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Murkans: A Dirge in Four Movements


People aren't entirely prepared to admit it, but there really is an underclass of very unhappy white people in the United States who are still fighting the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and the Civil War. The dissatisfaction in their lives is caused by the powerlessness they feel in the face of the fact that they fall further behind with each generation. The Republicans manage these people with great skill, and use the full force of the media to direct all their anger and hatred to liberalism. The fact that many of them are evangelical Christians is more a symptom of the same malaise that it is the cause of their hatreds. Nutty religion is their opium. While many of them are terribly misinformed and stupid, I don't think it is entirely fair to say that they misunderstand their class interests. They have come to the conclusion that they are going to be screwed regardless of which party is in power, and they prefer to be screwed by a group that doesn't appear to hold them in contempt. Indeed, you get the impression that their hatred is so great that they are taunting the liberal attempts at policy solutions to their problems, almost saying we hate your contempt for us so much we'll prove it by voting against our own interests.

Ron Suskind:

Whether you can run the world on faith, it's clear you can run one hell of a campaign on it.

George W. Bush and his team have constructed a high-performance electoral engine. The soul of this new machine is the support of millions of likely voters, who judge his worth based on intangibles — character, certainty, fortitude and godliness — rather than on what he says or does. The deeper the darkness, the brighter this filament of faith glows, a faith in the president and the just God who affirms him.

The leader of the free world is clearly comfortable with this calculus and artfully encourages it. In the series of televised, carefully choreographed "Ask President Bush" events with supporters around the country, sessions filled with prayers and blessings, one questioner recently summed up the feelings of so many Christian conservatives, the core of the Bush army. "I've voted Republican from the very first time I could vote," said Gary Walby, a retired jeweler from Destin, Fla., as he stood before the president in a crowded college gym. "And I also want to say this is the very first time that I have felt that God was in the White House." Bush simply said "thank you" as a wave of raucous applause rose from the assembled.

Every few months, a report surfaces of the president using strikingly Messianic language, only to be dismissed by the White House. Three months ago, for instance, in a private meeting with Amish farmers in Lancaster County, Pa., Bush was reported to have said, "I trust God speaks through me." In this ongoing game of winks and nods, a White House spokesman denied the president had specifically spoken those words, but noted that "his faith helps him in his service to people."
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Come to the hustings on Labor Day and meet the base. In 2004, you know a candidate by his base, and the Bush campaign is harnessing the might of churches, with hordes of voters registering through church- sponsored programs. Following the news of Bush on his national tour in the week after the Republican convention, you could sense how a faith-based president campaigns: on a surf of prayer and righteous rage.

Righteous rage — that's what Hardy Billington felt when he heard about same-sex marriage possibly being made legal in Massachusetts. "It made me upset and disgusted, things going on in Massachusetts," the 52-year-old from Poplar Bluff, Mo., told me. "I prayed, then I got to work." Billington spent $830 in early July to put up a billboard on the edge of town. It read: "I Support President Bush and the Men and Women Fighting for Our Country. We Invite President Bush to Visit Poplar Bluff." Soon Billing ton and his friend David Hahn, a fundamentalist preacher, started a petition drive. They gathered 10,000 signatures. That fact eventually reached the White House scheduling office.

By late afternoon on a cloudy Labor Day, with a crowd of more than 20,000 assembled in a public park, Billington stepped to the podium. "The largest group I ever talked to I think was seven people, and I'm not much of a talker," Billington, a shy man with three kids and a couple of dozen rental properties that he owns, told me several days later. "I've never been so frightened."

But Billington said he "looked to God" and said what was in his heart. "The United States is the greatest country in the world," he told the rally. "President Bush is the greatest president I have ever known. I love my president. I love my country. And more important, I love Jesus Christ."

The crowd went wild, and they went wild again when the president finally arrived and gave his stump speech. There were Bush's periodic stumbles and gaffes, but for the followers of the faith-based president, that was just fine. They got it — and "it" was the faith.

And for those who don't get it? That was explained to me in late 2002 by Mark McKinnon, a longtime senior media adviser to Bush, who now runs his own consulting firm and helps the president. He started by challenging me. "You think he's an idiot, don't you?" I said, no, I didn't. "No, you do, all of you do, up and down the West Coast, the East Coast, a few blocks in southern Manhattan called Wall Street. Let me clue you in. We don't care. You see, you're outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don't read The New York Times or Washington Post or The L.A. Times. And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it's good for us. Because you know what those folks don't like? They don't like you!" In this instance, the final "you," of course, meant the entire reality-based community.

