HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

September 15, 2008
Implication for the Long Run

Developments Last Week

John Turner


New Deportment
September 9, 2008

A peculiar propriety seems to be arising in America. An example of it can be seen in David Brooks's column this morning where he advises Barack Obama to chastise his own supporters if they criticize Sarah Palin. And why should he do that? Because coming out against Ms Palin is snobbery. Anybody who engages in it is practicing coastal condescension. They are savaging Ms. Palin's faith and family. Maybe, but it seems to be the case that any reservations about Ms. Palin's stance on anything are being twisted into an attack on her faith and family. After all, she's a champion of those solid working-class values -- whatever they are -- that make America great.

There's just a step from this sort of palaver to claiming that anything a person who hunts animals and drives a pickup truck supports is bound to be virtuous. And it's a step the Republicans have long since taken. It's also a claim that anyone whose tastes happen to diverge from those of moose hunters are effete elitists who have no right even to live in America. Both Republican leaders and the media are close to declaring that anything once considered elegant or intelligent is disgusting. Do you enjoy reading Shakespeare? Disgusting! Do you prefer Bach to Toby Keith? Disgusting! Did you ever read a novel by Gustave Flaubert? Disgusting! Have you ever heard of Virginia Woolf? Disgusting!

All this has long since passed reverse discrimination and has now established itself as the reigning intolerance in America.

Just for the sake of counterpoint, I'd like to point out that I've known quite a few guys who drive pickup trucks and like to hunt who are total slobs -- vicious to their families, obnoxious in virtually every social relation, selfish and mean-spirited to an insane degree, and cry-babies to boot. Owning a shotgun and carrying it around in the back of your truck is not an automatic passport to sainthood. But I guess I'd better be careful about saying such a thing because I might be written off as disgusting.


A Grand New Venture
September 10, 2008

The Republican Party, under the leadership of John McCain, is launched on a new experiment in politics. They have decided to lie their way into the White House and to do it not deceptively, as has been done so often in the past, but, rather, to do it arrantly, blatantly, obviously. They are prepared to say their candidates did things they did not do and opposed thing they vigorously championed, and to continue to make these proclamations in the face of clear evidence that they are false.

It's a strategy that must be based on the belief that a majority of the American electorate are either incapable of recognizing truth or simply care nothing for it. Never before has a major political party in America grounded itself so completely and confidently on the corruption of the people.

Their campaign is, indeed, an attempt at revolution, and if it succeeds, it will transform the American political climate for generations. If a candidate does not have to worry, ever, about being caught up in a lie, what motive will remain for any semblance truth in political debate? Newspapers and television news networks will become nothing but carriers of self-serving fantasy. Few will any longer give a fig for what's actually occurring. The only issue and the only topic discussed will become who is more skillful at lying manipulation. We have been moving in this direction for some time, but now the Republicans have decided to cast caution aside and go the whole way.

We are facing a landmark election, one in which truth, accuracy, and sound evidence could become nothing more than relics of the past.


What Comes Naturally
September 13, 2008

The press is full of reports that the Democrats are at a disadvantage in the presidential races because they don't know how to lie like the Republicans do. The GOP can lie without even thinking about it whereas the Democrats, if they're going to stretch the truth a bit, go through contortions with prior announcements of why they're doing what they do.

It's true that Republicans will lie at the drop of a hat and not have the slightest thought that they're doing anything wrong. They know that some people -- their natural constituency -- will believe the lies and that anyone with mind enough to examine whether a statement is true would never vote for a Republican anyway. Their faith has always been that there are more stupid voters than intelligent ones, and, therefore, the only smart tactic is to go after the stupid element in the electorate. And many Democrats are in despair because they believe that's true. They don't know how to appeal to stupid voters the way the Republicans do.

Actually it is a fairly serious problem. But I don't believe it's insoluble. The Democrats have to simplify their message by repeating incessantly that if you vote for Republicans you're not going to get what they promise you because they always lie during campaigns. They always tell you they're going to do something they're not going to do. This has the advantage not only of being simple but also of being true.

The only issue in this campaign should become whether Republicans are inveterate liars. Obama and his supporters should refuse to let it be anything else. After all, they've got plenty of evidence; so just keep trotting it out. They've got a little wave going already, and if they can keep it rising a considerable portion the press will get behind it. Reporters love a juicy theme of that sort.

Although the average American voter is badly misinformed about the actions of government, there's something about the concept of a lie that will make him, or her, uneasy. And once the Democrats make smug people uneasy, they've got them moving in the right direction.


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