by Dorian Lynskey
33 Revolutions Per Minute
This is what happens when you spend the entire election cycle ignoring the facts in front of you. At every turn conservatives have blamed “skewed” polls, and a biased mainstream media for Romney’s problems, never taking seriously the idea that the electorate might have a pro-Obama bias. Look at Slate’s pundit dartboard. Apart from CNBC’s Jim Cramer, all of the outliers are conservative ideologues, predicting a Romney victory with between 273 and 325 electoral college votes. Faced with data to the contrary, they attempted to smear conscientious number-crunchers like FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver. On the night, the result was exactly as Silver had predicted.
Conservatism has became a faith-based ecosystem, resistant to any facts that complicate its version of reality. It is driven by apocalyptic terrors. The future of the republic itself is always in danger. The Constitution is destined for the shredder. The American eagle hangs its head. Ironically, the two issues that come closest to a real existential threat — climate change and the 2008 banking crisis — don’t trigger any anxiety in conservatives, while the phantasm of a socialist dictatorship has them trembling with fear and rage.
As Richard Hofstadter argued as long ago as 1964, the appeal of such life-or-death rhetoric is that it justifies an extreme response: block, sabotage, destroy, crush them. If you convince yourself that a centrist like Obama (who has disappointed his liberal base on several issues) is actually a Mancurian Candidate president out to destroy America from within than any lie about his beliefs, his religion, even his country of birth, is justified. Hofstadter:
The paranoid is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, the quality needed is not a willingness to compromise but the will to fight things out to the finish. Nothing but complete victory will do.
This is how you build a fun-packed, self-sustaining echo chamber. It is not how you run a party, let alone a country. There are, of course, people on the left who harbour paranoid delusions, from the 9/11 Truthers to the hardcore Assangists, but they have no sway over the Democrats. Conservative fanatics, however, have commandeered the GOP.
Helped by the Tea Party insurgency, the Republicans’ mid-term gains in 2010 appeared to vindicate, and intensify, the party’s obstructionist tendencies. It was during that campaign that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell notoriously said: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” When you make your top priority fucking up the other guy and then fail, you have to ask yourselves what the hell you’re playing at.
The insanity of the current GOP position is threefold. Firstly, it rules out the bipartisan collaboration on which the efficacy of the US political system depends, and means that Washington wastes its time with fruitless and costly battles like the one over the debt ceiling in summer 2011. Conservatives then have the nerve to complain that it is Obama, whose attempts at consensus have been militantly rebuffed from day one, who has divided the nation.
Secondly, it punishes the moderates. By the standards of the modern GOP Reagan would never have won the nomination, Romney’s father George would most likely have been a Democrat and a British Conservative like David Cameron wouldn’t last five minutes. Romney was forced into the impossible position of having to pander to the hardliners in the primaries and then trying to pull a last-minute moderate switcheroo in the debates, which was the first time the American public actually warmed to him.
Thirdly, it is based on the fantasy that the American public deep down wants paranoid movement conservatism. Already you can hear the voices crying that the GOP would have won if Romney weren’t such a moderate wimp. Extreme progressives don’t really believe that their values are shared by the nation at large but their conservative counterparts, insanely, do.
What we’re seeing now is the explosion that occurs when the conservatives’ alternate reality collides with the actual reality of the ballot box. It’s not just Obama’s victory. Same-sex marriage referenda passed by significant margins in Maryland, Maine and Washington. Colorado and Washington voted to legalise marijuana. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, whose “gaffes” about rape and abortion were merely stating the party’s platform position, lost Senate races they might otherwise have won. There are now more female senators, including the passionately liberal Elizabeth Warren and the openly gay Tammy Baldwin, than ever before. Demographic changes favour the Democrats, who lead among African-Americans, Latinos, young people, college graduates and women, while a massive 88% of Romney’s support came from white people. Conservatives assumed those groups either wouldn’t turn out or somehow don’t represent the real America and therefore don’t constitute a mandate.
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