Doin’ The Washington Rag
First you get down on your knees,
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect,
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!
Do whatever steps you want, if
You have cleared them with the pontiff.
Everybody say his own
Doin’ the vatican rag.
The Vatican Rag (Tom Lehrer)
MANADO, INDONESIA – One of the things that baffle more progressive people is the tenaciousness with which conservatives hold to the pure, uncompromising dogma of the modern right. The absolute intransigence with which today’s hard right wingers cling to their unsullied and undiluted principles is religious in its fervour, and their contempt for heretics is similarly devout. On the other hand – by and large – liberals consider the person, the situation, and even the politics with more attention to nuance and less unthinking devotion to a doctrine.
This can be seen in the indisputable fact that a large voter turnout today invariably means a higher percentage of votes for the Republican candidate. That is indicative of the tendency of the right to produce “true believers” rather than thoughtful voters who actually consider the issues. Going out and voting – Republican, of course – is an act of piety and virtue; it is more like going to Sunday church service than casting a ballot. Like any act of devotion, voting the party line and candidate doesn’t require thought, analysis, or consideration of alternatives; in fact; thinking of that sort is actively discouraged. It is critical to the right to defeat the left. Not to enact their policies – they have none that are coherent or consensus-supported – but to ensure that the left doesn’t have an opportunity to enact theirs. The only true consensus on the part of the modern right in the US is to thrust a stick in the spokes of anything whatsoever that president Barack Obama supports, advocates, or might be inclined to favour. But that consensus is absolute.
Here in Canada, we have the spectacle of the mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford undergoing a complete and public meltdown. Frequently publicly drunk and abusive, caught on tape smoking crack, and again in a drunken rant against the media, gays, and ethnic minorities, calling the media jackals and maggots while vociferously denying allegations of drug and alcohol abuse that have since been proven, the morbidly obese fiscal and social conservative refuses to step down.
So outrageous has his behaviour become that he is regularly reported on American national network and cable news. Nevertheless his base continues to support him and insist that he is the victim of a “liberal media witch hunt”, despite his well-documented acknowledgement that yes, he did smoke crack, but it was apparently excusable since he was “in one of my drunken stupors” at the time. But, the true believers continue to insist that, as he has never betrayed his conservative rhetoric, he is the most appropriate person to be the mayor of the fourth largest city in North America.
In a somewhat less grotesque way, Stephen Harper, Canada’s Prime Minister, continues to command the fealty of the right wing. He ran on a platform that appealed to conservatives by promising fiscal responsibility, and yet in his tenure he managed to turn a budget surplus into the largest debt and deficit in Canadian history, and he accomplished that while simultaneously gutting social benefits, services, and programs, as well as emasculating our once enviable national health care system. He promised smaller government, another conservative touchstone, but delivered the biggest government bureaucracy the country has ever seen. He promised to reform parliament and never to appoint an unelected senator, yet he appointed a gang of his unelected cronies to the upper house, three of whom are suspended and under investigation for fraud, embezzlement, and abuse of office. He promised more open and accountable government but the current Canadian government is more insular, closed off and harder to question than ever before.
But are the conservatives of Canada all bent out of shape? Of course not. As long as he keeps repeating the conservative mantras – get tough on crime, screw environmental concerns and build pipelines, create more impediments to immigration, etc. – he is the golden boy of the right. One has to wonder just what it would take for the right wing to reject one of their own.
But the answer to that question can easily be found by looking to the United States. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey has just been re-elected with a resounding mandate. Nevertheless he is on the fringes of the federal Republican Party and not trusted by their base. Why? It make no sense on paper; he is against gay marriage, having vetoed marriage equality bills; he is against big government; he is against abortion, affirmative action, controls on banks and big business. What on earth can make people refer to this arch conservative with the worst epithet in the right’s vocabulary – “a moderate”?
He blotted his copybook, you see. He committed the cardinal sin of acknowledging and expressing appreciation for President Obama’s aid and efforts on behalf of New Jersey residents in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. That’s it. On every single issue to which the right cleaves, he is utterly orthodox, except for that one little niggling fact. He was honest. He didn’t find fault with the President when he did the right thing.
So, we on the left of centre (that’s pretty much anyone to the left of Mussolini, these days, so far to the right has the centre shifted) are all acting baffled and bewildered by the right’s refusal to look at their candidates and incumbents for effective governance. And yet the answer to this enigma is, I’m afraid, staring us in the face. And they have told us many, many times.
They don’t want government to work.
It’s that simple. Their religion’s very foundation rests upon the belief that government is evil and must be dispensed with. Or as the darling of the right, Grover Norquist, so eloquently expressed it, “I just want to shrink it down to the size where I can drown it in the bathtub”. Once one can wrap one’s head around the idea of politicians, elected leaders who believe that any government is inherently bad, there is nothing confusing about the right’s myopia regarding their leaders. They don’t care if they can’t govern. In fact they prefer it that way, because it serves to support their doctrine and its article of faith that government doesn’t and can’t work.
All they want government for is to enforce their confused morality on the rest of us and to get the hell out of the way; for them the Wild West is Utopia, and a society of laws, of tolerance, of compassion for its weak and free of random violence is a dystopia that can never be allowed to exist.
So when we shake our heads in perplexity at how the right can continue to support ideas of governance that are demonstrable failures, or people who are clearly incapable of governing, we should stop and think for a moment. They support them because it reinforces their religious belief: government doesn’t work.
And they will work tirelessly to make sure that their doctrine is proven, and ultimately accepted by all. Or they will impose it on us.