Don’t look now, but the haters haven’t gone anywhere. Despite Barack Obama’s centrist agenda, they still display nooses down south and hang him in effigy. People still get worked up over where he was born. They are still convinced he’s intent upon nothing less than overthrowing the entire United States government, but who are they and why do they hate?
And they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. Race and über partisanship certainly play into it. But, so does something else. Something every bit as perplexing, let’s call it fundamentalism, American Political Fundamentalism.
Religious scholar and author, Karen Armstrong, defines religious fundamentalism (as a “reaction against and a rejection of modern Western society” – a terrified response to modern secularity. The peaceful, black and white world we foolishly believe our grandparents inhabited has, at some point, become a screaming kaleidoscopic rollercoaster of threats, fears, uncertainty, and no easy answers.
Certain brands of religion offer quiet refuge where the meaning of life is explained, death is not to be feared, it’s easy to tell friend from foe – and your daughter attends Wednesday night fellowship at the church instead of hanging out with the boys’ basketball team.
The American Political Fundamentalist sees change every bit as threatening. Any American with half a brain (even the occasional progressive blogger) has to be a little uneasy about fighting two wars, facing the worst financial crisis in generations and double digit unemployment, dealing with potentially catastrophic environmental change, playing catch-up with suicide bombers, and watching a nuclear-armed nation descend into chaos.
If all that’s not scary enough for the political fundamentalist, there was this black guy running for president. Maybe you heard about him; and this woman too – the one married to the philanderer who left a stain on the presidency. Then the black one wins in Iowa of all places. Then the whole danged election – and he names the woman Secretary of State.
Within weeks, he and the Democratic House and Senate launch a wild Keynesian spending spree destined to bankrupt the nation and destroy capitalism. They not only take over banks, but most of GM and Chrysler – and what they don’t want they give to the UAW.
Before you know it, he’s doing all that apologizing and bowing overseas. Dude goes and wins the Nobel Peace Prize. It was so much easier when it was ‘us agin them,’ and all we needed was to send in the Marines.
And all that talk about anthropomorphic climate change. Huh? Al Gore and climategate. Oh that!
Then there’s healthcare reform. Even after being Liebermanized, there’s still Pelosi, all those backroom deals and midnight votes and a really, really long bill that Senate Republicans weren’t even given time enough to read (never mind that they managed to print it in time to read into the record, and use as a prop all December during floor debate). On Christmas Eve, instead of Santa, there’s Harry Reid coming down the chimney, the ghost of a Kennedy past, socialized medicine and death panels.
The GOP may be rebuilding itself in such a way as to leave the American Political Fundamentalist homeless. Republicans recaptured the crucial middle ground in 1980, when, during another economic crisis at home and futility abroad, the Dixie-crats changed names and became Reagan Democrats. Ronald Reagan, bent upon reversing Johnson’s Great Society, promised to curb growth of the federal government, lower taxes, and confront foreign enemies from a position of strength. Shoot – if it weren’t for Lincoln, they’d already have been Republicans anyway.
In what may be the most predictable cycle of American politics, the longer a party holds power, the greater becomes its reliance upon special interests and the further it moves from the base on which it was built.
Over the last 20 years, the political fundamentalists gradually found a home at one end of the GOP tent. There they sought a return to those idyllic days that never were, when men were men, gays weren’t, poverty was the fault of the impoverished, and we Focus[ed] on the Family. The wealthy, always in control of the other end, became even more so (wealthy and controlling). The Regan Democrats, upon which Republican control was established, became ill at ease with these bedfellows. Beginning with the 2006 elections, they changed their name again and because independents voting for “change.”
That leaves the political fundamentalists and the wealthy alone together in the tent, with no moderating force between them – only a gaping wound where the moderates used to be.
In Congress, Republican leader Mitch McConnell has attempted to cover up the gash with the tactical salve in Congress of NO! on economic stimulus, energy reform, healthcare, banking regulation – you name it. Pure obstructionism obscures the Republicans’ inability to unite behind any realistic legislative alternatives. Meanwhile, a few saner heads in the GOP understand that anti-choice, anti-gay, and in-god-we-trust, without more, isn’t going to win back the independents, or take many national elections.
Facing homelessness, what’s an American political fundamentalist to do? For now, the answer appears to be retreat into a comfy cave decorated in black and white, turn on the a.m. radio, and have a Tea Party. At least for a while, everything makes sense again.