25 April 2008

Bittergate Through Two Prisms

I'm a few days behind on my RSS feeds as usual, but ran across this column on "Bittergate" from Orson Scott Card, the man who was once a great writer and who still can be a really good writer when his political obsessions aren't destroying his capacity for rational thought. Of course, in these Ornery American columns (began soon after September 11) Card is pretty much all-politics, so reading them is of limited utility. Basically, Card starts off by elevating Obama's "bitter" speech into a kind of religious sermon by "numbering the verses," then moves on to claim that Obama's really a kind of racist (just like everyone else) and eventually circles through calling Obama (and the whole left wing, by extension) an elitist, reminiscing about shootin' rifles down on the farm with Pappy (my words, not his, but that's the implication), gives a moment of worship to his main man Joe Lieberman, bashes Al Gore for believing in scientific consensus, and comes out the other side practically shedding tears over how wonderful John McCain is. Here's a sample bit, plucked out basically at random so you get the flavor of what Card's talking about:

Of course, they're not frustrated. Most people I know who live in small towns do so by choice. They could live in the big city or the suburbs but they don't want to. They often make deliberate sacrifices in lifestyle or convenience precisely in order to stay in the small town. They love it there, or at least they like it better than they imagine they would like city life.

And isn't this a weird list to begin with?

Guns. I don't own one myself, but I grew up in a gun-totin' house. We went target shooting and deer hunting. My dad and brothers and I walked the desert northeast of Mesa, Arizona, with .22 rifles, plinking at rabbits and tin cans. We weren't bitter. We weren't frustrated. We never hit a rabbit and we didn't care. We were simply together and being a good shot was a manly thing. (Since we killed every can we aimed at, we attributed our failure to kill rabbits to rabbit cleverness.)

But that is completely outside Obama's experience.

Except, of course, the point of Obama's "bitter" comments was never really about guns or religion. It was about blame, and how it's manipulated by a bunch of smooth operators in the Republican Party.

If you read the Card essay, use this as a palate-cleanser. He starts with a transcript of a scene from the film version of The Grapes of Wrath, in which Muley is wondering "who to shoot" for taking his farm away, then comments on it thusly:

A host of demagogues these days are eager to answer Muley's question. "Want to know who to blame?" they ask, "We'll tell you."

"Shoot the Mexicans," says Lou Dobbs. "Shoot the lazy blacks on welfare," says Grover Norquist. "Shoot the atheists," says James Dobson. "And the gays," adds his chief politico, Tony Perkins. "Shoot the Islamofascists," say Dick Cheney, George W. Bush and the rightwing bloggers. "Shoot 'em all," says Fox News.

None of those suggestions, of course, are of any use to Muley or to his contemporary counterparts, because none of those scapegoats are really the source of their problems. But the demagogues don't give a rat's ass about solving Muley's problems. Their only concern is making sure that he keeps his shotgun pointed somewhere else, somewhere that doesn't threaten the status quo.

Of course, Orson Scott Card is all about the status quo. That's pretty much his political modus operandi, to just Trust in Our President who says all those pretty things about keeping us safe from Evil Arabs out to kill our children.

Clark, on the other hand, talks about how tough it is to expose con artists without looking like you're blaming the victims, and how difficult con artists are to prosecute because of that. Barack Obama knows that people don't worship god or own guns because of economic hardship, but for other more personal reasons that may vary from person to person. But Republican con artists have manipulated those good reasons for their own gain, have made a sport out of blaming the liberals for whatever problems these poor working-class whites face, and have used god and guns as lightning rods in these debates.

Hence, any kind of regulation or restriction on gun ownership isn't discussed on its merits, but is treated with a kneejerk "those evil libruls are coming to take away your hunting rifle and by extension your manhood and your very way of life", and any kind of thought of treating gays and lesbians as actual human beings with an ability to love one another and a desire to share their lives is given a response of "it's taking away from the foundations of society and destroying this great country." It's not about your rifle or your bible, it's about how certain political operators would rather you focus on falsehoods about how some evil government agent is coming to take those away from you than on the very real problems that plague you -- problems that may very well be solved through committed collective action on the part of, you guessed it, government agents.

I keep coming back to this, but it's true: we have real problems in this country. And as long as one of our political parties is so focussed on demagoguing the other by fanning the fires of religion and our news media is focussed on making mountains out of Democratic molehills while completely ignoring the Republican Everests, we're not going to be working on solving them.

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