I may be passing smart about some stuff but I'm a political dunderhead, so my head is still reeling from a pair of articles I found this morning via Maximus Clarke's The Situation Room. Both offer fascinating insight into the current political climate in America, which is reason enough to read them; additionally, one offers some sound suggestions for the left if we ever plan to participate in the governing of our country again. The first, by Lew Rockwell, is a dissection of the American right's move from DIY conservatism towards the state-legislated variety we're currently enjoying. He calls it "The most significant socio-political shift in our time" and I think he may be right. I'm old enough to remember the Reagan Years, I'm even old enough to have voted against him...twice, and while there was certainly a budding conservative or two knocking about in the Delta Gamma house, there was nothing like the rabid hatred of the left that reared its ugly head in the last election. Our baby Republicans were tolerant and even respectful of the more (ahem) iconoclastic misfits in their midst, and none of us were very enthusiastic about authority meddling with our pursuit of anything, particularly happiness.
Rockwell starts with the 1994 Congressional elections. He quotes "a stunningly prescient memo" by fellow Libertarian, Murray L. Rothbard, who called the trouncing of the Democrats
...a massive and unprecedented public repudiation of President Clinton, his person, his personnel, his ideologies and programs, and all of his works; plus a repudiation of Clinton's Democrat Party; and, most fundamentally, a rejection of the designs, current and proposed, of the Leviathan he headsâ€¦. what is being rejected is big government in general (its taxing, mandating, regulating, gun grabbing, and even its spending) and, in particular, its arrogant ambition to control the entire society from the political center.
I have to say that while I voted for Clinton twice, I was stunned by what seemed to be either complete hubris or complete blindness to historical context. We had just come off of eight years of hero worship and four more of wishful thinking: did he really think all of those people who voted Republican suddenly wanted sweeping social reform and a two-for-the-price-of-one presidency?
Building on Rothbard, Rockwell goes on to suggest that the Monica Lewinsky escapade was the galvanizing force in realigning middle class loyalties:
(T)his event crystallized the partisanship of the bourgeoisie, driving home the message that the real problem was Clinton and not government; the immorality of the chief executive, not his power; the libertinism of the left-liberals and not their views toward government. The much heralded "leave us alone" coalition had been thoroughly transformed in a pure anti-Clinton movement. The right in this country began to define itself not as pro-freedom, as it had in 1994, but simply as anti-leftist, as it does today.
There's been much talk of how the Democrats dropped the ball this last election, of how the Republican party walked away with the prize because whether you liked it or not (and apparently, roughly half of the voters didn't), they at least had a platform. Jingoistic or not, they stood for something, family values, national security, apple pie and Chevrolet, and by wrapping it all up in God and country, they staked out the patriotic high ground as "real" Americans and branded dissenters as hedonistic, America-hating scum.
Rather than getting our undies in a bundle about conservatives and their newfound fundamentalist fervor, the second post on Clarke's most excellent site suggests we take a page from their book, co-opt their rhetoric and reclaim the moral high ground.
Clarke references a terrific article by Davidson Loehr which Clarke found via Digby's blog. Loehr makes the case that the various flavors of fundamentalism is more similar (strict gender roles, no separation of church and state, strongly homophobic, etc.) than different (Christian, Muslim, Jewish), suggesting that fundamentalism is rooted in something far older than religion. In other words, we're hard-wired to survive, survival way back when meant some pretty strict rules, and the rules laid down by fundamentalism speak to some primal human need that must be addressed:
When liberal visions work, it's because they have kept one foot solidly in our deep territorial impulses with the other foot free to push the margin, to expand the definition of those who belong in â€œourâ€ territory.
When liberal visions fail, it is often because they fail to achieve just this kind of balance between our conservative impulses and our liberal needs.
Over the past half century, many of our liberal visions have been too narrow, too self-absorbed, too unbalanced. This imbalance has been a key factor in triggering recent fundamentalist uprisings. When liberals don't lead well, others don't follow. And when society doesn't follow liberal visions, liberals haven't led.
What's wonderful about this is that understanding this basic human need means we can address it rather than (hopelessly) fighting it:
Just as it's no coincidence that all fundamentalisms have similar agendas, it's also no coincidence that the most successful liberal advances tend to wrap their expanded definitions in what sound like conservative categories.
Like, as Loehr points out, JFK and his challenge to young America. Or MLK invoking God's name in the interest of inclusion.
It's tougher to invoke God when you're not a believer, but as Digby says:
...we can do this by using our sacred political symbols to illustrate what we believe in. People use the Bible and that's just fine. But it isn't the only game in town. "This Land Is Your Land" can bring a tear to the eye as well. And if (Loehr) is correct in that religion is being used in service of something far more primal than we realize then there is definitely more than one way to skin a cat.