Thursday, September 04, 2008

We Get Letters

I just received this email, and rather than responding to it directly, I thought that I'd post it along with some of my thoughts. Names have been redacted to protect the innocent.

‘…OK, before I start just an observation. There is not a single nonwhite person at the Republican Convention. I have yet to see one…’

Before I start, another observation. One of the best lines from the Democratic Convention wasn’t spoken by Senator’s Obama or Binden. It was by Al Gore:

‘…Some of the best marketers have some of the worst products…’

‘…OK ...Some of this is the conversation we had when I was in Dallas when you said that Obama was going to win and I said while I hoped he would I had a bad feeling. I still have a bad feeling. Maybe it's that good old paranoia about your own team ... but as Johnny Fever says, "When everyone is out to get you, paranoia is just good thinking!" There was a great line at the end of Bill Maher's Real Time in the spring during his New Rules segment where the new rule was "nobody is allowed to say anymore that the American people are smarter than that ... they're not." You know me and know I'm an idealist but I have gotten to the point where I have seen too much not to agree with Bill Maher here. I think the turning point was re-electing President Bush in 2004. After all we'd been through and even though the candidate we threw up there was about as interesting and inspirational as a bowl of oatmeal, there should have been no chance of the president getting re-elected. It shouldn't have even been close. And yet, look what happened….’

Last night Kathy and I went to see The Phoenix Theatre Ensemble’s new production of Ibsen’s ‘An Enemy of the People.’ Here’s the plot synopsis:
‘…Dr. Thomas Stockmann is the popular citizen of a small coastal town in Norway. The town has recently invested a large amount of public and private money towards the development of baths, a project led by Dr. Stockmann and his brother, the Mayor. The town is expecting a surge in tourism and prosperity from the new baths, said to be of great medicinal value and as such, the baths are the pride of the town. However, as the baths are starting to succeed, Dr. Stockmann discovers that waste products from the town's tannery are contaminating the baths causing serious illness among the tourists. He expects this important discovery to be his greatest achievement, and promptly sends a detailed report to the Mayor, which includes a proposed solution, which would come at a considerable cost to the town. But to his surprise, Stockmann finds it difficult to get through to the authorities. They seem unable to appreciate the seriousness of the issue and unwilling to publicly acknowledge and address the problem because it could mean financial ruin for the town. As the conflict ensues, the Mayor warns his brother that he should "acquiesce in subordinating himself to the community". Stockmann refuses to accept this, and holds a town meeting at Captain Horster's house in order to convince the people to close the baths. The townspeople - eagerly awaiting the prosperity that the baths are believed will bring - refuse to accept Stockmann's claims, as his friends and allies, who had explicitly given support for his campaign, turn against him en masse. He is taunted and denounced as a lunatic, an "Enemy of the People." In a scathing rebuke of both the Victorian notion of community and the principles of democracy, Dr. Stockmann proclaims that in matters of right and wrong, the individual is superior to the multitude, which is easily led by self-advancing demagogues. Stockmann sums up Ibsen's denunciation of the masses, with the memorable quote "...the strongest man in the world is the man who stands most alone."…’

It’s actually the identical plotline to ‘Jaws.’ One of the best lines of the play came during Dr. Stockman’s trial, when he asks the town if “the majority of the people in the world are intelligent, or if the majority of the people in the world are stupid.” To answer his question, by definition half of the people in this country have an IQ below 100. Recognizing this is not an act of cynicism or reflective of a lack of idealism. It’s recognition of reality. It’s why President Bush could get caught in bed with the proverbial dead girl or live boy and his approval ratings still wouldn’t go down below 28%.

‘…There's something simply Orwellian about it. The Gingrich/Rove/Bush/Cheney and now McCain/Palin Republican Party creates alternate realities out of thin air and literally millions upon millions of American people fall in lockstep behind them despite the fact that not only are they nonsensical, not only are they factually inaccurate, but they often completely contradict what they have been saying about themselves. The Democratic Party is starting to get better about actually standing up and saying the emperor has no clothes ... but the really scary thing is that the people who believe this (and it's about 50% of the country) IT DOESN"T MATTER. They just shift the narrative. Create a new reality that reinforces their smug sense of superiority. Redefine life, the universe and everything and move on…’

Having worked in what is essentially an advertising position, I can honestly say that’s how it’s done. Never underestimate the power of cognitive dissonance:

‘…Two things bother me about Sarah Palin. The first is that she is so obviously not just Ferraro or Eagleton (the Quayle comparison doesn't work ... she's not substanceless, she's just made of real scary substance) but Ferraro and Eagleton wrapped into one. She is obviously a gimmick pick and a Hail Mary and she's obviously got multiple flaws any one of which could rise to the tragic level of Eagleton's shock treatments. But despite that we look at this pick as insulting and shameless, the fact is that these are shameless people and they have convinced millions of Americans not only that they shouldn't be ashamed of it but that those of us who are questioning this, who have the gall to stand up and connect some dots and say that 2+2=4 are sexist and mean and outright liars.

