FISH WRAP: WEEK ENDING 8/26/12

by E.C. Fish on August 27, 2012

ISSUE OF THE WEEK — UNDERLYING CAUSES: I was lucky enough this week to catch a Big Think video from Bill Nye that managed to snap everything I’ve been thinking about politics lately into context. While Nye’s point is focused on the inappropriateness of teaching creation science to children (on the grounds that it deprives them of one of the key concepts needed to understand science and thus leaves them in a random, mysterious, and confusing universe), it expands out nicely to encompass a large slice of our current culture and politics.

The problem Nye describes is in no way confined to Christian right-wingers teaching creationism to their children. The intentional mass misleading of children is an accepted part of our culture, one in which most parents participate to some degree if only because it’s so damn hard to avoid. From faerie stories to folk tales and from Sunday school to Saturday morning cartoons, American children are ram fed a diet rich in magical thinking and wish fulfillment, and are then expected at some point in their development to separate the stories about Santa Claus delivering presents to the good little girls and boys from the ones that constitute the holy books of our major religions without too much intellectual trauma.

It’s enough to make one wonder how the mental mechanisms we develop as children to digest the empty calories of American kiddie culture affect us as American adults. The folks down in the marketing department (especially those with Disney contracts) seem to count on appeals to “believe in magic” and romanticizing innocence to move their numbers, and it seems to me a short jump from there to believing in the skeins of conspiracy theory, fuzzy math, and wooly logic that seem to underlie fully half of our political dialogue. Disney’s “believe in magic” and Romney/Ryan’s slogan “Believe in America” seem more alike than they are different, which in a country as much in need of applied problem solving as ours is seems like a very bad thing indeed.

BAD NEWS, MITT — AKIN’S YOUR BASE: Missouri representative and Senate candidate Todd Akin’s unscientific and offensive observation that women’s bodies magically switch off their reproductive systems when they’re “legitimately” raped was met with swift denunciation this week from virtually the entire Republican Party establishment, up to and including Mitt Romney. Presumably, this was expected to be the end of it, and Akin was expected to slink quietly out of his Senate race and exit the news cycle in time for a nice long buildup to the Republican convention next week.

Instead, midweek found the Christian conservative base — including scheduled convention speaker Mike Huckabee — in open revolt, and Akin entrenched, well financed, and bleeding points in his Senate race. The Christian right — having been treated to campaign pandering followed by office-holder indifference by nearly every national-level Republican candidate since before Reagan — are mad as hell and unlikely to take it any more, particularly from a candidate only recently converted to their priorities and entirely unconverted away from a religion many of them don’t consider properly Christian. As a result, any hope the national GOP had of ending their convention with a unified and energized party has been greatly endangered, a situation no amount of prime-time pandering from the convention dais seems likely to change.

WORSE NEWS, MITT — HE’S ALSO YOUR RUNNING MATE: With vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan having been intended as a nice juicy bone for the base in the first place, and given the political calculus behind his selection, it is unsurprising that he was worse than useless in helping the ticket and the party defuse the Akin situation. As Akin’s co-legislator and fellow Christian conservative, he was a co-sponsor and vocal supporter on a number of anti-abortion bills and has frequently denounced rape and incest exceptions.

Even while joining in denunciation of Akin’s word games in defining different kinds of rape — word games in which he himself participated as a legislator — and personally urging him to step down, Ryan reiterated his own opposition to rape and incest exceptions and defended his record as a pro-life candidate.

He tempered these statements by saying that as a member of the Romney/Ryan ticket, he fully supports his president’s abortion agenda. Romney’s agenda includes a rape/incest exception, meaning that Ryan has further revealed his candidacy to be a crass and cynical exercise in seeking political power, one for which he’s willing to sell out his deepest beliefs. Have fun at the convention, Congressman.

WOULD YOU BELIEVE HE’S ALSO YOUR PLATFORM?: Speaking of crass and cynical exercises in seeking political power, the Republican platform committee (under the direction of Virginia governor and medically-needless-rape-by-instrumentality supporter Bob McDonnell), having been larded with far-right conservatives as — you guessed it — a pander to the base, has produced a document that, along with controversial positions on immigration, gay rights, and monetary policy, also includes abortion language entirely in keeping with the stated beliefs of Akin and Ryan (you know — Ryan the guy, as opposed to Ryan the candidate).

It is a platform from which the Romney campaign and the RNC have been separating themselves nonstop all week. “This is the platform of the Republican party,” said RNC chair Reince Priebus, “not the platform of Mitt Romney,” which begs the question of what exactly the relationship between the the two really is. Have fun finding out at the convention, Reince.

MITT ROMNEY, COMEDIAN: The week also saw Romney thrown from his high horse on the topic of  “gutter” campaigning. In lighter pandering, Romney decided to cap off a week of lying on the stump with a shout-out to those in his party — a majority back in February — who buy into the conspiracy theory that President Obama is a foreign-born Muslim despite the evidence, and thus not the legitimate president of the United States. Pressed for an explanation, Romney told CBS’s Scott Pelley, “This was fun about us, and coming home. And humor, you know — we’ve got to have a little humor in a campaign.”

So he was just, you know, joshing — not race-baiting and encouraging some of the most militant and paranoid members of his party. Tee-fucking-hee, Mitt.

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