Monday, October 27, 2008

Reasons to Hope and Reasons to Despair

Riding up to Janesville, Wisconsin on Saturday, one of the women related a story about a canvasser in western Pennsylvania who was told by a woman who came to the door that she would have to ask her husband who she was voting for. When she called to her husband, the answer came back, “We’re voting for the n****r.” The woman turned to the canvasser and said without any embarrassment, “We’re voting for the n****r.” (The story is all over the blogosphere, but I have no idea whether it is apochryphal.)

The three women in the car thought that the story was shocking, but I found it very encouraging. I have no illusions about the existence of racism, but it is nice to think that people can overcome it sufficiently to see where their economic interests lie. My father was fond of saying that Ronald Reagan’s genius was in convincing a lot of members of the middle class that they could afford to be Republicans.

Speaking of the crazy things that people believe, I just started reading Matt Taibbi's The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, & Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire. His take on Pastor John Hagee's support for Christian Zionism is brilliant:

[I]t was unmistakably an ingenious solution to the problem of how to rally
southern conservative Christians a few generations removed from their
cross-burning Klan days to the cause of Israel. If it turns out that it was
dreamed up by the same guy who figured out how to get laid-off Midwestern
factory workers to whoop for free-trade Republicanism by plastering the airwaves
with French-kissing men, I have to say, that guy deserves some kind of special
medal—a Triple Order of Satan, or something like that.
Part of Taibbi's research involved joining Hagee's Cornerstone Church and learning how to vomit demons into a paper bag at a weekend retreat.

I could not help but think of Sarah Palin as I read Taibbi's assessment of the possibility of rational political discourse with such people:

By the end of the weekend I realized how quaint was the mere suggestion that
Christians of this type should learn to “be rational” or “set aside your
religion” about such things as the Iraq war or other policy matters. Once
you’ve made a journey like this—once you’ve gone this far—you are beyond
suggestible. It’s not merely the informational indoctrination, the
constant belittling of homosexuals and atheists and Muslims and pacifists, etc.,
that’s the issue. It’s that once you’ve gotten to this place you have left
behind the mental process that a person would need to form an independent
opinion about such things.


  1. Should I be insulted by that last paragraph?

    I'm not rich. I don't think I'm irrational. I try not to belittle anybody.

    And yet here I am a conservative who's spent the last four months trying to explain the logic behind conservative positions.

    I do take exception to the implication that "be rational" and "set aside your religion" are synonymous. (I know that was a quote.) Imagine if someone told you to set aside your liberal beliefs and be rational.

    Your basic philosophy, though you should be able to see past it, is how you approach the world. That mine is grounded in my religious beliefs makes it no less valid than one grounded in a political (or any other) philosophy.

    BTW, I can't say it surprises me that people uneducated enough to be racist are uneducated enough to think Obama's plans are in their economic interests.

  2. I think that Taibbi's point is that people who see the activity of demons around every corner are not very likely to see past that when discussing political questions.

    I am not sure whether you should feel insulted or not. If you think that a good American can in good faith disagree with your positions, then I suspect that we share an objective reality in which we can agree upon facts while disagreeing upon the implication of those facts. On the other hand, if you believe that anyone who disagrees with your conservative views is un-American and likely in the grip of Satanic forces, then I would be less sanguine about the prospect for rational discourse.

    Having voted for Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, I like to think that I understand the logic behind conservative positions. I stopped voting that way because I never saw the economic benefits trickling down the way the Republicans claimed they would.