Friday, October 02, 2009

American Jihad

Neal Gabler has an absolutely stunning op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times. His thesis is that the reason liberals have not been able to accomplish much in the last thirty years in governance is that conservativism has been transformed from a political ideology to a religion.

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.



Anonymous ms f said...

It also explains the frustration of some teachers that students just will not absorb what is being taught because their teachers are Rush/Hannity/Faux News where they are taught to mistrust teachers who have an agenda AND are in unions.

THAT is truly terrifying.

4:42 AM  
Blogger Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

The American Experiment is over and the Null Hypothesis prevailed. Cause: CorpoRat television and the privatization and commodification of information, leading to the 24-hour-News Cycle--which is the ideal 'medium' in which to grow successful Big Lies.

No, you're right. We're TOTALLY fucked. There is no hope that the county will EVER return to rationality, even to the extent that it once pretended to it.

What to do?

Be kind to people, look after your friends and family.

But "American Culture"--that idealized amalgam of political tolerance, compromise, and regulated, enlightened self-interest? That dream of equality, and equity, and tolerance?

Dead as a stump...

12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The mega-multi MILLIONs of $$$ spent by the uber-Reich on their think tanks, getting hate radio & Faux TV launched, and underwriting Sludge, WorldNutDaily etc all have proven the continued validity of the "Big Lie!'

Interesting Newsweek overview of a new study out this week: Fact Impact - New study of the brain shows that FACTS AND BELIEFS ARE PROCESSED IN EXACTLY THE SAME WAY.

7:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You say that you don't believe that political opposition to liberalism is based on faith (?)
Well, it's been obvious for several years; not sure why you couldn't have noticed it. It's been screaming in your face, really since the late 60s but it gained power in the 80s and now faith-based politics is the reality that Americans have to face.
And if you don't think that 40% of Americans are that nuts, well I have read that 45% of Americans consider themselves evangelists (way beyond any other industrialized democracy) so I think that you can get 40% out of that easily.

Not just you, but so many Americans are blind to this. I think this is because Americans are so much more religious than anywhere else (except some Islamic countries) that they don't clearly see the extremists amongst themselves.

7:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And one of the worst parts of it the religous right has hijacked the republicans is that the religous right do the exact opposite of what Jesus taght and how he lived his life.
Can they evr get a grip on their hypocricy?
I don't think in this life time they will.
It has been pretty bad over the last 30 or so years but now, with the unleashing of people like Palin who celebrate ignorance, arrogance and who worship nothing but the all mighty dollar (and themselves) it is much worse. And I am also afraid that it will get worse yet.

2:39 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

"but surely 40% of the American public isn't quite this nuts."

Wanna bet?

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Find your friends and classmates of the enormous database in the world. More than 45 million people registered! To register, go to

5:52 AM  
Blogger Ghostly Wisconsin said...

The glitch here, should we ever take the approach of the child who declared the emperor's nudity, is that much of today's conservative ideology directly contradicts the Christian faith they claim to embrace. No matter; these anti-Christian positions play well in the US. With all our opposition to endless war, we've been at war more often than not since WWll. Need I mention our horrendous, uber-capitalist social policies that deeply harm the poor to enrich the wealthy -- that even our progressive community ignores (hey, there's no money in supporting socio-economic justice today).

Regardless, it might be a good idea to confront (relentlessly) the "Christian Right" with its own hypocrisy.

7:55 AM  

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