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Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Second Coming of George W. Bush

Palin's speech and its reception last night struck me a very disturbing spectacle, a perfect encapsulation of how vacuous, simplistic, and image-driven our politics has become. It was not a "break-out" speech, where a convention is surprised by a stellar performance by a new face. Before she spoke her first word, this woman was welcomed by the convention as if she were the second coming of Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater. What proportion of delegates had even heard of her one week ago? Most GOP officeholders didn't even know how to pronounce her name last week. She hasn't even given an interview since she was picked for the VP. And she's only given one national speech before now. It used to be that right wing heroes had to do at least something to earn their status.

Clearly, none of that mattered: she is a symbolic placeholder in the culture war. The convention delegates have projected onto her this whole drama (and the media's questions just play right into it), even though she's more or less a total cipher to them in every other respect. Palin welcomes their projection and, truth be told, admirably fulfills the Nixonian role she's been assigned. She's a fine performer in this type of politics.

Is this going to help McCain long term? Pat Buchanan got vigorously cheered when he proclaimed the kulturkampf at the GOP convention in 1992, too - but that didn't turn out so well over the long haul.

On the other hand, we've had 8 years of George W. Bush, and he's been prosecuting the culture war, at least rhetorically, better than Pat Buchanan ever did. In fact, Palin really is the second coming of George W. Bush. Chosen by the right wing of the party, sold to the American people as a bipartisan reformer, a poorly educated person with no interest in policy beyond right wing hot buttons, and an inveterate exploiter of wedge issues to gain and hold onto power.

Is America ready to "turn the page" on the Bush years, as Obama gambles? If so, then they won't be suckered once again into the war that Palin is trying to keep alive. It seems to me that the cultural battles of the 1960s are getting very tired and stale. At this point, conservatives don't even care about most of the social disorders that fueled the conflicts of the 1960s (drugs, the pill, crime, hippies, feminism). They can't even get interested in debating unwed teenage pregnancy anymore -- abortion is about all they have left. But Nixon's ratfuckers still control the GOP and they've given us Palin. It's all up to the American people now.


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