James Howard Kunstler: The GOP is lost to the Birchers
The verdict is apparently in: if Fox News will replace its current heraldic theme music with a mariachi band, and Sean Hannity puts on a sombrero for his nightly broadcast prayer circle, then the Republican Party will once again rule the land…
…Not – in the immortal word of Borat Sagdiyev.
The so-called Grand Old Party now faces a fugue of recrimination that could end in its demise. The party marginalized itself by becoming an alliance of corporate oligarchs with poorly-educated Southern suburban white trash religious fanatics, both using each other to browbeat the nation into transforming itself into kleptocratic theocracy.
There are no more people of good will and intelligence left in that camp, and a blame-fest between its two remaining factions can only lead to a death struggle.
The beginning of the end really came with the death of William F. Buckley in 2008. Buckley labored for years to keep the John Birch Society and its agents out of the GOP’s leadership circles. For those of you unacquainted with this organization, it was a group that coalesced during the early 1950s anti-communist crusade of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy. The Birchers named themselves after an obscure American soldier and Baptist missionary executed by the Red Army in China during the final months of World War Two.
The group was founded and funded by Robert Welch, a Boston candy manufacturer (Junior Mints, Sugar Daddy) tormented by conspiracy fantasies. Another founding board member was Fred Koch, father of the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, who have become the latter-day sugar daddies of the Republican Party.
The Birchers retailed all kinds of ideological nonsense that made them the butt of ridicule during the Camelot days of John F. Kennedy and the heady Civil Rights years of his successor Lyndon B. Johnson. (Bob Dylan wrote a song about them in 1962: “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues.”) Everything perceived to be a threat in a changing society was sold by the Birchers as a communist plot – water fluoridation, de-segregation, even, by a kind of tortured logic, the US strategy in the Vietnam War. Since a Democratic president and congress passed the civil rights legislation of 1964-5, the traditionally Democratic “solid South” revolted almost overnight and eventually turned solidly Republican. (It was also good for business.)
Something else was going on in Dixieland from the late 1950s on. The region boomed economically, partly from luring northern industry down with cheap labor, and partly because so many large military bases were located there – hence the hyperbolic, militant patriotism of a region that had lately staged a violent insurrection against the national government.
The region also went through an explosion of air-conditioned suburban sprawl because the southern states were geographically huge and the climate was unbearable half the year. The sprawl industry itself generated vast fortunes and widespread prosperity in a part of the country that had been a depressed agricultural backwater since the Civil War.
Consequently, a population of poor, ignorant crackers crawled out of the mud and dust to find themselves wealthy car dealers and strip-mall magnates in barely one turn of a generation. The transition being so abrupt, their cracker culture of xenophobia, “primitive” religion, and romance with violence came through intact. They were the perfect client group for a political party that styled itself “conservative,” as in maintaining the old-timey ways.
Toward the end of the 20th century, as the old northern states’ economies withered, and Yankee culture lost both footing and meaning, and poor white folks all over America looked with envy on the glitz of country music and Nascar, and gravitated toward the Dixieland culture of belligerent, aggressive suburbanization, religiosity, and militarism. This cartoon of the old-timey ways swept the “flyover” precincts of the nation. Along in the baggage compartment was all the old John Birch Society cargo of quasi-supernatural ideology that appealed so deeply to people perplexed by the mystifying operations of reality.
That perplexity was supposedly resolved in a Bush II White House aide famously stating, “We make our own reality.” The results of the 2012 election now conclusively demonstrate the shortcomings of that world-view.
And so the news last week was that a different version of America outvoted the John Birch Dixiecrat coalition by roughly two million ballots. Meaning, of course, that there are still a lot of dangerous morons out there, but also that the times they are yet a’changin’ again.
I am personally glad that Mr. Romney lost because he came across to me as a dangerously hollow, not very smart, pre-cooked personality marinated in cant and opportunism. I’m not so delirious either about the victor, Mr. Obama, though he seems a more reliable character in contrast to his vanquished opponent.
I think we can rely on him to not prosecute any misconduct in banking for another four years. But, at least, he’s not trying to turn the country into one big prayer circle.
He’s surely in for a rough ride in the four years ahead. There is a sickening, heavy sense of foreboding about the seemingly endless financial melodrama. It leads to the bewildering fork in the road at which the split paths lead to two different ways of going broke: savage deflation or turbo-inflation. Either way, you’re toast. The gross interventions and arrant accounting fraud that pervade global finance, both in government and in private banking, can only lead to perversity and dysfunction in the operations of money that we depend on to remain civilized.
If America were able to look in a mirror now, it would see an image of a sclerotic society, physically run down, strikingly ugly, and sordid in its cultural programming It would see an armature for daily life – the drive-in Utopia – with very poor prospects for the future. I don’t know if Mr. Obama can get this nation engaged in the great tasks that we have been avoiding for so long: purging corporate money from politics, preparing for post-petroleum reality minus the fantasy that we can just live inside our smart phones, and downscaling and re-localizing economic life.
Much of that agenda would seem contrary to the common expectation that Mr. Obama wants ever more government intervention in the economy. The past four years he has seemingly done everything possible to support the status quo – leading a few observers to brand him as a “conservative” – and he still acts like a hostage of the too-big-to-fail banks. I’m not convinced that he’ll act decisively for the right things in the right way on anything. At least he won’t be running for office again and can act perhaps more freely as he will. Anyway, I subscribe to the sentiment that it was a good thing for the nation to re-elect a leader of mixed-race, to show that we mean it about who is allowed to succeed here.
I spent a lot of time in Dixieland this fall. I can report that its era of hyper-prosperity is on the wane. The boom is pretty much over, except for some deceptive last twitchings over in Texas and in the Northern Virginia beltway counties where lobbyists spawn. The failure of the Republican Party this year marks the end of the economic ascendency of the South. Now they will have to contend with the imminent failure of their suburban way of life and all its comfortable trappings. I’ve predicted for many years that the process would drive them batshit crazy.
When I was in North Carolina in October, I got the odd impression that I was in a giant car dealership masquerading as a state. That’s just not going to work anymore. But it remains to be seen whether anything will work in any quarter of this big old country.
One interesting thing is shaping up: a beard-growing contest between Paul Krugman and Ben Bernanke to see who can end up looking most like Rutherford B. Hayes.