Center-Right

There’s a common GOP talking-point that says that the U.S. is a “center-right nation, after all.” Ezra Klein was correct when he commented that, “It’s a way to explain not only Republican victories and Democratic losses, but also the need for Democrats to be cautious after victories and for Republicans to be ambitious when they take office. It’s a view, in other words, with implications.” But what are the implications of this statement in light of the Akin controversy over “legitimate rape”?

Let’s take the Republicans at their word and accept the premise that the U.S. is center-right? If the country is really centrist in this way, why would the country’s right-wing adopt political and policy positions that are thoroughly extremist? To be more pro-business than pro-government is a center-right position, I suppose, and the GOP leadership has been rewarded handsomely since 1980 for wrapping itself in this position, to the tune of literally billions of dollars. But eliminating taxes for the wealthy entirely is utterly radical. And the financiers of such fiscal radicalism do not seem to support the radical cultural agenda of the Christian phalange. Perhaps Americans for Prosperity will come out with an ad claiming that abortion is murder and supporting trans-vaginal probes, but this would seem at odds with AFP’s core libertarianism. Maybe I’m wrong, but it looks to me that the Koch brothers have only one mission: to eliminate all taxes and all government regulations on their holdings.

Mitt Romney would never admit it, and he probably doesn’t event realize it, but here’s his truth: the GOP cannot win an election on an agenda of fiscal extremism and it cannot win an election on an agenda of cultural extremism. Thus, since Reagan the party has brought together fiscal and cultural extremists in order to forge a broad-based coalition that might win. But since the beliefs of these two blocs are fundamentally different, the coalition has only held together by one side lying to the other side (and vice versa) about what they’re really up to. This is why Romney (and now Ryan) have flip-flopped on so many issues so many times so publicly. Romney is a money guy – that’s the image from which he justifies his ability to be President – so what reason does he have to hate abortion and gay folks? And yet he was compelled to change his position on abortion and gay marriage if he was to have any hope of being a Republican candidate.

The biggest lie is that the GOP must contend that both fiscal and cultural extremism are in fact “right-centrist” in order to attract that small sliver independent voters that actually are center-right. (That is, those centrists who have not already committed to one party or the other.) But confusing extremism with centrism has deleterious effects on civic dialogue. If one feels that extreme views are the norm, then one can only see real centrist positions as extreme. President Obama is a centrist, both culturally and fiscally. In fact his views would place him in the mainstream of the Republican Party… if it were 1972 and not 2012. I bet if you put a Nelson Rockefeller speech next to an Obama speech, they’d be more similar than different. Therefore, according the confused extremists of today’s GOP, Obama must be a radical post-colonial Kenyan Marxist Islamist socialist. Who would ever make a compromise with someone like that?

When lies become truth, then truth becomes a lie. But this logic is not sustainable over the long-term, and this is a frightening prospect, because it is the glue that holds together the Republican coalition. Barring massive human failure, natural catastrophe and/or political corruption, the GOP will lose the presidential election and lose ground in Congress in November. And “center-right” will have nothing to do with it. When their loss gives lie to their extremism, the  GOP coalition will splinter. And for the country’s extremely powerful and second-largest political party to crumble could have dire consequences.

The center cannot hold if it is not, in fact, a center.

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Akin and the Truth

I hope the furor over Todd Akin’s remarks on abortion remains heated over the next two months. Akin is not just some political neophyte who didn’t know better than to talk to the press openly. He is a major figure in the Republican House as regards their policy initiatives on reproductive health. But that seems to be an awfully serious way to describe the gentleman from Missouri. This is a lawmaker who has been trying to rewrite abortion policy and redefine the crime of rape based on a pathetic lack of knowledge about biology, human reproduction and post-traumatic psychology. This is a lawmaker who is attempting to extend the reach of sovereign law into women’s bodies. And yet his understanding of the female body (and thus the male body one presumes) is totally mystified: Women secrete all sorts of strange chemicals imbued with strange and powerful forces when they are overcome with emotions. Women are also liars, he believes, given that they will readily lie to a rape in order to get an abortion. Akin must see his job in Congress to make sure that women cannot lie, and he has been willing restrict the definition of the crime they would lie about in order to assure that they cannot even lie about a “non-forcible” or “illegitimate” rape, whatever that means.

Of course Akin does not understand that this is why he is being attacked and vilified. He merely thinks that the “liberal” media is creating an uproar because he mistakenly [sic] used the word “legitimate” when he meant “forcible.”  OK, let us take him up on that. How is it that one would mean “forcible” but substitute the word “legitimate”? I’ve studied just enough structural linguistics, axes of selection and combination and all that, just enough to know that Akin’s substitution is not “bat” for “cat.” It was a true Freudian slip, exposing a semantic association between “force” and “legitimacy.”