In the space of one week they have gone from crucifying Barack Obama on the cross of inexperience because he's only been in the Senate for 4 years to saying that Sarah Palin's experience as governor of a state 1/4 the population of Brooklyn and mayor of a town the size of some high schools (Oh, but it has a STRONG mayoral system) qualifies her to be VP for someone who actuarially has a 1 in 3 chance of not surviving 8 more years. And to this, millions of Americans nod like thoughtless bobbleheads…’

When your marketing is failing, change it. When your narrative is failing, change it. This will work in today’s political climate because the political media falls into the same category as the rest of us – ½ of them have IQ’s less than 100, and plenty of the rest are mendacious people whose only interest lies in being part of the Georgetown cocktail weenie circuit. One thing to note during this whole Governor Palin event is the RNC’s accusing the media of being unfair to her, more than accusing Obama of doing that. This has two results – first is the reflexive reaction that the media will have to avoid to be seen to be unfair. They will tack right as a result. The second is to tie the media to the ‘cosmopolitan elite,’ thus fanning the flames of the 1990’s culture wars, now being brought back.

‘…It was one thing when you had John McCain being a wolf in sheep's clothing and still trading off the straight talk express bullshit from 2000. Maybe people just haven't paid attention since then. I can forgive people for that. You watch Mad Max and you think Mel Gibson is some harmless, good looking action hero and you never noticed that he turned into a monomaniacal freakshow. But almost from the moment you were introduced to Sarah Palin it was obvious to anyone paying attention that there are serious problems here. And yet millions and millions of people believe any fact that interferes with their desire to love her was manufactured by a "biased, leftwing media machine." (They're probably thinking like Johnny Fever, too).

(BTW, I was listening to an afternoon drive show on KMOX yesterday when the host was going on about how if you didn't think the mainstream media in this country had an ultraliberal bias you weren't paying attention. I tried calling in to point out to him that when you are hosting a conservative drive-time radio show on the most powerful (by wattage) radio station in the whole middle of the country and your lead-in is Rush Limbaugh, you probably shouldn't be talking about left-wing bias in the news. Unfortunately, I didn't get through.)…’

Actually it was fortunate that you didn’t, as it would have been a complete waste of your time. That kind of media thrives on confrontation, and is much better at it than you or I. It’s actually an old debating strategy: by setting up those kinds of rules of dialogue, they are counting on the vaporlock one gets when agitated and angry. Nothing muddies the waters of discourse as much as a lie told loudly and proudly.

So what to do? I’ve found that humor and nonsense work the best. When I went to a Jerry Falwell prayer revival back in college, I didn’t scream at him (much as I wanted to), because he was a master at dealing with such confrontations. Instead, after his babbling on about militant gays, Nazis and communists, I calmly walked up to him and said loudly that I was a ‘Militant gay Nazi communist and I wanted to have his baby.’ He actually had no idea what to say to that – it was totally out from left field, and he actually babbled incoherently for a while, totally losing his audience. Then they dragged me from the church while I yelled, ‘Remember, Jerry, the Lord is forgiveness.’

Fun theater, but the larger issue is that in a debate when one side ‘goes nuclear’ with idiotic arguments, pretending to play by the rules of logic when actually flouting them, then the best strategy is to go guerilla. My pointless stunt made no damn bit of difference, but if instead it had been part of a more organized effort, it would have made his message look moronic. A good example is the photoshopped Governor Palin image of her head pasted onto the bikini clad woman with an automatic rifle. Pass that one on. It’s damn funny, because it’s actually true, even though it’s false.

‘…But the other thing that bothers me about Sarah Palin ... rather really frightens me about Sarah Palin ... is that this is more than just some bizarre political strategy to try to attract the radical feminists and the 700 Club in one fell swoop and keep the Republican Party in office. I truly believe this is part of something much bigger that doesn't even really involve the Republican Party except that it's the most convenient vehicle for this group to hold power.

The Christian right is as dangerous an entity as our nation has known in the past century. More dangerous than the Klan (and sharing similar roots) because the Klan is not subtle and the Christian right is. The Christian right wraps itself in the flag and in the "values" of "America" ... language that is code for white people feeling superior and comfortable. This is not anything you don't know. And you probably know this as well. The Christian right is funded by a small group of incredibly wealthy (and, to my mind, absolutely psychotic) people who believe in narrow interpretations of the Book of Revelation and are trying to secure luxury boxes for the rapture…’

The best recent book on this subject is Jeff Sharlet’s ‘The Family,’ which I read while I was in France, and I can't recommend highly enough. It covers the religious fundamentalists that have a power base in Washington, DC, and which I have covered in my blog in various ‘Family Circus’ posts. But Mr. Sharlet also contrasts them with the more mainstream fundamentalist churches, and goes into the civil war starting up between those who worship power (‘Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God…’ [Romans 13:1-7]); those who worship money (the prosperity gospel churches); and those who honestly worship god – the devout hardline Protestants who came to America in the first place and started forming thriving churches in the 19th century until the early 20th.

