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Lies In The Service of Armageddon September 9, 2008

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Political Philosophy.

John McCain’s campaign has emphasized two themes thus far: McCain’s experience as a POW as an all purpose palliative for any doubts we might have about his fitness for office; and a crusade to go to Washington and root out excess government spending, although he refuses to say what spending programs he will cut.


These themes are supplemented by transparent, intentional lies about Governor Palin‘s record, wholesale reversals on policy positions that has at least the appearance of dishonesty, and misrepresentations of Obama’s positions, that would make Machiavelli blush.


The lack of substance in their campaign is stunning. But in fact this strategy sends precisely the message that has served Republicans well over the past half century and has them slightly ahead in the polls.


If there is one theme that dominates contemporary conservative ideology, it is that the United States is engaged in a momentous battle against evil. We are threatened from without—a few years ago it was the communists, now it is radical Islam. And we are threatened from within by profligate desires that are out of control—hence the values debates, culture wars, diatribes against liberalism, “abortion as the new Holocaust”, etc.


This battle against evil is remarkable because it assumes that any threat is a form of radical evil—so pervasive, incorrigible, and perverse that the “carrots” of bargaining, inducements, and the search for common ground cannot root it out. Only the “stick” of military power abroad and authoritarian regulation at home will keep the Satanic menace at bay. This belief that we are in a war against radical evil explains conservatism’s “shoot-first-ask-questions-later” foreign policy, their desire for perpetual war, indifference to diplomacy, draconian security and surveillance measures, “lock ‘em up”-and-throw away-the-key” anti-crime measures, and the relentless opposition to any practice, activity, or policy that hints at moral permissiveness or avoids disciplining unruly desires. No matter whether the issue is immigration, drug policy, welfare or sexual morality, disciplining desires is the aim of conservative policy. (And the competition of the free market is the greatest cudgel of all in this orgy of retribution.)


Of course, conservative campaigns only occasionally mention this war against evil lest its hair-raising,over-reaching be exposed. But, it is so deeply embedded in the DNA of American politics that a little publicity about a border dispute in the Caucasus or vague references to foreign influence or questions about patriotism trigger the desired response in the electorate—a perceived need for leaders who can win the battle.


This battle against evil requires leaders of a certain sort. They must have an iron will that will not succumb to the temptations of compromise and appeasement. And they must be willing to do anything to defeat evil since it is so pervasive and deeply rooted that only extreme measures can succeed. After all, what are a few lies and misrepresentations when civilization itself is at stake?


The message that they  are sufficiently tough and unprincipled to carry out this battle is the message that McCain/Palin send. (And it is no accident that Palin has ties to the Christian dominionist movement.) The hair-trigger temper, the bald-face lies, the aggressive in-your-face demeanor, and most of all, the strength of will required to survive as a prisoner of war are all key elements of the message that they have the right stuff to slay the evil doers. 


This is why the Republican campaign is about identity rather than issues, policies, or facts. It is not about solving problems—it is about defining oneself as standing up to evil, being on the side of the angels in opposition to liberalism, which in coddling the poor, the unsuccessful, and the deviant allegedly encourages that weakness of will that lets evil in through the back door.


It seems that the American public is not yet tired of this narrative.



1. Stroking Satan’s Tummy « Philosophy On The Mesa - September 17, 2008

[…] I noted in earlier posts, (here and here) Republican politics amounts to a phony game of identity politics and a shell game that […]

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