6/28/2007

Why GOP victimhood didn't work in 2006

A very good article in Harper's shows how the GOP perpetual claims of being oppressed by traitors didn't stick this time: What has really robbed the conspiracy theories of their effectiveness is how the war in Iraq has been conducted. Bush's refusal to mobilize the nation for the war in Iraq has severed that immediate identification with our army's fortunes. Bush has finally uncoupled the state from its heroic status.

The conspiracy had expanded yet again. Not just Nancy Pelosi or Dick Durbin but all Democrats and all liberals were now firmly established as traitors, and it was not possible that they had made some honest gaffes; instead, their very motives were sinister.

When Rove's thunderous media offensive had finally subsided, however, a strange silence ensued. The popularity of his master, George W. Bush, continued to plunge in the opinion polls. Support for the war continued to plummet as well

... What went wrong? How could such an infallible Republican strategy, conducted with all of the right wing's vast media resources at his command, have failed so utterly? How was it that the story of the stab in the back had lost its power to hold us spellbound?

What has really robbed the conspiracy theories of their effectiveness is how the war in Iraq has been conducted. Bush and his advisers have sought to use the war not only to punish their enemies but also to reward their supporters, a bit of political juggling that led them to demand nothing from the American public as a whole. Those of us who are not actively fighting in Iraq, or who do not have close friends and family members who are doing so, have not been asked to sacrifice in any way. The richest among us have even been showered with tax cuts.

Yet in demanding so little, Bush has finally uncoupled the state from its heroic status. It is not a coincidence that modern nationalism dates from the advent of mass democracy—and mass citizen armies—that the American and French revolutions ushered in at the end of the eighteenth century. Bush's refusal to mobilize the nation for the war in Iraq has severed that immediate identification with our army's fortunes. Nor did it begin with the Bush Administration. The wartime tax cuts and the all-volunteer, wartime army are simply the latest manifestations of a trend that is now decades old and that has been promulgated through peace as well as war, by Democrats as well as Republicans. It cannot truly be a surprise that a society that has steadily dismantled or diminished the most basic access to health care, relief for the poor and the aged, and decent education; a society that has allowed the gap between its richest and poorest citizens to grow to unprecedented size; a society that has paid obeisance to the ideology of globalization to the point of giving away both its jobs and its debt to foreign nations, and which has just allowed one of its poorer cities to quietly drown, should choose to largely opt out of its own defense.

Anyone who doubts that this is exactly what we have done need only look at how little the war really engages most of us. It rarely draws more than a few seconds of coverage on the local television news, if that, and then only well into the broadcast, after a story on a murder, or a fire, or the latest weather predictions. Even the largest and angriest demonstrations against our occupation of Iraq have not approached the mobilizations against the war in Vietnam, but a close observer will notice that we also have yet to see any of the massive counterdemonstrations that were held in support of that war—or “in support of the troops.” Such engagement on either side seems almost quaint now.

Who could possibly believe in a plot to lose this war? No one cares that much about it. We have, instead, reached a crossroads where the overwhelming right-wing desire to dissolve much of the old social compact that held together the modern nation-state is irreconcilably at odds with any attempt to conduct such a grand, heroic experiment as implanting democracy in the Middle East. Without mass participation, Iraq cannot be passed off as an heroic endeavor, no matter how much Mr. Bush's rhetoric tries to make it one, and without a hero there can be no great betrayer, no skulking villain....

More at the source

"Stabbed in the back! The past and future of a right-wing myth" by Kevin Baker (Harper's Magazine)

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