Fundamentalist churches have been in a schism since the Scopes trial in the 1920s drove a wedge between those who believed in political involvement and those who don’t in the movement. What’s happened since the 1980s is that those in the ‘power’ churches have essentially been using those other Fundamentalist churches as a source of labor and votes. But fundamentalism is far, far from monolithic.

‘…The whole schism that is happening in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion (of which Christ Church, Plano is an epicenter). Where do you think these African Anglican bishops are getting the coin to fly around everywhere? It's from this group of ultrafundamentalists who aren't even Episcopalian but see the Episcopal Church as an incredibly well-placed vehicle to instigate a worldwide ultrafundamentalist takeover of a mainline denomination. I know I'm sounding like Steve Carlton here, but there've been some really good "follow the money" pieces done here ... and there's also enough creepy stories about this stuff in the Bush White House to make me believe it…’

One thing to remember about that is that the power players, the Sciaffes and the other billionaire conservatives behind all of this, didn’t start the schism, but rather took advantage of one that already existed. The embers were there – they just fanned it. But like I mentioned – two can play that game. Fundamentalism has massive schisms – and the ‘power’ movement is being led by those with not enough honor to preach the gospel. It’s obvious to us – but I think it’s starting to become obvious to them as well. Hence…

‘…Well, horror of horrors for this group, not only are they poised to lose power but they are poised to lose it to a black man. Republican insiders have said that McCain was dead set on Lieberman until James Dobson and others came to him and then all of a sudden, Voila! Sarah Palin. She is the Hail Mary not of the McCain campaign but of the Christian right. They know she will be one heartbeat away and if you don't think they will be praying for McCain to die as soon as she takes the oath...’

Exactly. You don’t do a Hail Mary pass from a position of strength. The political religious right has more lying on this than McCain. Who do you think’s going to take the fall if McCain looses? It’s do or die time for them in the Republican Party. Senator McCain’s upsetting the game board happened because he looked at the pieces and saw that he was screwed. So did the religious right – their original position was to sit out the election so as to claim credit for McCain’s loss. Clearly they rethought their position, or at least Karl Rove did. And it’s the ultimate problem of Governor Palin – she was chosen to win votes, not to govern.

‘…But it's the combination that's truly scary. McCain's impulsivity and hair-trigger temper and tunnel vision and hawkish, ultraright conservative views and Sarah Palin's absolute psychotic perversion of Christianity and willingness to do anything to get what she wants. John McCain is right ... she is his soulmate. Together they are Satan.

In a sensible world, there would be no choice ... it would be as obvious to everyone as it is to you and me what is going on. But our nation has shown such an incredible -- and rapidly growing -- capacity for self-deception. It has gone beyond two parties with similar goals and two competing ideas of how to get there. It is to the point where you have one party dealing with reality and the other simply not. And millions upon millions of Americans are choosing to line up behind fiction rather than fact.

In a sensible world, I would be champing at the bit for the debates. But the debates don't matter. Bush-Kerry and Bush Gore proved that. What matters is the idiotic spin after the debates. Gore wiped the floor with Bush and the spin was that he was wooden. Kerry wiped the floor with Bush and the spin was that he was boring and even mean. Obama could wipe the floor with John McCain and the spin could still screw him. Biden could wipe the floor with Palin and the spin could be that he was condescending or mean….’

I agree with you on that one. However, knowing that will help Biden – The best strategy would be for him to debate her like a governor and not a hockey mom.

‘…I still have hope Obama will win. I still think it's a better than 50% chance he will. I get that hope from Zogby but mostly because if he can stay the Obama he showed last Thursday night then the power of his commitment and the power of his ideas and the power of his inspiration and charisma should carry the day. I went to an Obama organizing meeting tonight and I'm going to be working phones and registering voters in St. Louis all month. I'm not giving up. I'm fighting with every bit I have because I think with the Palin VP selection the stakes just got incredibly high.

I really wish I could say "the American people are smarter than this." But Bill Maher is right ... they're not…’

Yep, they’re not. I read an analysis on all of this relating the popularity of Governor Palin among the base to those fans of reality TV.: ‘Look at the hockey mom on the cooking show! Why, that could be me!’

‘Look at the hockey mom in the White House! Why, that could be me!’

America, where anyone can grow up to be President. We’re all taught that like it’s fucking scripture. The dark side of democracy – the crazy person on the subway has the same right to vote as you do, and will cancel out your vote to boot.

‘…Oh ... and Rudy Giuliani is just an asshole…’

I truly hope that this isn’t some new revelation to you.