Friday, June 08, 2007

The very reason we're forced to talk about the immigration issue is also why it's impossible to lift the level of discussion above wacko blithering


Or, poor Chimpy learns that if you live by Rove-ism,
you can also get it shoved way up your BE-hind

Last night I tried to suggest, in my characteristically subtle, breezy way, that the people who are driving the immigration issue are dangerous lunatics who should be hooked up to millions of volts of electrical current with a view to improving the clarity of their thinking.

Perhaps I should attempt a more detailed, reasoned statement of my position on immigration. The only thing is, I don't really have a detailed, reasoned position on immigration. The subject is way too complex for my poor brain.

I understand enough, however, to recognize when scum-sucking demagogues have gone into heavy-artillery attack mode on a position that is based on unmitigated ignorance and evil. And I understand that, the way our political system is set up, there is almost no hope of shutting those shitheads up and ever having a sensible discussion of the issue.

And I still don't see that it's even a particularly pressing issue. I certainly see that the arguments hurled by the anti-immigration demagogues are imbecilic fabrications. That doesn't add up to a crisis, though. In fact, the solution is embarrassingly simple, at least conceptutally: Just have the know-nothing wackos shut their friggin' pieholes. (No, I don't know how we do that, but as best I could tell, neither did the Senate immigration "reformers.")

Am I surprised, then, that immigration has become such a raging issue? No, not really, because it's an issue made to order for the political system bequeathed to us by Karl Rove.

Let me back up. Awhile back I made fleeting reference here to charisma, and to candidates past, present, or hypothetical who may or may not have it.

Now, there's no question in my mind that there really is such a thing as charisma: something that gives certain people a hold over a sizable number of other people out of all proportion to any identifiable qualities that might justify such appeal. If anyone really doubts this, we could certainly talk about it, but for now I'm going to assume that everyone here has been to high school.

The Karl Rove school of governing leans heavily on charisma. We've all heard some version of the story that must originate with Rove himself (who else could have told it?), the story of the first time he laid eyes on young George W. Bush, when Karl as a not especially valued aide in the White House of Chimpy's Poppy, George H.W.B., was sent to fetch the prodigal son when he arrived in Washington from, as I recall, his grad-school graduation. The minor details don't matter; it's the gut punch that counts here, and the punch line is that Karl seems to have taken one look at the chump off the old clunk and creamed in his pants.

Rigorously filtering out the more distasteful suggestions that are suggested, we may take from this, er, uplifting anecdote the information that Karl Rove, budding genius that he was, knew from a single glance that you could get large numbers of people to vote for this person, for just about any office he might run for. And that's without knowing anything else about his qualities as a candidate, except perhaps his family name.

I wonder how many of us would have recognized this. I can't help thinking that my reaction after getting one glimpse of our Chimpy would have been: "This bozo went to Yale and Harvard, and got degrees and everything?" So I don't discount this blazing insight of Master Karl's.

But of course that isn't the core of his political genius. He clearly understood from way back that the nature of our political system is such that it invites electioneering, not by reasoned discussion of issues, but by the pushing of hot buttons. The trick, and our Karl has spent his career doing it, is to identify issues--real, fake, or somewhere in between--that push enough people's buttons and drive their votes.

Put the two together--the candidate with charisma and the campaign strategy that zeroes in on voters' primal impulses--and field-test to the point where you prove to yourself that the combination works better than any other political strategy anyone's come up with, and you've just about permanently eliminated, not just the need for, but the possibility of, rational and informed debate on real issues.

Indeed, except in the case of issues that literally force themselves to the forefront (as, say, 9/11 was clearly bound to for at least one election cycle), there is no reason for any candidate ever to raise an issue unless his/her handlers believe it's (a) a hot- (or at least warm-) button one that (b) can be made to work in the candidate's favor.

I'll bet any of us could easily draw up a list of all sorts of pressing issues that not only are never discussed by political candidates but never will be, unless they happen one day to sprout one of those "buttonable" handles. For the most part, these will be the very issues that ought to be on the table.

I certainly grant Iraq as an exception, but with an asterisk. Obviously the mess there is inescapably on the table. But look at how it got there: as the result of a set of policy initiatives concocted by a bunch of wackos so bent ideologically, not to mention so out of touch with reality, that they succeeded in producing a cataclysm out of something that should barely even have been an issue for us, and to the extent that it was an issue for the U.S. should never have been handled remotely the way the wackos imagined.

That said, now that the issue of Iraq has been forced to the forefront of our attention, that doesn't mean, the Rove system would argue, that it has to be discussed reasonably. Why can't we still look for those special buttons to push? (Hey, dem goddamn Dems doesn't support duh troops!)

I would like to think most of know intuitively that immigration is an incredibly complex subject, which is one good reason most of us don't want to think about it. To use an Imus-ism, it would make our hair hurt.

Plus, as far as I can tell, there still is no evidence of any actual immigration crisis, the sort of thing that would make it necessary for us to think about it.

Why has it become not just an issue, but to an extent the issue? This part is easy. Because certain political shot-callers recognize that it's the ultimate "buttonable" issue.

