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Intellectual Dishonesty

Intellectual Dishonesty

Well, I guess it’s Culture Wars Redux then… Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani lowered the bar tonight with a smirking, nasty personal attack on Barack Obama. John McCain is taking the hard right turn and turning to gutter politcs by embracing Karl Rove and George Bush’s vision for divisive, indendiary national politics and, apparantly, will do anything to win the White House, reversing his moderate, considered approach and allowing right-wing vitriol to redefine his candidacy. You know what I want? A president and VP who attack and degrade my beliefs, then claim to be bringing unity. I’m not joking or feigning the same sort of right wing victimization that sees the left constantly pandering by embracing, say, religion (just not embracing the “correct” kind of religion in the “proper” way); The Republican party actually seems to loathe what I think are good, strong values. Kudos, Republicans; you are who we thought you were. I shouldn’t be surprised.

Just ahead of the 2006 election, former CNN Crossfire host and Slate founder Michael Kinsey wrote what I consider to be a prescient, powerful article in the NY Times Book Review that I can’t get out of my mind these past few days. Titled Election Day, Kinsey takes on the the issue of political lying; how political flacks use whatever spin and ideas are necessary to tear down their opponent and promote their own candidate, even if that means, in the end, each of their previous statements contradicts the last. With John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin for Vice President and the media storm that has followed, the bullshit machine has been turned up to eleven; I have never in my life seen so much partisan nonsense hidden behind a so-called “philosophy”. Kinsey, writing about a slate of books written by the flacks, managers, pundits and messengers of both parties, said it perfectly in his article and review;

“…What is cheating? In my view, the worst form of cheating in American democracy today is intellectual dishonesty. The conversation in our democracy is dominated by disingenuousness. Candidates and partisan commentators strike poses of outrage that they don’t really feel, take positions that they would not take if the shoe was on the other foot (e.g., criticizing Bush when you gave Clinton a pass, or vice versa), feel no obligation toward logical consistency. Our democracy occasionally punishes outright lies but not brazen insincerity. When we vote after a modern political campaign run by expensive professionals, we have almost no idea what the victor really believes or what he or she might do in office. It seems to me there is more than enough of this to explain all distressing election results without condemning either yourself or democracy…

…A few days before the 2000 election, the Bush team started assembling people to deal with a possible problem: what if Bush won the popular vote but Gore carried the Electoral College. They decided on, and were prepared to begin, a big campaign to convince the citizenry that it would be wrong for Gore to take office under those circumstances. And they intended to create a tidal wave of pressure on Gore’s electors to vote for Bush, which arguably the electors as free agents have the authority to do. In the event, of course, the result was precisely the opposite, and immediately the Bushies launched into precisely the opposite argument: the Electoral College is a vital part of our Constitution, electors are not free agents, threatening the Electoral College result would be thumbing your nose at the founding fathers, and so on. Gore, by the way, never did challenge the Electoral College, although some advisers urged him to do so.

Of all the things Bush did and said during the 2000 election crisis, this having-it-both-ways is the most corrupt. It was reported before the election and is uncontested, but no one seems to care, because so much of our politics is like that. And no electoral reform can fix this problem. Intellectual dishonesty can’t be banned or regulated or “capped” like money. The only way it can be brought under control is if people start voting against it. If they did, the problem would go away. That’s democracy.”

Well, the old adage is true; The more things change, the more they stay the same. This bankrupt, tautological way of presenting ideas and “framing” the national discussion is, to my mind, the greatest challenge facing American democracy in the run up to the 2008 Presidential election. The right wants it both ways, and it is absolutely nauseating. Tonight, watching Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin offering their typically viscious personal attack on Barack Obama’s record and qualifications, a crowd of drooling, aged white men in bulging neck ties screeching the word “zero” like a greedy mob, I really can’t take much more. That’s right; I got to watch Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusettes and the wealthy, privileged son of former Michigan Governor George Romney, try to paint the Hawaiian son of a single mother as an east coast elitist. This is the legacy of Karl Rove and George Bush, the great smear machine that smirks and belittles and tries to have it both ways. Let’s look at the master at work, talking about the ever-important issue of “experience”;

Karl Rove On Virginia Governor Tim Kaine (D)

Karl Rove on Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R)

Mr. Rove, you make my point for me.