Philip Green:

Here let me move back again to the religious counter-Enlightenment and speak of two current examples of contemporary irrationalism. The first is creationism. The importance of this phenomenon can hardly be over-emphasized. It sweeps throughout the blue states, where in many communities overwhelming majorities reject biological science tout court; and even some of the red ones. The basis of creationism is either Biblical literalism or, worse, a wholly fraudulent "biology" known as Intelligent Design, masquerading as science in order to replace it. What this means is that an entire generation of Christian (as they call themselves) young people learns to value ideological lies over scientific investigation. The second example, of course, is the gay marriage hysteria. Here the materialism and rationalism of modern thought run entirely aground. What an economist would call perfect Pareto optimality "the apex of welfare economics, the pursuit of a happiness that harms no one and affects no one except those benefiting from it" is trumped by a thinking that the rationalist cannot even put a name to (except to denigrate it as, in Stuart Hall's useful phrase, a moral panic). Every negative comment about gay marriage rests itself on the same foundation, that our civilization is "at stake." No one is able to verbalize in the slightest how this might be so. Strengthening marriage symbolically apparently destroys it; more people undergoing the ritual of marriage apparently destroys it; two people affirming their commitment without benefit of a formal legal licensing process can be compared to looting, rioting, bestiality, and polyandry. I'm not sure whether to call this moral panic, intellectual degradation, moral madness, or simply evil let loose; but the result in any event is precisely that what cannot be verbalized, an ineffable something that has no content beyond its own appearance, surmounts and trumps the actual, the real, with its ineffability.

It is quite possible that, as various optimistic commentators have been saying, in the long run equality for gay persons is as unstoppable, in the formal legal sense at least, as it was for black persons in the formal legal sense; as it's become a cliche to point out, not forty years ago every word that's being said now about gay marriage was being said about interracial marriage. That moral panic, though — and even then it wasn't nearly as publicly hysterical — at least had a semi-rational basis, in that a real social hierarchy from which millions of white people benefited was on the way to being really overthrown in its last legal bastion. Today the descent into irrationality has no material social basis at all, only an emotional basis, an obsessive ideology, a fanaticism, posing as religion, that represents what Mill called the most monstrous doctrine of all: that I am injured if you behave in a way that offends me, even if your action has no material impact on me at all. He was right about that monstrousness. The debasing of rational thought by millions of people, and beyond that the acquiescence in or encouragement of that debasing by educated and knowledgeable persons who know the difference between hysteria and thought, chills the blood, and suggests that the lust for power has become unlimited. Together with the other aspects of the era I've mentioned, it bespeaks an urge to what I would call now proto-totalitarianism. It probably won't go further than that, because the material conditions are lacking, but the mere similarity is terrifying.
[I disagree with Mr. Green's last sentence.]

Deleuze & Guattari:

It is not a question of ideology. There is an unconscious libidinal investment of the social field that coexists, but does not necessarily coincide, with the preconscious investments, or with what the preconscious investments "ought to be." That is why, when subjects, individuals, or groups act manifestly counter to their class interests — when they rally to the interests and ideals of a class that their own objective situation should lead them to combat — it is not enough to say: they were fooled, the masses have been fooled. It is not an idealogical problem, a problem of failing to recognize, or of being subject to, an illusion. It is a problem of desire, and desire is part of the infrastructure. Preconscious investments are made, or should be made, according to the interests of the opposing classes. But unconscious investments are made according to positions of desire and uses of synthesis, very different from the interests of the subject, individual or collective, who desires.

These investments of an unconscious nature can ensure the general submission to a dominant class by making cuts and segregations pass over into a social field, insofar as it is effectively invested by desire and no longer by interests. A form of social production and reproduction, along with its economic and financial mechanisms, its political formations, and so on, can be desired as such, in whole or in part, independently of the interests of the desiring-subject. It was not by means of a metaphor, even a paternal metaphor, that Hitler was able to sexually arouse the fascists. It is not by means of a metaphor that a banking or stock-market transaction, a claim, a coupon, a credit, is able to arouse people who are not necessarily bankers. And what about the effects of money that grows, money that produces more money? There are socieconomic "complexes" that are also veritable complexes of the unconscious, and that communicate a voluptuous wave from the top to the bottom of their hierarchy (the military-industrial complex)...desire is present wherever something flows and runs, carrying along with it interested subjects — but also drunken or slumbering subjects — toward lethal destinations.