Saturday, May 18, 2013

Putting the Current "Scandals" in Proper Perspective

By all accounts, this last week has been a bad one for the Obama administration, mostly because the GOP has finally found the "scandals" they have been looking for to discredit and obstruct the president.  (Never mind that they are collaborating with the biggest real scandal, our nation's use of drones to carry out targeted assassinations.)  I will leave the parsing of the AP email seizures, Benghazi memos, and IRS to others.  I would prefer to take a step back from all of the accusations and minutae, and place all of this in broader historical and political context.

To paraphrase one of Marx's most well-known adages, history repeats itself: first as tragedy, then as farce.  The tactic of ginning up "scandals" of dubious importance was used time and again in the Clinton administration, when Republicans flogged the Whitewater kerfuffle to death and tried to impeach the president over a blow job.  Not only are the tactics today the same, so is the motivation.  Today's conservatives view themselves as the only real and true Americans, and liberals as an enemy within.  Any progressive president, even ones as moderate as Obama and Clinton, are imposters and usurpers who must be destroyed.  The racial and cultural dynamics at play with Barack Obama have only intensified this derangement.

However, I see another cause at play, one that has been less discussed but is no more potent: conservatives can't win through legitimate means.  This may sound counterintuitive, but take a look at the six presidential elections since 1992.  In only one of those elections has the Republican candidate received the most votes; Bush's win in 2000 was tainted at best.  Furthermore, the one election where the Republican did get the most votes, 2004, he had major advantages due to incumbency and being in the midst of a war.  Furthermore, Republican power in Congress is derived through manipulating the system, rather than via the voice of the ballot box.  As has been well-documented, Republicans have maintained a majority in House mostly through gerrymandering, which they have been aggressively pushing since 2000.  In the Senate they use filibusters and and other means of obstruction to prevent the majority from moving legislation forward.

While committed conservatives are a minority in this country, they are fully mobilized.  A vast Right-wing noise machine serves up conspiracies and outrage on a platter, and their mobs of listeners eat it right up.  Polls show that most Americans have faint interest in the current raft of "scandals," but that doesn't matter when a committed faction and their allies in Congress light their hair on fire and scream out for impeachment.

Essentially, last week's events are only a small battle in a much larger political war, one that has been waged for at least twenty years now by conservatives.  Anyone remember Pat Buchanan's infamous "Culture War" speech at the 1992 RNC?  Although Buchanan's star has fallen, and the social conservative message of that speech is much less emphasized by the GOP today, it expressed the conservative vision of the nation as it still stands.  Conservatives believe they are paladins, protectors of a "real America" under threat by liberals and growing numbers of "takers" who are undermining American values.  When they lose an election, as in 2012, they blame the supposed government-dependency and high melanin count of voters who don't count as "real Americans."  The results don't count, because "real America" did not give the usurper Obama a majority.  Hence any means necessary may be used to stop him from destroying "real America" so that conservatives can "take our country back."

As long as one major political party in this country is held in thrall by such divisive extremism, our politics will continue to be dysfunctional, and all kinds of "scandals" will be brought before the country.

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