(see what I did there? … ooookay, moving swiftly on)
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts”
– Moynihan, Schlesinger or possibly Baruch.
It is singularly appropriate that the attribution for this political truism is subject to debate. It is also subject to abuse and misuse; when Candidate Romney threw the line at President Obama in debate, I nearly damaged a perfectly good monitor with ballistic tea. The GOP (the US Republican Party, or if you’re a Brit who isn’t a political junky, the right-wingnuts) has been determinedly conflating opinion with fact for a couple of decades now. Fairly serious conservative commentators (Drum, Bartlett, Sullivan spring to mind) have been calling them out on it for some time with increasing desperation. The left-wingnuts are occasionlly guilty of making stuff up, but there is a real, objective difference in US politics between the left and the right; the left treats its wingnuts as an embarrassing reality. The right, as represented by the post-TEA Party GOP, tries to get its wing-nuts elected to high office, and succeeds at an alarming rate.
Bigger names than I have been saying this for a long time. It would be wise, however, for the opponents of the crazy to keep the longer views in mind, however frustrating that may be. With the memory of the 2012 Republican primary fresh in mind, it’s very easy to see the GOP as the party of dwarfs, steadily digging back through the Enlightenment in search of the middle ages; thus casting the Democrats as natural heirs to the giants that ended slavery, built the New Deal, and passed the Civil Rights Act.
But it would also be wrong. The GOP, and indeed the conservative and right-wing traditions in general, most surely have their giants. Like liberals, and like leftists, they have so many that any individual seeking shoulders to stand on needs to make conscious choices about which giants to climb. The thing that is most significant here is those choices; it is our choice of giants that determines what we see.
A liberal student can choose to scan the view from the shoulders of Foucault and Ginsberg, E. P. Thompson or RAW, all the way across to Gladstone, Kennedy and FDR. A conservative might seek inspiration in Eisenhower and George Romney, or in Buckley and Gary Wills; but also from Wallace or McCarthy. There is no shortage of real intellectual weight in the history of the US Republican party. But there most certainly is a difference between how the two wings of US politics have treated the choice of giants to climb since 1980.
You really don’t see electable Democrats in the US talking up the Weathermen or the Yippies. Electable Democrats are not yearning for the days of the Farm and the happy, hippy dream of pastoral community and peaceful living. The titans of the left are names like Lincoln and Roosevelt, Keynes and Ted Kennedy; not Ralph Nader, Tim Leary or Robert Anton Wilson. Extremists have their intellectual uses, but you don’t want one running the Treasury department.
The GOP, on the other hand, has at some point (I would say somewhere around the Southern Strategy) started glorifying (and, indeed, re-inventing) their wing-nuts. The anti-orthodox, slave-owning Founders are re-packaged as Evangelical Christian small-government fanatics. The Southern radical preachers have taken the GOP into their pulpits, and the GOP has taken the crazy onto prime-time TV. They are led by echoing hair-dos full of sound and fury (Gingrich, Palin, Bachmann, Rubio, Jindal) and driven by cynical, commercial rage-vendors (Beck, Rove, Cheney, Hannity, Limbaugh). The intellectual giants from whose shoulders the modern GOP survey the world include theocrats like Rushdoony and Kennedy, crooks like Nixon, and ideologues like Ayn Rand.
Ayn Rand. Real people elected to serious offices think that’s a sane way to view the world. It’s an effect, not a cause; the process by which the GOP’s retreat from an increasingly liberal-biased reality since the Civil Rights era led to the epistemic closure of today is much-discussed and would take a far longer post to even summarise, but it boils down to a systemic rejection of reflexivity.
The young conservative is no longer expected to ask questions and assess provenances when choosing her giants to climb. The risk I perceive is that as one party in debate pulls further and further into zealotry and insularity, the other party will be driven to do the same in self-defence.
They shouldn’t. Examine your giants for feet of clay; and choose your giants wisely. That will be a general theme of this blog as I go forward; to examine and talk about who I think is important and why, who other people think is important, and the impact that our choice of heroes can have on the real world outside the internet.