Button no. 1: More and more Americans have already lost their jobs, and more still are afraid of losing theirs. This is a nightmare even for people who have no illusion about what crappy jobs they've lost or may be about to lose. There's no evidence that this has anything to do with immigration, but it doesn't matter. The link is way easier to fantasize than the equally phony one between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, and look how well the Bush regime sold that one. When you can press a button that taps straight into people's panic concerning simple economic survival, you don't have to worry about nuance.

Button no. 2: There's always been a core of Americans who hate those goddamn furriners. To date no one has established what limit, if any, there might be to how powerfully native xenophobia can be inflamed by a campaign built on confusion, resentment, hostility, shame, and fear exploding from our fun times in Eye-rack. Sure, the arguments are sub-moronic and could be answered by an average 11-year-old, starting with the grotesquely obvious fact that we Americans are all by definition immigrants.

However, don't forget my note above about nuance. (In case you've forgotten, the note is: Forget about it!) And don't forget that a hefty chunk of the American electorate is seriously dumber, less curious, and harder to reason with than your average 11-year-old. (Plus, on the question of us all being immigrants, there's a kind of person who takes great satisfaction in having the gate slammed shut just after the goniff himself has slipped through.)

The word we're groping for here is scapegoat. The wonderful thing about scapegoats is that they make for just fabulously buttonable issues. Tie some poor schlub to a powerful enough fear, or to a powerful enough hatred, and you've got him by the nuts.

I should add that, unlike Karl Rove, I haven't spent a lifetime studying the theory and practice of political button-pushing, so I'm just working off the top of my head here. But I have a hunch that I'm not far off in suspecting that fear and hatred are going to be the top finishers in the button-sensitivity sweepstakes. I don't even know what might place third. Religion is probably in there, but I can't help thinking that religion works mostly as a conduit and energizer for the fear and hatred.

Back in the good old days of the Cold War, of course, we had the good old godless Commies. I'm not so nostalgic that I minimize the insanity and tragedy caused by the torture done to American values by all sorts of miscreants covering themselves in the mantle of anti-Communism. And having the Commies as scapegoats didn't mean that we couldn't also have other scapegoats. It was always possible to whip up selective anti-immigrant sentiment, for example.

The difference is that without the Commies, we have to find other scapegoats.

And you can tell the degree of desperation involved when you recall that the first target the right-wing scapegoaters came up with was the goddamn gays. Of course, for the religious wackos it was a Button Bonanza. For reasons only they could attempt to explain, not many things energize their fear and hatred more passionately than (shudder) the goddamn gays.

Oh, they got plenty of mileage out of it. But you didn't have to think very deeply to realize that, while you can have heaps of fun and vent lots of bad stuff by stickin' it to the goddamn gays, over the long haul the idea of selling them as the root of all our misfortune is simply preposterous. Especially as more and more Americans have contact with, or more likely realize that they've had longtime contact with, actual people--friends, neighbors, and especially relatives--who happen to be gay, and turn out not to resemble "the goddamn gays" in any important way. They turn out to be just folks, some of 'em nice and some of 'em not so nice, like all other sorts of people, but mostly minding their own beeswax.

True, the noise level of the frothing anti-gay demagogues grew louder and shriller, but that was kind of a giveaway. Not to suggest that the issue has gone away, but it seemed clear that what we were hearing was panic, as the looniest of the loonies discovered that they just couldn't get the same rise out of their flocks when they brandished the Homosexual Menace.

You might have thunk that terrorists could be the new Commies. And there's no doubt that terror-ism has been a splendid button issue, the best the demagogues have had in ages. But terror-ists seem to be somehow too abstract for prime scapegoat. When our terrorism-fighting regime lost interest in finding Osama bin Laden, you had to figure, how dangerous could the terrorists be? It probably didn't help that all the newly captured terrorist menaces who were paraded in front of us whenever the Bush regime needed a bounce in the polls, or just needed desperately to change the subject, turned out to be utterly pathetic, hapless losers pursuing "plots" so ridiculous as to be scarcely worthy of the name.

But what if you had those faceless murdering terrorists on the Outside, and on the Inside, those ever-growing hordes of marauding, America-raping Immygrants.

Yes, that's it! Goddamn Immygrants. Book 'em, Alberto!


Michael Abramowitz and Dan Balz in tomorrow's Washington Post say the immigration bill lost because of Bush's inability to hold up his end of the bargain. "He failed to exert the leadership needed to save what is likely to be the last major domestic agenda item of his presidency." The defeat "was a reflection of the weakened state of his presidency."
"This is sort of what his life is going to be like for the rest of his term," veteran GOP strategist Ed Rollins said. "There are Republicans defecting from him now. He's not going to have any great success on anything that's controversial."

...Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg said until the president leaves office, the prospects for bipartisan cooperation will remain slim. "The reason we have this [polarized] politics is George Bush," he said. "Not the Democratic Party or even the Republicans in Congress. The climate of this era has been set by Bush."

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At 7:29 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I can't agree more. Pile on the fear and pass the hatred. Sprinkle in a dose of religion. Don't think. Watch TV. Pray for your leader.

This is a perfect diatribe on the Rovian electioneering process. Ya dun hit tha nail right on tha head.


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