August 14, 2011

Bachmann Palin Overdrive

I don't really understand what the "Ames Straw Poll" is, exactly, although I assume that it's about momentum in a presidential primary, a way for a candidate to distinguish her/himself ("hermself"? did I just coin a usage, another neologism?). Yes, it's a way to distinguish hermself from the pack, and this apparently is what Michele Bachmann did yesterday in Iowa, by winning the Ames Straw Poll with a plurality vote of 29%.

Michele is, of course, the recognized leader of the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives, and as such she is a force to be reckoned with even if, as appears to be the case, at the personal level she doesn't really seem like a force to be reckoned with, if you know what I mean. I toss in the early caveat that I don't mean that as some sort of sexist snark - I get that she's a "tax attorney," and all the rest. Caveats aside, however, if the United States of America elects Michele Bachmann President of the United States, then I must go on record as saying that from that point forward I would not be able to take the USA seriously as a country again. There comes a time, and all that.

Thus, Bachmann's victory in whatever just happened in Ames, Iowa acquires a different kind of significance, a watershed event, another crossing of the Rubicon. The straw poll, one way or other (and the canny Michele, of course, knows this), conferred upon Bachmann the laurel wreath of legitimacy, of Seriousness, and this is the clear and present danger which the country now faces. Particularly with a badly weakened President, whose flagship legislation, his health care bill, just took another torpedo amidships from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal in Atlanta and will soon be struck down by the Supreme Court. With the O Man reeling, with his Irrelevance Factor hitting the ionosphere, the race is wide open. All the Republicans really have to do is play it safe and nominate someone who sort of looks the part, like Mitt Romney, maybe Rick Perry, although Rick Perry most looks the part of a singing cowboy in a John Ford western.

However, the Republican Party is certifiably insane (as opposed to their brother duopolists the Democrats, who are mostly certifiably corrupt), and rational expectations of the party elders no longer determine the outcome. Thus, Michele's victory in Ames comes really as no great shock. Michele, with that rare distinction of a law degree (J.D.) from Oral Roberts University, the largest Charismatic Christian college in the world, although I don't know what "Charismatic Christianity" is, exactly, and I'm too lazy (and too disillusioned) to google it. I assume it's like ordinary Christianity only weirder, and that the kind of "charisma" involved implies some other, off-the-wall meaning of the Greek word, and not the kind, say, that John F. Kennedy had. No, that's definitely what it doesn't mean. A law degree from Oral Roberts is fairly rare because the school only existed between 1979 and 1986 before it packed up its library and reopened as Regent University, another Christer college. But ORU is only one of several Bachmann alma maters, and don't forget her undergrad days at Winona State, where it all began.

However, Michele really owes her opportunity to the trailblazing work of Sarah Palin, who proved that any kind of actual credentials are increasingly beside the point. I don't know what the "point" is anymore, to tell the truth. There is some sort of "brand" or telegenically-driven "buzz" which is now decisive in these matters. It's nothing altogether new, of course, this melding of mass advertising concepts with the political process. The process of selling products and candidates is now virtually identical, and the fact that Bachmann has only been in Congress since 2007, and regards global warming as a "hoax" because carbon dioxide occurs naturally in the atmosphere and could therefore never be a poison or harmful substance, and has a husband who runs a clinic to pray the gay away - none of these factors, which should be absolutely crippling in a rational country, will ever be held against Michele, that feisty, gutsy gal that Chris Matthews just thinks is kinda cute.

It so happens that I've been reading Sam Harris's latest book, The Moral Landscape, which posits the idea, which always seemed true to me, that morals and ethics arise naturally in human society, the products of subjects which neuroscience can now study rigorously, and do not depend on religion or formal, codified codes of other "spiritual" paths. The book seemed kind of dry, at first, till I got to the chapter on "religion," which Sam, in his usual deadeye way, devoted mostly to a detailed demolition of Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the NIH and founder of the BioLogos whatever (some "bridge" between science and religion which Collins insists must exist, somehow), and the loony ideas Collins expressed in his 2006 book The Language of God, where part of Collins's conversion moment (his rededication to the Christianity of his Virginia youth) apparently came about because of the beauty of three frozen waterfall streams he encountered on a hike through the Cascade Mountains. (Three. Get it?) Harris called The Language of God an "intellectual suicide note." Anyway, the appointment of Collins was a previously unknown (to me) example of yet another compromise sell-out of intellectual honesty by the Incumbent-in-Chief.

Be that as it may: The Moral Landscape brought home to me again that my view of America is badly distorted by the Parallax of Nostalgia, as I've called it before. Alone among advanced industrial countries, America is a profoundly theocratic nation, hyper-religious, anti-secular, anti-intellectual, obscurantist, with falling standards of education and quality of life (religiosity is always negatively correlated with quality of life, perhaps not surprisingly, since deteriorating living standards are one of the factors which drive the commoners to an embrace of divine assistance). In such an irrational environment, anything, really, is possible, because it is not constrained by rational thought processes. Religious dogma in, clear thinking out (RDI-CTO). Any criticism of Michele Bachmann, in such a context, can be stood on its head - her naivete and inexperience can be rebranded as "perkiness" or "authenticity," her intellectual mediocrity can be recast as "the common touch." God's Messenger in sling-back heels and a short skirt. Golly, she's got a lot of zing!

Anything can happen. Washington, D.C. might close, the nation's capital moved to some place in the heartland, in Iowa or Missouri, and the White House turned into a museum, to be replaced, on some blue highway off the Interstate, by the White Trailer, in the Congressional Mobile Home Park, sharing a ten-acre parking lot with the local Charismatic Mega-church.

(Note to self: keep studying French re: relocation to Arles.)

1 comment:

  1. You seem to infer that being "religious" (particularly Christian) and having a rational thought process are mutually exclusive. I absolutely agree that a lot of what we see in the Christian world would lead to your conclusion, but "much of what we see" does not define all aspects of Christianity. Although a non-Christian likely would not agree, not all Christians embrace nonsense and many of the greatest minds today and in history were devout Christians. It is a mistake to to "throw the baby out with the bath water" because of what people do with theology. There is a reality stated in Scripture that some truth will appear as nonsense to the natural man. In 1 Corinthians it is written, "the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God because they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned," which is why Jesus said, "ye must be born again." So, to understand these things, be born again.