[4 September 2008]
This happens every time I make the mistake of tuning into the Republican convention: I end up extremely frightened for America. The glee with which the Republican party repeats its new slogan “Drill baby drill” is extremely unsettling, as it shines a light on the nihilistic, end-times animus that fuels it. The underlying belief behind the slogan is that there is no hope for innovation when it comes to energy resources, and restraint in the form of environmentalism or conservation is an expression of weakness in the coming war of all against all for what’s left on the planet. Government only serves to impede this anarchic struggle, which is why the Republican party apparently believes the preservative restrictions the state places on despoiling economic behavior must be lifted. It’s another indication at how reactionary the party is, how it seems utterly unable to grasp the notion of future consequences. The slogan, rendered more accurately, would read: “Suck the world dry, there is no future!”
Writing in 1982, historians Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen noted in Channels of Desire the peculiar American fixation on despoiling as a perverse form of patriotism. “The adversarial interpretation of the relationship between people and the natural world is prominent in commercial ideology and production. Waste and throw-away are signatures of what is often termed ‘the American way of life.’ ” They then quote this astounding remark from Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, who demonstrates how this contemptuous attitude can be reconciled with a certain strain of end-times Christianity. Asked whether he favored preserving the land for future generations, Watt replied, “I don’t know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns.” So in light of the Rapture’s imminence, we should drill, baby, drill.
Fitting for an eschatological view of the universe, we are supposed to believe that such contempt for the future will somehow assure that the past will return. But the small-town USA of the 1950s is gone for good, thanks in part to Republican economic policy. If anything, last night seemed like 1992 all over again, with conservatives vilifying cosmopolitanism and diversity and trying to bait the country into a needlessly destructive cultural civil war, as if we don’t all share the same needs for things like better health care, a job-generating economy, and a sense that the country won’t be destroyed by environmental catastrophe. Tuning into the RNC, you’d think such problems don’t exist, and that the real problem is elitist overlords from the Demonic Northeast threatening to dismantle families and extinguish Christianity. As Douglas Rushkoff notes, the Republican Party is eagerly transforming itself into the “hate party.”
Megan McArdle’s analysis here seems apt. With nothing substantive to say about any issue, the Republicans are out to launch an “all-out cultural war.” (McArdle’s awesome line about Romney’s speech perfectly captures the occasional arbitrarity of conservative contempt: “Mitt Romney seems to use the word liberal in a randomly perjorative fashion. I half expect him to say ‘I was eating breakfast this morning, and my hash browns were all liberal. I sent them back and told the waitress to bring me some good, conservative hash browns.’ “) Of this war, Sarah Palin is the harbinger. Ingeniously, the Republican party would like to make the election a referendum on her, as a person, and they are expecting that on that personal level, many American approve of the values she claims to represent. But at the level of ideas, she is a far-right conservative crusader, far outside of the mainstream, and the ideas she represents will probably prove abhorrent to Democrats and independents alike if they (or the press) bother to ferret them out and reinforce them clearly.