Thursday, January 7, 2010

Your Modern Conservative Inferiority Complex

Quite possibly the best thing I’ve read on politics in a long, long time. It’s old and I don’t know how I missed it. But go read it. Now. I’ll wait.

{waiting ... waiting ... waiting ....}

Okay, I think there’s a lot of truth to what Sanchez says. And conservatives are not gonna like it. But too bad. There is so much incoherence running through the conservative base right now that when trying to make sense of what those folks are complaining about, all we can conclude is that the problem is not political but psychological.

A big chunk of you folks live in an alternate universe. We’ve got Tea Party ralliers saying they want to “take their country back” (From what? And from whom?). They want to “stop government control of (fill in the blank),” when they had one branch or another of the government for over 15 years. They want to stop “socialized Obamacare” when the proposed healthcare bill is so far removed from anything resembling government-controlled healthcare that those of us who pay attention to the facts not the spin are just going, “huh?”

There’s been talk of death panels and FEMA re-education camps and all sorts of wacko stuff that’s way off the radar (the latest is Obama--aided by ACORN--intentionally ruining the economy. No one seems to remember that the economy tanked while Bush was still in office.) You’ve got folks like Michelle Bachmann wishing you a Merry Christmas as “a federal official”, as if there’s something subversive in that (and the Tea Party Nation, on cue, cheers.) You’ve got Carrie Prejean acting like some persecuted Joan of Arc because people happened to notice she made a sex tape and posed topless and campaigned for a political group, all in violation of her pageant contract. But Larry King asks why she dropped her libel lawsuit and he’s being “inappropriate.” Sarah Palin, well, just about everything she says is beamed in from some alternate reality.

Here in Nashville we’re gearing for an onslaught of wackadoodle when the Tea Party folks hold their convention in early February. And let me just say right now: it’s like you guys are speaking some kind of secret language of disaffection and alienation that the rest of the country (including a lot of Republicans) just don’t get. You folks need to broaden your messaging beyond the bumper sticker bromides and develop some coherent, substantive, arguments so we can all figure out what you folks are so mad about. Because right now it looks like you're just pissed off about being pissed off. I'm trying to understand you, really I am, but I can't get past the placards that use words like "socialism," "communism" and "fascism" as if they were interchangeable.

There’s been this sense of persecution from the right going back even into the Bush years and it’s truly puzzling to those of us in the reality-based community because we don’t understand what folks who have been in control of everything since forever are complaining about.

So I think Sanchez has hit the nail on the head when he writes:
What we saw in ‘04 was fury at the realization that ascendancy to political power had not (post-9/11 Lee Greenwood renaissance notwithstanding) brought parallel cultural power.  The secret shame of the conservative base is that they’ve internalized the enemy’s secular cosmopolitan value set and status hierarchy—hence this obsession with the idea that somewhere, someone who went to Harvard might be snickering at them.

Harsh, yes, but I also think there’s truth to that.

We saw it in the right-wing attack on the Dixie Chicks and we see it in the right-wing hissy fit over the film “Avatar.” As’s Andrew Leonard noted, the free hand of the market has spoken and it’s got right-wing knickers in quite a twist:

Simplistic left-wing environmentalist propaganda, as realized by Cameron, turns out to be spectacularly popular! Ouch! That's gotta hurt. For right-wingers convinced that a cap-and-trade mechanism to restrict greenhouse gases is an affront to American values, it must be extraordinarily galling to see  the explicit environmental message of "Avatar" embraced so heartily.

Nothing says "fail" louder than a conservative "backlash" against a film that's already grossed over $1 billion worldwide. The problem for conservatives, says Sanchez, is a psychological one, not a political one. This means there is no cure for what ails them in mainstream Republican circles. Because what you are looking for is a cultural impact, and that’s not happening, no matter how many branches of government your fingers are on.

We saw this national inferiority complex manifest last year when the National Review released its Top 50 Conservative Rock Songs list and "Best Conservative Movies of the last 25 Years" list. At the time I wrote:

The poor dears. For years the conservative movement has tried desperately to prove their ideology has some kind of cultural relevance beyond the tiny clique of like-minded souls sequestered away in their alternate universe so aptly named "The Corner." Meanwhile, the rest of us just scratch our heads in puzzlement.

So now they've got a "movement" which David Broder compares to the hippies of the '60s and the feminists of the '70s. Can the movement be sustained? Even Broder doesn't know for certain because, as I said at the beginning of this piece, anger for anger's sake is not a movement that will be sustained.

Sanchez calls the Tea Partiers a "doomed project":

Even if conservatives retook power, they wouldn’t be able to provide a political solution to a psychological problem, assuming they’re not willing to go the Pol Pot route. At the same time, it signals a resignation to impotence on the cultural front where the real conflict lies.  It effectively says: We cede to the bogeyman cultural elites the power of stereotypical definition, so becoming the stereotype more fully and grotesquely is our only means of empowerment.

And no, I don't think remaking "Red Dawn" is going to satisfy you. Because your modern conservative base suffers from a vast inferiority complex. You don't want political power -- you had it for years! For nearly an entire decade. What you want is cultural power. And unless you dial back the crazy, I don't see that happening.