The Biggest Lie
Glenn Greenwald has an intriguing post suggesting the tongue-clucking over Christine O’Donnell has less to do with her views—since when is being a right wing extremist a drawback in the eyes of the D.C. crowd?—and more to do with her class status as someone who has struggled financially. I agree with many of his points, particularly since he has plenty of evidence of nose-holding in O’Donnell’s direction for the sin of being broke and suggests, correctly, that the main difference between the right wing populists taking over the Republican party and the party leaders in the past was an aesthetic one. The old guard was just simply more interested in selling their vicious right wing politics through dog whistles and polite lies, and the new school is more loose-lipped. I do think he overstates the case somewhat; in O’Donnell’s case, I think the old guard has specific grievances with her and the way she’s taken them for a bunch of money. And there is a legitimate election concern when you candidates have a problem spinning their own points of view so that swing voters are confused enough to vote for them. But he’s basically right: for the Villagers, “just folks” is a costume you wear, not an actual lifestyle. The ideal candidate is a rich, pampered upper class person who can put a cowboy hat on for pictures.
What’s fascinating to me is that all this goes on while the Republicans—the party that prioritizes cutting taxes for the very richest above all other concerns—have unblinkingly adopted anti-elitism as their garb. It’s a lie that is so profound that its most naked manifestations make the non-wingnut parts of the audience wonder how they just get away with it. For instance, Carl Paladino spent most of his victory speech railing on about toppling the “ruling elite”, so much so that if you had no context and wandered in, you would swear that you had walked into an early 20th century communist rally. Paladino, of course, is a millionaire who had $10 million of his own money just laying around to spend on a primary campaign for an election he has to know he’s going to lose. He decried the “elite” in front of a crowd that I guarantee has an average income a couple of brackets over the average. To look at his policies, you’d think the “elites” that he’s out to get are exactly the same as the poor and unemployed.
The lie, in other words, is so big that I don’t even know if there’s a name for it. Is it an existential lie? The Big Lie? The biggest? It was such a whopper that I can’t believe that the folks listening didn’t get headaches from the straight cognitive dissonance between the claims being made—that they are the rabble fighting off an elite that is defined by being poorer than they are—and reality. I spend a lot of my time chronicling right wing lies. Many of them are factual. Many are more just disingenuous poses (“Liberals are the real racists!” “Abortion hurts women!”). But these insanely rich Republicans talking about how they’re going to kick out the “elite”? That’s such a reality-destabilizing lie it’s like me belligerently insisting that I’m Marilyn Monroe, and anyone who points out that I’m not simply hates gerbils. It. Makes. No. Sense. It’s maddening. I’m sure it’s meant to be.
More than any other lie they tell, the one about how Republicans defend the little guy against the “elite” is the one that makes me despair the most for my country. The only proper reaction to these claims is hysterical laughter, and yet they’re being offered as if they’re serious, and taken in that spirit. It’s complete madness. When you have so much of the population indifferent to basic reality, what do you do?