It's understandable that liberals prefer to think of their subordination as a matter of their own inadequacies or of conservative wiles. Theoretically, you can learn how to improve your message or how to match wits with adversaries, and a lot of liberal hand-wringing has been dedicated to doing just that. But it is becoming increasingly clear that liberals haven't just been succumbing to superior message control, or even to a superior political narrative (conservatives' frontier individualism versus liberals' communitarianism). They are up against something far more intractable and far more difficult to defeat. They are up against religion.
Perhaps the single most profound change in our political culture over the last 30 years has been the transformation of conservatism from a political movement, with all the limitations, hedges and forbearances of politics, into a kind of fundamentalist religious movement, with the absolute certainty of religious belief.
Gabler asserts that no amount of rational persuasion, no good faith negotiation, none of the normal tools of democracy will work against such fundamentalist belief because facts just don't matter. Only belief matters. I must admit that would certainly explain the gun-toting teabaggers, the 10thers, the birthers, and the shout downs at recent town hall meetings, but surely 40% of the American public isn't quite this nuts.
Gabler would reply that it doesn't matter. Enough are to make the difference between a functioning democracy in which the majority rules and minority rights are protected and a dictatorship of the orthodox.
The tea-baggers who hate President Obama with a fervor that is beyond politics; the fear-mongers who warn that Obama is another Hitler or Stalin; the wannabe storm troopers who brandish their guns and warn darkly of the president's demise; the cable and talk-radio blowhards who make a living out of demonizing Obama and tarring liberals as America-haters -- these people are not just exercising their rights within the political system. They honestly believe that the political system -- a system that elected Obama -- is broken and only can be fixed by substituting their certainty for the uncertainties of American politics. ...
There is something terrifying in this. The media have certainly been cowed; they treat intolerance as if it were legitimate political activity. So have many politicians, and not just the conservative ones who know that if they don't fall in line, they will be run over. This political fundamentalism has also invaded the general culture in deleterious ways. The ugly incivility of recent months is partly the result of political fundamentalists who have nothing but contempt for opposing viewpoints, which gives them license to shout down opponents or threaten them, just as jihadis everywhere do.
Mr. Gabler offers no solution to this state of affairs, thereby implying that there is none, and that in itself is terrifying. I don't completely buy into such a scenario, but I do believe his analysis is more than a metaphor for what ails the country. While the media is currently "cowed," as much by the chants of the noise machine as the drive to keep corporate owners and advertisers happy, I still have hope that the media will come to its senses and will return to its proper role. The mere fact that Mr. Gabler's brilliant essay was published is a hopeful sign. I also have faith that the American public will grow tired of the incessant shrillness and will demand reasonable explanations and rational solutions which, while not perfect, will still improve the lot of us all.
But I could be wrong. And if I am, we are doomed.
Labels: American Jihad