Yet Akin still fails completely to see that the public is outraged by what he actually spoke, not what he misspoke. Hardcore conservatives really believe that women cannot get pregnant from a rape, and they have no clue as to why anyone would be offended by this belief. Akin’s ignorance is not just run-of-the-mill ignorance. I’m ignorant about a wide variety of subjects, and if I were asked to repair an airplane or defend a murder case or write new code for Microsoft, I would merely shrug my shoulders and admit that I don’t know how to do those things. The ignorance Akin spoke is one of arrogance: He insists his mistaken beliefs are hard facts, and therefore anyone who disagrees, including real scientists, just don’t have all the facts. And so based on his ignorance of the fact that he is willfully ignorant of true facts, he feels empowered to inscribe his total ignorance into the law. And now he wishes to empower his ignorance even further by joining the U.S. Senate.

What Akin spoke is what a core of the Republican Party also believes. But this core membership is not represented by the party’s leadership, especially that 1% or less of the party that finances all of its operations. For several decades the GOP leadership has been willing to include whatever policy position in their platform was necessary to make sure Christian conservatives continued to vote Republican, even when they knew that action on those positions would make them wildly unpopular in a general election. This is the only way to understand GOP rhetoric. We endorse tax policies that will redistribute wealth to the wealthy, but our tax policies will not redistribute wealth to the wealthy, and even to suggest such a thing is class warfare anyway. We support permanent war in the Middle East, but our war in the Middle East will not be permanent, it will be short and profitable. We wish to criminalize rape victims if they get an abortion because rape victims cannot get pregnant from rape, but we do not actually believe that rape victims cannot get pregnant from rape, an outrage! Paul Ryan co-wrote legislation with Akin on rape and abortion, but now Paul Ryan does not actually believe what he and Todd Akin wished to accomplish with that legislation.

Todd Akin is not just guilty of incredible ignorance. He is guilty of admitting his arrogant ignorance publicly, and in so doing revealing to the public the true basis of Republican policy initiatives. For this reason he has been abandoned completely by the Republican establishment. Not because he is an offensive, arrogant and ignorant jackass. But because in truth the Republican Party has already tied itself to that ignorance as a matter of its political agenda, and they cannot admit this until they disenfranchise enough citizens to actually win an election in the full light of their beliefs.

Exu

Exu

a field far afield
or near
is not
a fact
unless one mean before the fact
translation
movement
across a cross
or crosses across
a dog / my dog / not my dog / the dog
to whom I am bound by relation
runs (or walks) across
his movements ac
companied by clouds
of locust
who flit / in all / directions
but not just any any
which one (direction)
is not
disorder not
chosen by
reason or / instinct but
of an order
each one
(a direction / a locust / a dog)
marking a limb taken
of a crossroads
at a crossroads
any which one
equal to
all others (a crossroads) across
a plane or planes (multiple)
of innumerable (not infinite)
unconscionable and
legible (in the in
stant of)
crossroads and they
become in this way
divine profane
as well
as a god in all creation
from the front
as a devil among minions
from behind
when he sits they rest and
when he moves they move flit
curse bless pass
through over
the field and

a field moves, a fact
a field is, as is, is not

Vampyroteuthis Infernalis

I can state unequivocally that Vilém Flusser is my favorite philosopher of all time.  It’s impossible for me to calculate the impact that he has had on my thought, my writing, my world. If he had played sax he would have been John Coltrane. If he played guitar he would have been a Beatle. So it has been my distinct pleasure over the past few weeks to write a review of Flusser’s recently translated Vampyroteuthis Infernalis for American Book Review. The review reviews the translation of the Brazilian Portuguese manuscript of the work published several months ago by Atropos; a separate translation of the German first edition of the book has just come out from U of Minnesota Press and I’m eagerly awaiting it in the mail. (You have to love any author who dares publish an “original” edition that is a secondary translation.) In any event, the review of my favorite philosopher has provided me the opportunity to write the favorite paragraph I’ve ever written:

As a species humans have produced precious few theorists of squid life.  Perhaps this is the case because squid theory does not merely present a slippery slope for human thought, but is just downright slippery.  Some squids are not squids at all in fact.  They are philosophers, artists.

Things get strange from there. I’m going out to have sushi tonight. I will make it a point to snack on ika and tako.