The government we deserve
I caught a few minutes of NPR this morning. They had a piece about the presidential campaign of Mike Huckabee. What struck me was the brief interview with some woman Huckabee met on the campaign trail, who waxed rhapsodic about the man on the basis of ... his handshake. She could tell all she needed to know about a Presidential candidate from his handshake.
Where to begin?
The reporter didn't ask her, but I'll bet she voted at least once for Dubya. I'll lay odds that even now he gives better handshakes than John Kerry or Al Gore ever did.
We here in the lefty blogosphere are comfortable in the world of ideas, facts and substance. We parse and analyze what our candidates say and do; we compare policy positions and voting records.
I am sure the woman I heard on NPR does none of these things. She chooses her leader the same way dogs do; she looks at body language and posture, sniffs for fear, and seeks safety by submitting to dominance. The Republicans have understood this approach for decades, and have played that game while seemingly ignoring ours. We win the chess game, and wonder why the loser keeps knocking over the pieces and stealing our lunch money.
The answer is depressing but obvious: we who blog are winning a game most voters cannot comprehend and have no interest in. When we go on about hypocrisy and lies and incoherence, we are trying to explain Schrödinger's cat -- to the cat.
A couple of nights ago I watched the chilling film "Jesus Camp." It brought home yet again that we speak a language that is essentially incomprehensible to Bush's supporters. And that is an enduring tragedy, and ongoing danger to our society. A large and growing segment of our population is deaf to what we take for granted about modernity -- the language of logic. They believe and do what God tells them to believe and do, and they are putty in the hands of whoever best convinces them of their communion with God -- an inherently evidence-free, unprovable assertion. Protecting the simplicity of that belief system requires ever-greater vigilance against the corrosive influence of logic in all its manifestations. The Inquisition was one such backlash (one "Jesus Camp" subject mentions the recanting of Galileo as a good and noble thing). The forces seeking its reprise are growing in numbers and strength. The inconsistency between their ironclad faith in their rectitude and their fear of contamination by the demon reason is a meaningless contradiction – if contradictions do not trouble you.
And so all the hand-wringing (of which I, too am often guilty) about how the media narrative is fundamentally flawed is somewhat beside the point, because they aren't listening to the words anyway. They are judging all the non-verbal stuff -- handshakes and manly shoulders and steely gazes -- that we know leads to totalitarian disaster, but that they see as more reliable than our impenetrable gobbledygook about policies and such. When the John Kerrys of the world acknowledge complexity, hoi polloi hear an elitist snob saying that their world view is simplistic -- and who wants to hoist a brew with that guy? The Beckett-esque absurdity of Joe Sixpack hanging with Dubya, and of deciding who gets to put our armed forces in harm's way on that basis, are just so many wrinkles willed away in their permanent-press world views.
I am not sure what the answer is here. It is entirely possible that our nation will not recover from this nasty strain of entropy. But if there is an answer, I think it begins with the fact (there I go again) that these refugees from thought are not yet willing to admit in polite company that they are the Amish of reason. And so the last ditch play may be to call them out directly -- to point out that what they say and do is, well, crazy.
If they want to be honest about their rejection of cause and effect, reason and scientific method, fine. But few will want to walk the walk sans iPod, big screen and SUV. When they get sick, they still take evolution-enabled antibiotics. Their logic-free belief system allows them to embrace all of the benefits of science while denying the irreducible incompatibility of the two. They believe in what they wish were true, and in the name of tolerance we let them destroy our common ground with these fundamental contradictions.
Thus we are led to, and led by, the likes of Bush and Giuliani and Fred Thompson – the ideologues and authoritarians who don’t do nuance, but also don’t smell of fear. The sheep who gladly and without irony call themselves members of a flock seek just that. And until we can persuade them to really join the world of the rational, or abandon it completely, we will get the government they deserve.