Saturday, August 29, 2009

Images of What I Hope Will Be the Future of American Conservatism

This started off as a post about Meghan McCain of all people, but between drafts, Ted Kennedy died, and buried within the endlessly repetitive news bluster are a couple of very intriguing ideas about American politics. One is the idea that American political culture has become so ideologically rigid that lawmaking is a matter of reversing the opposition predecessors’ policies, and that such lifelong public servants no longer exist.

I laugh at this last point, because whenever people say something doesn’t exist anymore in a human society, it appears again in a new guise. Perhaps the career politician of the future won’t be the one who sits in the same Senate seat for decades, but the one who goes from lobbying to think tanks to legislature to punditry to legislature again. But career politicians will always exist. But ideological rigidity is certainly the defining attribute of American politics today, especially among conservatives.

It must be hard being a moderate Republican in America today. Their leading figures are Mitch McConnell, who apparently still doesn’t believe that Reagan’s insane market deregulation schemes are a bad idea; Michael Steele, a black Alex P. Keaton who isn’t quite as suave or sophisticated; Dick Cheney, who wouldn’t be out of place in fascist Bolivia in the 1960s; and Sarah Palin, crazed arch-conservative Beat poet. Arlen Specter realized that the only way he could get anything done for his constituents was to switch his affiliation from liberal Republican to conservative Democrat. In the middle of this polarized environment is the most fascinating twitter account I follow: Meghan McCain.

Meghan McCain’s twitter constantly and loudly reminds her followers that she is, in fact, a Republican, even though she’s okay with homosexuals. Her self-declared mission is to show a different face to the Republican party, even though her savvy progressive conservatism is barely understood by the actual GOP levers of power. She also tweets about True Blood and her guilty pleasures of reality trash tv. She also loves The Big Lebowski, Wes Anderson, Walt Whitman, and shoes.

Even though I think twitter is the venue that could revive the art of the aphorism in philosophy, McCain doesn’t cover a lot of deep thoughts here. But she’s very good at projecting the image of her personality, the Sexy Progressive Republican™. I think that’s the only thing she’s actually able to do at this point in her political career. If she does eventually go on to add the McCains to the list of American political dynasties (Bush, Clinton, Kennedy, and going back very far, Adams), she will eventually have to bulk up on policy.

But I can see it taking shape in a very vague way, even just a month or so into following her twitter. There will be rhetoric with an ear for intelligent American patriotism, cribbing from Whitman’s poem “Pioneers! O Pioneers!” Again connected with Whitman will be a conservationist environmental agenda, the necessity of the climate crisis transforming her father’s vague statements on the subject into a top policy imperative. One point that’s already clear from her twitter posts is an agenda to safeguard gay rights, including marriage, nationally, under the philosophy of an agenda to enforce civil rights and freedoms. There’s legal precedence for this being set in conservative American circles now as well.

Probably her only major problem is that she isn’t really taken very seriously. While she’s filling in for Elizabeth Hasselbeck for a week on The View next month, in terms of that show’s format it amounts to little more than replacing their token blonde conservative with another. However, I do expect her to deliver some more intelligent thinking than the blandly reactionary Hasselbeck. But other than this, the major piece of news generation she’s done in the last year is to get in a fight with Laura Ingraham, another token blonde conservative reactionary, about her weight, which is that of an average healthy human. This contrasts with typical American ideals of a healthy, attractive body, which is that of an emaciated anorexic barely able to breathe.

Being slotted into arguments about superficial nonsense is where a lot of rigidly ideological conservatives think women should go anyway, so the fact that she has managed to move beyond such idiocy is to her credit. Despite the ghetto of unintelligent, patronizing debate she found herself in last year, she's actually displayed intelligence and worldliness, through her Daily Beast writing and that twitter account. She's just under two years younger than me, and has already accomplished far more than I've even tried, even if being the daughter of a long-serving senator and a Presidential candidate has given her some help.

But I wouldn't be surprised if in thirty years, we're talking about the political career of McCain the younger, always in politics but going from one job to another, advancing the same goals of fiscal and foreign policy conservatism wedded to social liberalism and civil rights. As much as I love surrealist poetry, when it comes to women in the conservative party of the country next door, I'd take her running for President in 2028 over Sarah Palin in 2012 gladly.
Heidegger essays and Burial go together extremely well. Almost too well. I’m reading him for my thesis research, mining for ideas that have been picked up by deep ecology and looking for alternative interpretations. It is some of the most dense philosophical writing I have ever read, especially the essays from later in his career, trying to create a new kind of philosophy by sheer force of will.

Burial is an electronic musician from London, slotted in the category of dubstep, though like all good musicians and all good philosophers, he doesn’t fit into categories. Until recently, he was entirely anonymous, creating music in his room and releasing it through his pseudonym. They are dark, strange, immense, and beautiful soundscapes, constructed around weirdly timed beats, sparse instrumentation, and vocal samples. It’s another example of music that I haven’t heard anything quite like before, even though I’m about two years late jumping on the Burial bandwagon. Sorry, Pitchfork-heads, but I just haven’t bothered.

UPDATE: 20.45. This article at The Daily Beast, reviewing Sam Tanenhaus' new book The Death of Conservatism, makes my point about American politics much better than I do here.

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