Thursday, September 04, 2008

meme team 

Today's most incisive bloggy riposte to Palin's speech:

"Mrs. Palin needs to be reminded that Jesus Christ was a community organizer and Pontius Pilate was a governor."

Hopefully coming soon to a t-shirt near you.

It is emblematic of Republican strategic confusion that they broke out last night with attacks on community organizers and contrasts to "people with real responsibility". While still clutching their culture-war populist chestnuts, they've also given the game away with this new approach. Doug Rushkoff, echoing Dawkins, explains:

These folks were gritting their teeth, shaking their fists, and smiling the way gladiators do when going into combat against barbarians. And this is the incumbent party. The ones currently in power.

What is it they hate? Guiliani and Palin both made it pretty clear: community organizing. Community organizing is energized from below. From the periphery. It is the direction and facilitation of mass energy towards productive and cooperative ends. It is about replacing conflict with collaboration. It is the opposite of war; it is peace.


In their attack on community organizing - a word combination they pretended they didn’t know what it meant - Giuliani and Palin revealed their refusal to acknowledge the kinds of bottom-up processes through which our society was built, and through which local communities can begin to assert some authority over their schools, environments, and economies. Without organized communities, you don’t get the reduction in centralized government the Republicans pretend to be arguing for. In their view, community organizing as, at best, equivalent to disruptive and unpredictable Al Qaeda activity.

As we all know, for the last thirty or so years the GOP has built a ruling coalition in part on a cooptation of economic and political populism. They took popular anger stemming from pain over their terrible governance and diverted into the Culture War. They took popular common-sense knowledge of economics and politics and drowned it in the bathtub of sexual paranoia.

Last night they began to abandon all that. They are now explicitly drawing the distinction between Authority and Democracy and claiming the side of Authority. They're dragging Cult-War populism back into the political sphere. But notice, they're not asking the angry people to rise up against their masters, the cornerstone of populist emotion, they're asking them to submit.

If they continue on this line, I think it will prove to be a big mistake. Of course the party faithful and the twenty-five percenters are all slavish children at heart, desperately seeking a strongman. Of course they're gonna snarl and froth and fume and love every second of any authoritarian spectacle.

In the end though, I think the cognitive dissonance will be too great for any but the most committed. The entire GOP rhetorical line has rested on dressing up authoritarian actions in democratic verbiage. The problem is that to some extent people like and believe in the verbiage. What the Republicans are proposing here is to bring their rhetoric in line with their actual beliefs, desires and actions. They actually want to show people the man behind the curtain and think it will garner more support. Nuh uh.

Not only that, but they're actually using the words "community organizing" in the first place. So for one, they're buying into the "frame" as they say, playing on Obama's field. But they're also re-mainstreaming what what they had succeeded in making a marginal concept for the last thirty years. Much better to have left it in the shadows, a word combination only used by dirty Leftists and poor people, part of an arcane jargon used by untrustworthy people.

Now they've breathed life into it and asked Americans who actually believe they live in a democracy, and especially the Americans they've been training to hate the government for a generation, to see society as newly polarized between governors and community organizers. Then they expect people to think the good guys are the governors?

Not that I think people will "see through" this at all or suddenly start having epiphanies across the land. I'm just saying that they're confusing the shit out of people with the mixed message and newly complicated narrative. They had a nice short, simple story that they could mass-produce. Now in a desperate attempt to regain crumbling market-share they're adding bells and whistles and feature sets to their shabby product. This is not the stuff of which successful GOTV mobilizations are born.

What I'm really hoping for here is not merely the GOP out of power, but eventually an end to the Culture Wars itself and a return to real politics. That's certainly more long-range, but I hope its not too much to hope that the GOP has begun to walk confidently along a slippery-slope that ends in the utter uselessness of God, Guns and Gays as rhetoric.

Anyone to the left of Giuliani should absolutely harp on this language as much as possible. Make it a contest of community self-organization versus top-down governance. A lot of Americans don't really believe in democracy, but not many are really willing to say so out loud. The Repubs have handed the Obamaists and their allies a great gift. I hope they run with it.


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