What else? Too numerous to count: An anti-sex education, anti-choice mother of five has a teenage daughter who is forced to marry her seventeen year old boyfriend when he impregnates her out of wedlock and she is praised by the right as a brave woman who lives by her word, while a married father and mother of two beautiful children are mocked and treated with derision. The Palins are cast as the great American family, while the Obamas, whose monogamous, dedicated marriage and strong family values seemingly embody the conservative ideal that has been espoused for over a generation, receive scorn. Hmmm.

Or how about this? Barack Obama, raised by his grandmother and a single mother, works his ass off, graduates from a Hawaiian high school and, after a stint at Occidental College, earns a B.A. from Columbia before earning his law degree at Harvard and becoming the first black President of the Harvard Law Review. Then, carrying student loans (which he apparantly used to pay for his arugula and white wine addiction), decides to forgo a high paying job at a legal firm in order to help organize poor communities of color and improve living conditions on the south side of Chicago. Instead of being praised as a small town boy living the American dream by working hard, earning a great education and using that education to serve a community in need, the right attacks him as “elitist” (because he went to an Ivy League college and law school) and mocks the idea of community organizing, belittling the hard work of public servants all over the nation. Community organizers, the new face of liberalism run amok. Ha ha ha, tee hee hee.

This one pisses me off the most; No wonder our education system is a piece of shit– our leaders and citizens apparently loathe education! Do these people honestly think most Americans, if their children work hard in school and are accepted by a prestigious private university, would snort in disgust? No, they would jump at the chance to have their child receive a world class university education and improve their prospects in life, to explore their interest in the law, or medicine, or public policy, or whatever they want to study. But Obama? Uppity and, hilariously, elitist. George Bush is a common sense good ol’ boy who sucked in college (and went to Yale and was the son of a man who was the head of the CIA, Vice President and then President of the United States), yeehaw, but Obama, working class guy who actually did well in school? Elitist asshole who had the nerve to get an education. I guess if you inherit a shitload of money and hate learning, you’re keeping it real, and the rest of us better know our place and not think too much.

Maybe that’s why the Republican dialogue tonight had all of the subtlety of a high-school lunch room; If it wasn’t Rudy Guiliani lisping his way through a littany of personal smears and once again using September 11, 2001 as if it were his own personal bludgeon (and cheapening our collective experience, especially us New Yorkers, with each venomous invocation), it was Sarah Palin, the “hot VP from the coolest state” (their words, not mine), who gets to come out swinging, levelling nasty, ice cold personal attacks against the character of Obama and Biden, *snap!*, but say a word against her and you’re the “sexist”. Don’t say a word about her kids, either, but allow her to trot them out there and use them as a political tool, the embodiment of down-to-earth, girl-next-door “family values”. The right make the kids the culmination of political issues (“by having a baby who she knew had Downs Syndrome, she’s living her beliefs! she refuses sex education to her kids and when one of them gets pregnant at seventeen, she supported her and they kept the baby.. who can control those crazy teenagers?”) and then attack the media for asking questions about how those values, those kids, translate into the world. You think if Chelsea Clinton got pregnant while she was in High School during Bill Clinton’s first term, she’d have received the same glowing endorsement, the Clintons held up as the models of familial virtue?

If the American people fall for this shit, I’ll be devastated; I think people want government to be there for them with well-managed programs and services, to protect them from harm, and to tell them the truth. Unfortunately, the Republicans have decided to play to the base, or rather, the base and desperate instincts of the good ol’ Republican playbook. Keep ’em scared, poor and dumb. It’s going to be long two months.

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