Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Bush schiztique

::From the Poetics of Political Discourse dept.::

...people do not support Bush for the power of his ideas, but out of the despair and desperation in their hearts. Renana Brooks, via Wirearchy.
Bush talks shit, but that's beside the point, according to Renana Brooks. Content-free speech, after all, drives US television. Critics who find the President's words empty fail to see how he uses emotive language to share a pathological view of the world to which his supporters feel compelled to assent -- because any other point of view to them seems just plain crazy. A codependent code consisting of empty language, personalization, and what Brooks calls "negative framework" --
negative framework is a pessimistic image of the world. Bush creates and maintains negative frameworks in his listeners' minds with a number of linguistic techniques borrowed from advertising and hypnosis to instill the image of a dark and evil world around us.
-- leaving his boosters to learn helplessness from him.

What I get from this is: Bush's autistic worldview operates like an act of faith: you're with him or agin' him, but either way, there's no use discussing him, because the normal heads of rational argument -- factual representations of reality, conceptual order, logical consequence -- are conspicuously missing from their necks. We don't really listen to Bush's language, we swill it.

Bush-speech is a climate-controlled mimesis of purpose, rather than a reasoned statement of principle. A regular hero, all he wants is another beer, but he has to put aside that rapture until the awesome job of making the world safe for beers is done.

This seems an important part of the Bush mystique, but there's more. Thomas Frank of The Baffler was interviewed on WMNF, the brilliant Tampa indie station, yesterday. Frank was talking about his new book, What's the Matter with Kansas? : How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, and he offered an analysis of Bush and conservative political clout that went beyond matters of positions and issues.

Frank noted that Bush succeeds with two completely distinct constituencies whose interests are mutually opposed: he has the backing of the conservative right, the folks who think they are god fearing and profess to hate abortion and loathe gay marriage and who are pretty much unaware of his other constitutency: rich upper-middle class whites and corporate interests who will support anything that walks so long as it provides tax breaks, more tax breaks, and then, when nothing else will do, additional tax breaks.

John Chuckman, in the course of dressing down US liberals, asks:
we know Bush is a brutal, rather psychopathic man, so how can he be like so much of middle America? ...middle America is not the harmless, gentle place it seems in Hollywood's confections. It is the place where thirty-year old couples assume they are entitled to a five-bedroom home on a sprawling lot in the suburbs with at least two lumbering vehicles in the driveway. (John Chuckman, America's Pathetic Liberals: the sequel, via wood s lot.)
These are the gated communities of the saved. But if Frank is right, Chuckman might do better to ask, not how Bush "is like" these people, but how it is that Bush manages to appeal to these people at the same time that he enjoys the unwavering support of poor farmers whose families might be better off if the Gated Ones returned some of their unearned income to the public in the form of taxes.

Frank notes that the Conservative base never actually gets any of the things it is promised -- the whole family values thing remains an empty rhetorical exercise, but it sure lickers 'em up. Meanwhile, the people who count, oligarchically(1), get more than even they ask for in the way of value. Fool's gold, real gold, it's all good. This would seem to be the rhetorical achievement that anyone seeking to overturn the Republican grip on all three branches of government has to confront.

Empty language can do amazing things. Here it spawns a politics that thrives even as it drives its two key bases ever farther asunder -- rich getting richer, poor getting less and less of the dream, ever more righteously. You would think this gambit would have a limited shelf life. But it's worked since Reagan, even if, like Reagan, it depends on a fundamental incoherence. The game teeters on whether the two constituencies can be driven so far apart as to never confront one another. So long as they don't, Republicans keep running the show, with or without Mr. Bush. (2)
  1. Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates will get hundreds of millions from the Microsoft dividend that under earlier tax rules would have gone to the government.
  2. There are signs, however, of a growing rift between conservative Republicans and moderate Republicans. There's only so far even the most godfearingly loyal conservative will allow him or herself to get screwed by the people who run the people they vote for. Watching their children die or lose limbs in Iraq isn't helping. The Republic might even yet see the revival of a two-party system.


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