Do you remember Robert Heinlein’s 1961 classic science fiction best seller, Stranger In a Strange Land? [Here] That title describes the way I’ve been feeling lately. I guess most folks who are lucky enough to live long enough to reach a “certain age” feel that way, but clearly the current political momentum is carrying the country farther and farther away from the values and political momentum of FDR’s New Deal that was the political background of my childhood. Social responsibility and concern were in the political air that we breathed, even in my Republican household.
A certain political divisiveness that we are feeling today was certainly present back then. Remember all those horrible jokes about Eleanor and Madame Perkins? However, the political powers in charge reached out to help the less powerful. Expanding economic wealth and freedom continued after World War II, and, in spite of the McCarthyism of the ’50’s, gained momentum again with the anti-war and civil rights movements of the 60’s.
However, unfortunately, there is something else in the air today, isn’t there? I call it creeping Friedmanism. We have been shocked almost to numbness by the pictures from Abu Ghraib of torture and human degradation done by Americans and under American direction. We were lied to by our President into declaring war against a country which had not attacked us. We then reelected him for a second term and now he's touting his book about his exploits.
We have just endured a midterm election in which millions of corporate dollars were poured into espousing corporate-backed economic interests and candidates. We’ve seen money frame the political dialogue. More stunningly, we’ve seen corporate money convincing people to vote against their own economic self-interest. I suspect we’ll see much more of this in the future when the corporate-dominated GOP leadership tries to convince their conservative base that eviscerating Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid is in their interest or that destroying public schools in favor of profit-making charter schools is intelligent public policy.
Digby at Hullabaloo [Here] is arguing that much of the energy that is driving American political life today is tribal warfare. She quotes from Amanda Marcotte at Salon: [Here]
For anyone who has any doubts that the main engine of the viciousness of the American political landscape is a pure culture war, I give to you the case of Bristol Palin hanging in on Dancing With the Stars. Palin is making a career out of conservative America using her to demonstrate that what matters most to them is that you're a member of their tribe. You can break their strict sexual rules, and they'll embrace you. You can have no talent whatsoever, and they'll promote you. Just so long as you're in the tribe. It's how George W. Bush got to be president, so this shouldn't be so shocking. Especially when you consider that cheeseball fare like Dancing With The Stars draws more Republican viewers than Democratic ones.
Tribal/cultural war is the only explanation. If this was actually about politics, it would only be about politics. Who wins on Dancing With the Stars has exactly zero impact on policy decision-making in Washington. It has nothing to do with those things that we keep hearing motivate the Tea Party--tax rates, "fiscal conservatism," the auto bailout. But it has everything to do with scoring points in the ongoing war of sticking it to those latte-drinking liberals, who sneeringly believe the spawn of the martyred Sarah Palin shouldn't win because she's not good enough. The nerve!
Consider that the folks who are organizing to keep Bristol Palin on the show are easy to set off on rants about the evils of affirmative action, and much of what defines the current political landscape will become all too clear.
What is so strange is that Bristol Palin has broken all the rules, hasn’t she? She had premarital sex and became pregnant. No Problem. She gave birth and then became a well-paid, poster icon for Abstinence Only. No Problem. She was caught drinking while underage--and pregnant. No Problem. Joins Dancing With the Stars. No Problem. No talent while on Dancing with the Stars. No Problem. Judges don’t think much of her dancing so organize a huge vote-in campaign, compelling the show to keep her on. No Problem.
If this isn’t blind tribalism, what is?
Yes, I’m a stranger in a strange land...