Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Apocalypse 2012?

It was informative to read Mark Lilla’s piece in the latest New York Review, “Republicans for Revolution,” just before the Iowa caucus-based primary.  Lilla demonstrates that current Republican trends are far from the traditions of conservatism, a nomenclature (if not concept) that he finds emerging in the aftermath of the French Revolution.  It is a concept in which the inertia of social traditions trumps any issues concerned with the rights (such as the unalienable ones) of individuals.  As a political philosophy it draws upon those who seek comfort in the status quo, rather than trying to rouse new sectors of the electorate into the ranks.

Yet this latter course of action is precisely what the Iowa candidates have been falling over each other in efforts to do so.  Rick Perry was probably most blatant about it:  All that really matters is capturing enough attention to get people to vote for you, sort of like the marketing principle that, if you run enough really flashy ads for a Honda, enough people will go out and buy one to make it worth your time and money.  Thus, we had Mitt Romney trying to play adversarial politics by old-school rules while surrounded by a bunch of radicals, all homing in on apocalyptic language as some kind of formula for gathering attention and the votes that would follow.

This morning’s lesson seems to have been that, in the Iowa sample space, only eight votes separated political tradition from a radicalism that we are more likely to associate with fundamentalism in just about any religion we would care to name.  “Political science,” as we like to call it, may be taken as a sort of anthropological study of those who make a career out of politics.  However, what if, by virtue of the explosion in bandwidth that now supports communication, one no longer need follow the traditional codes of political practices?  What if even shouting “Fire!” in a crowded space is now accepted as legitimate conduct among those seeking to hold public office?  What if, to draw upon Lilla’s punch line, those who seek office have not the foggiest idea what they will actually do should they assume that position and all but revel in their cluelessness?

It is clear from current practices in Congress that the practice of politics is failing the American electorate.  However, the playing field of candidates has become swamped with those who would chuck the whole system and then leave it to “the resourcefulness of the individual” to sort out the resulting mess.  What kind of a society have we become, if we are now seriously considering electing such deliberately destructive elements to our highest offices?

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