Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Another reason why political myths are so powerful and enduring is that they help to justify past actions that cannot really be justified and to cover over present actions that need to be forgotten.
Thus Lincoln “saved the Union,” when in reality he destroyed the Union and replaced it with something else, but the reality is too terrible and cannot be defended without endorsing a radicalism his admirers usually do not want to endorse. WWI, which was a bloody catastrophe from beginning to end, was fought, according to the propagandists, for the rights of small nations and to “make the world safe for democracy,” when it actually resulted in the ruin of many small nations and had nothing to do with protecting democracy. According to another popular myth, Reagan “won the Cold War,” the clearest example of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy in modern history. Of course, those most interested to promote this myth are among those who most bitterly opposed Reagan’s engagement and negotiations with the Soviets at the time–to credit Reagan with this accomplishment is to align themselves with him despite their previous opposition and to appropriate him for their own purposes later on. This is just one part of the Reagan myth, which has been built up and expanded over the last two decades as Americans on the right have become disgusted with Reagan’s heirs: they glorify Reagan in the past for much the same reason many glorify Palin today, which is their disgust with the last twenty years of Republican leadership. They can find something admirable only in the past or in very new figures. This is why I think there has been such powerful resistance to questioning the myth of Palin the champion of reform, because looking too closely at her record (or lack of a record) exposes the mythologizing for what it is.
It was an odd Republican Primary in that respect: There were candidates that, early on and from a distance, appeared popular and electable, but the more each putative or predicted frontrunner (Giuliani, Romney, Thompson) came into focus, the less appealing they became to their base (and, even moreso, the nation as a whole). McCain himself kind of stumbled to the nomination as the fallback choice settled on by a decidedly less-than-enthused base. Even at this late date, his campaign is still trying to shore up the support of the dispassionate party faithful.
Meanwhile, the nostalgic evocation of Reagan has been as reverential as it has been constant: from the debates during the GOP primary, to the convention speeches (and movies!) to the most recent presidential and vice-presidential debates. The myth has not only grown to eclipse the reality of Reagan's tenure, but the entire field of GOP personalities has been dwarfed by the incongruous juxtaposition of euphoric revisionism and real-time mediocrity.
Larison's other piece examines the use of terrorism as a cudgel, and other tools in the demagogue's toolkit:
Conor Friedersdorf notes the unseemly exploitation of terrorism for political purposes:
But the McCain campaign has exploited the fact that Bill Ayers was a terrorist to imply that their opponent is sympathetic to our enemies in the War on Terror, a campaign tactic so irresponsible that even GOP partisans should forcefully denounce it, and for a reason that hasn’t anything to do with fairness.
Larison argues that this type of rhetoric is not limited to recent anti-Oabama attacks, or even past anti-Obama attacks. Democrats in general, and even conservatives, are not safe from such scurrilous charges - at least when doubt is expressed about a given foreign policy orthodoxy. The problem is so pervasive that many examples fail to garner the media attention, and backlash, such reckless accusations deserve:
Just last week, the Wall Street Journal labeled those of us that have been arguing for the re-establishment of the rule of law with respect to those accused of terrorism-related crimes as the "anti-antiterror lobby." Nice touch.
By definition, disagreeing with them becomes proof of wanting to surrender, no matter how irresponsible and genuinely damaging to the national interest the policies they advocate may be. Having framed their opponents as no better than abettors of the enemy, they are then bewildered when someone says that they have questioned anyone’s patriotism.
When Romney suspended his campaign in February, he said that he was doing it to avoid facilitating surrender to terrorism, which, it almost went without saying, he believed would be the result of a Democratic victory. This has been a consistent theme of pro-war arguments for the last two years once large numbers of people began seriously considering withdrawal from Iraq as a viable alternative. During this long campaign, Obama’s critics have repeatedly pushed the idea that he is somehow sympathetic to anti-Israel terrorists, and some on the right have dwelled on the so-called Hamas “endorsement” as if it meant something. In the earlier version of the association game, Obama’s critics obsessed about peripheral advisors’ views on Israel. Before we heard about Obama as the “pal of terrorists,” we were lectured frequently about how significant and terrible it was that Robert Malley had a small, informal role in the campaign, which simply had to mean that Obama favored talking to Hamas despite his stated opposition to this very thing.
So talk of Obama “palling around with terrorists” is not exactly a new attack, nor is it a function of a flailing, losing campaign. Unfortunately, this is all rather commonplace. Palin has misrepresented Obama’s views about tactics in the Afghan war in an effort to portray Obama as reflexively anti-military and, by extension, more sympathetic to the enemy than to our own soldiers...Just as they have demagogued the fear of terrorism to push for surveillance powers and invasions, many Republicans seem to treat our ongoing wars as little more than campaign props and they seem to have no qualms about demagoguing reasonable criticisms of current tactics as a way to impute disloyalty or lack of patriotism to their opponents.