but nonetheless failed in its objectives will long remain instead a space of fervent denialism, yielding up a harvest of figures whose prominence in Republican precincts derives from their enablement of this denialism rather than their interest in governance in reality.


Lorraine said...

If presidential candidacy is a means to the end of self-promotion in other endeavours, it begs the question: Are the Republicans operating under the assumption that the presidency is a thankless job and will be for the foreseeable future? Is that why Sarah Palin was chosen as John McCain's running mate? Was it an attempt to throw the election to the Democrats, with the assumption that White House occupancy in the 4 years to come would be more of a liability than an asset?

Dale Carrico said...

I think it is pretty obvious that McCain wanted to be president for real, but he knew he was unpopular and chose Sarah Palin as his running mate to "infuse energy" into his campaign -- although this infusion of energy amounted to tearing the lid off the hell the GOP Base had become.

I agree that after the debacle of the killer clown administration the executive branch was and remains a pretty thankless task -- but it is important to point out that the politics of GOP obstructionism (a separate question from the topic of Republican presidential politics in the age of the unqualified self-promotional celebrity-candidate tour) is not what I would mean by "thanklessness."

Without unprecedented GOP obstruction since 2008 we would have had a larger stimulus less targeted to tax cuts, healthcare reform with a public option, the Bush tax cuts would have expired in 2010, and we would have both EFCA and the Dream Act by now and no difficulty getting even better than the Jobs Act through (probably we would have gotten a second stimulus in 2009-2010). We would be well on our way to cost containment and recovery, even conceding the administration underestimated the scale of the recession.

It would have been a hard and thankless slog -- but what we have now is a whole party irrationally destroying our nation simply because they hate the Black man in the White House and because they are opposed to the very idea of good accountable equitable government. Get the Democrats the House back and either a real supermajority of moderate to progressive Dems in the Senate or a simple majority of such plus filibuster reform and things would get much more substantially better than people realize.

It is amazing how quick we are to forget or fail to grasp at all that even the first two years of Obama's Presidency were shaped by unprecedented GOP obstructionism.

Anyway, again this is a separate point from the one I am talking about in the post. In this post I am reflecting on the impact of the shift of Movement Republicanism from effective organizing to defensive/delusive subculture politics as demographic realities marginalize them -- with the consequence that their Presidential field will always be roiled by inherently unserious unqualified cultural figures reflecting these new priorities and using the presidential campaign for other purposes.

McCain's choice of Palin misconstrued her "energy" as organizationally useful because he didn't quite grasp the shift in Movement Republicanism her very elevation by him exacerbated.

Lorraine said...

It seemed a foregone conclusion that he'd choose his constant traveling companion and "bipartisan" photo-op prop Joe Lieberman. When the other shoe dropped and the big announcement was made, I think a lot of us got all conspiratorial and assumed the choice was made for him by the party brass...

Dale Carrico said...

I guess he was just being "mavericky" -- you know, a stupid short-sighted asshole.