On Friday, I intended to use some posts from the past to illuminate the political events of the week, but found myself writing about more private problems, about the human condition and my own incapacity in understanding it. Today, I return to more familiar terrain, thinking about the changing American political landscape.
Viewing the Republican presidential debate in Iowa on Thursday, I was reminded why the 2012 election is so important. What the Republicans propose on the economy, on American identity and principles is strikingly different from President Obama’s promise and performance. Day to day, it has seemed that Obama is losing his focus. But I am convinced that he is accomplishing a lot and that the alternative is stark. In April, I presented my guide for judging his Presidency. I think it still applies.
Trying to figure out the stakes in an election requires understanding the issues, and judgment of Obama’s leadership and the Republican alternatives, but also, and perhaps more importantly, it requires an understanding of imagination. Governor Paul LePage of Maine gave clear expression of the right-wing imagination when he ordered the removal of murals celebrating labor at the Maine department of labor – not fair and balanced. These murals are not even particularly provocative. Images of the banned murals were presented in a post by Vince Carducci.
Cultural works that don’t depict a specific worldview offend the Tea Party imagination. And work that can’t be supported through the market, following Tea Party wisdom, is without real value. The cultural and market fundamentalism present a major civilizational challenge.
While this challenge must be met rationally, politics isn’t and shouldn’t be only about reason. Feelings, along with imagination, also are of telling import, as James Jasper explored in a post last Spring.
I feel strongly about the Tea Party, as the Tea Partiers feel strongly about their commitments. I know this is important. How the emotions will affect political choice will play a big role in the coming elections. How is it that public personalities that I find so repulsive are actually attractive to my fellow citizens? I can more easily accept my policy differences with Tim Pawlenty than I can listen to Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry. I hope the majority of my compatriots feel the same way, but I worry about this arena of feelings. It is one thing to recognize that feelings matter. Its quite another for them to run wild, as in the xenophobic birther movement.
Mine is not always a reasonable response, I admit, and I try to fight against this. I have been looking for conservative thinkers and public figures to respect, without much success. I have sought out conservative contributors to our discussions and hope for more success in this regard. I think that there is an underlying serious debate about the public good occurring in American politics, but I am perplexed how ideological certainty and willful ignorance of facts seems to be the price of admission into Republican presidential politics. Not one of the Republican presidential hopefuls would agree to reduce the deficit if it included minimal tax cuts. This indicates that they are either ignoring hard budgetary realities or that their ideological project is to radically reduce the role of the state, far beyond the expectations of the general public.
The Republicans have included the extreme right into their mainstream ranks. As a committed partisan, I believe that this will lead to Obama’s reelection and a more Democratic Congress. I also hope that as a result a more reasonable opposition emerges. As an analyst of politics and the human comedy, I fear that my partisan self may be mistaken. Fictoids have power. True belief can be convincing. Calm deliberate leadership can look weak, and the economy is stagnating, thanks to global forces, but also to American politics gone wild. Reason, imagination and feelings may be destructively interacting.