In fact, I am alive and well and returned from a journey into the heart of darkness of George W. Bush's America. Eschewing my pansy-assed effete internet habit for a time, I stupidly got myself hooked on the hard stuff and ended up ripped out of my mind on Rush's AM Ecstasy. Living on burnt meat and raw porn, Fox news and liberal bashing, my mind devolved into an altered state of consciousness, awash in arrogance and testosterone, transformed into the hostile fugue state of the talk radio junkie.And that's only the start of it... Digby shows his own (quite possibly fictitious, but nonetheness true... readers of Neil Gaiman's work will understand what I mean) adventures reveal the sort of Republican storytelling that I was describing and reveals why the Bush "theme" is so compelling:
After the first couple of days of painful cognitive dissonance, the sheer confidence and daring of Right wing propaganda started to work on my subconscious. And, I tell you, it was a relief, a fucking holiday from the frustration, confusion and lightheadedness I associate with trying to limn reality these days, just letting my id take over. Critical thinking is for losers. See, RushBillSavageSean remove doubt and free your mind. All you have to do is join the team, and suddenly everything makes sense again.That's what it's all about- simplicity, understandability, power, and confidence. The Bushco machine is so compelling because, if you let it, it will tell you how you need to think, and make you feel good about yourself while doing it. It's the same thing that propels paranoids and (ironically, or perhaps appropriately) a lot of hard leftists like Anarchists, Socialists, and any number of other "ists"...In a world that is confusing and frightening, that really doesn't have any overarching story, that is often unfair and which normal people too often feel helpless to change, the drive to find something that makes it all make sense is overpowering.
This drug is potent. A quick hit of Rush in the morning and you're sure of yourself and the world around you. You feel strong. You look like a winner. You are on top.
In this era of post modern politics and surreal media tidal waves, this is a drug that brings clarity to a confusing world. It is intoxicating in its simplicity. Unlike the faggoty nuanced Democrats, the Republicans (or Real Americans) are providing a road map through the maze of conflicting quick-cut images and babbling 10 second soundbites that pass for news. If you listen to AM talkradio or watch FoxNews the strange feeling of living in an alternate reality melts away. They have the answers.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, actually. Science, both natural and social, is built on the idea of finding out how things work, and there are probabilities, trends, patterns, and even rules that one can discern about human behavior, society, government and the like. The problem is that since people are complex, any attempt to explain what's going on is complex, and those that are either too impatient or too frightened of complexity and chaos often search for someone who can tell them that "it's all actually quite simple". This is especially true when lives are on the line... complexity is doubly frightening when it involves violence and horror.
That's what the Republicans have learned to do; to craft a message that satisifies this need in enough of the population that they can get reliably voted in. They built the tools with which to do it: the organizations that can both come up with the ideas and shape them to fit the story, and the people (like Rush) who can disseminate it and make it feel like the audience are friends and allies against the forces that conspire to keep them down. (Luskin's "conspiracy to keep you poor and stupid" features prominently here, although he's far too inept to be an effective spokesman and storyteller). Policy and politics are both subordinated to this all-consuming idea to keep on message, because without careful husbanding of that message the Republican coalition would quickly fall apart and their support would vanish.
Not that conservatism would disappear, of course. The Republicans could rebuild themselves as the honest advocates of true conservatism, and that would aid American immensely. That isn't happening. Why it isn't happening has a lot to do with neo-conservatism, because neo-conservatism isn't about conservate values at all but the control over society that a knowledgeable elite needs to maintain in order to preserve order. It also has nothing to do with "truth" or "untruth", because it's patently obvious that conservatism has taken postmodernism's attack on truth to heart and are perfectly content to build a story that's only related to the real world around us as much as is necessary, and departs from it when necessary as well.
Digby wrote another piece shortly after the one I just quoted, talking about Bush's image as a cowboy. It fits into this concept of storytelling quite well, so I'll end as I began, quoting Digby:
But, this is actually pretty representative of the kind of feeling that Junior engenders in a good portion of the citizenry. Sure, some of it's just team loyalty, but there are a number of people who think he's a straight shooter, an everyman of simple values and authentic virtues, masculine, good hearted and tough.The point, in the end, is that it doesn't even matter whether or not it's fiction. The lines between fiction and reality, truth and falsehood, creator and created have blurred only where they haven't been annihilated. That isn't the fault of the Republicans... they've never been huge fans of it before now... but damned if they won't milk it for every drop it's worth.
Needless to say, those paying attention to even the most obvious biographical details know that none of this is true. He's a spoiled, rich, playboy who fell into politics by trading on his father's name and contacts. He's a failed businessman and ex-alcoholic who's masculine virtues are defined by bullying towel snapping and homoerotic hazing rituals. He's stupid, thin skinned and easily rattled. He consistently shafts the weak in favor of the powerful and he has a callous bloodthirsty streak.
In Bush's Brain, How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential the authors quote Rove as saying that most Americans understand politics as "watching TV with the sound turned off." The thing with Bush is that he looks right in his costumes, whether codpiece or chaps, and his 10 second soundbites are well crafted and effective. And, it's not because people are dupes or morons that they buy this nonsense, it's simply because they understand everything in their lives through simplistic TV images.
...Ronald Reagan wasn't a cowboy. He was a guy who played a cowboy who later became president. George W. Bush is a guy playing Ronald Reagan playing a cowboy who later became president. And it doesn't make any difference. Karl Rove, like Michael Deaver before him, realizes that most Americans see life through a media prism that's now completely self-referential.
It has always been true that politicians and leaders evoked archetypal images for political purposes-- Lincoln the rail splitter, TR the virile "mans man." But, starting with Reagan, we saw for the first time a circular reference between the mythmaker and the image itself. He was a professional actor engaged in making a myth that later became the image for his Presidency.
Junior is like a second generation copy of that same image, slightly off center and lacking clarity. He's a counterfeit Warhol, an ironic image of an image, made valuable only by the wilfull acquiesence of a lazy media that depends upon the Republican establishment to write its scripts and fill its yawning, greedy mouth. (It is no accident that the Bush team has planted the meme of John Kerry as "Thurston Howell III." That's the kind of image the American people understand instantly. According to Salon Kerry's spokesman, David Wade, suggested the GOP "should lay off the 'Gilligan's Island' imagery before we cast George W. Bush as Gilligan in the remake." Oh how perfect that would be...)
The Democrats can do better than President Blurry with almost any candidate in the race if they will just feed the beast what it needs to live (a good story) and recognize that the American people don't care anymore about what a president actually says but only that he is "presidential," however that image is defined by the current zeitgeist.