Students of history—particularly my students of history—will remember Ronald Reagan’s genius unification of the Republican Party during the 1980 election. Through sheer strength of charisma and occasionally insane rhetoric, Reagan consolidated three fundamentally disparate groups—old-time political conservatives, the nouveau riche, and church people—into what we now recognize as the contemporary GOP. Those of us who grew up under Reagan tend to take this alliance for granted, but it wasn’t always so. For most of the twentieth century, evangelical Christians were a reliable constituency of the Democratic Party, and the newly wealthy were anybody’s guess. The Great Communicator’s success as a politician, if not as a President, was his ability to describe the Republican agenda in terms these three groups understood. Hence the Evil Empire speech, in which the principle feature of communism is the abolition not of private property but of religion. “I would rather see my little girls die now, still believing in God, than have them grow up under communism,” sounds like an utterly bonkers thing for the President of the United States to say into a microphone, but that microphone was provided by the National Association of Evangelicals. When he spoke to the Club For Growth, it was all tax cuts and welfare queens, and when he spoke to the hawks in Congress, it was the Strategic Defense Initiative. All of it boiled down to one easily digestible GOP platform, and there lied the genius of Ronald Reagan.
Now that Sarah Palin has been eaten by a grue, the mantle of Person In the Republican Party Who Might Actually Believe That Stuff has been taken up by Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann. You may remember Bachmann from her bizarre assertions about the US Census and its possible role in a massive government conspiracy—something she stopped talking about after a census worker was killed in Kentucky. Like Palin, Bachmann believes in an American People whose will is diametrically opposed to that of the federal government—particularly the Congress part of the government, which she, bafflingly, is a part of. Also like Palin, her signature issue has become health care reform. Despite polls showing that most Americans favor a public option, Bachmann knows that “real, freedom-loving Americans” oppose the government “taking away [their] health care.” To make their voices heard, she’s taken it upon herself to organize a protest on the steps of Capitol Hill at noon today, at which she encourages protestors to enter their congresspeople’s offices and demand that they vote against health care reform. “This is the Super Bowl of freedom, this week,” she says. How can Michele Bachmann find the resources and communication apparatus to organize such a Super Bowl, in which an abstract concept competes with another, unnamed abstract concept on a week’s notice? Well, fortunately there’s Fox News:
Remember when Chuck Norris was a harmless list of absurdist statements that your roommate read aloud to you from his laptop in 2006, and then your dad emailed to you yesterday? Well, he’s a real person now, and that person is completely, totally, scrambling-naked-out-of-the-shower-to-chase-his-marbles-across-the-kitchen-floor-during-your-dinner-party insane. Chuck Norris has a regular column over at Townhall.com, and he’s using it to push his agenda of radical socialism inspired by Fourier and inflected—nah, I’m just messing with you. All he cares about is taxes, guns and making sure everybody prays.
By now you’ve probably seen the video of Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.) putting the rhetorical whompus on one of his constituents at a town hall meeting in Dartmouth. If you somehow haven’t, do yourself a favor. The question—put to him by the most adorable hate-filled populist ever— was “Why do you continue to support a Nazi policy, as Obama has expressly supported this policy, why are you supporting it?” It’s an elegant rhetorical trap, but Frank finds a way out of it. First, he points out that the questioner is currently holding a photograph of the President with a Hitler mustache drawn on it. Then he asks her what planet she spends most of her time on, and concludes that “Trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in it.” As they say in Boston: face! Somewhere, Cicero is smiling.*
I was going to be angry about these kids, but one look at the profoundly sixteen-year-old-girl expression on that sixteen-year-old girl’s face and I didn’t have the heart. (If you’d like to get real sad, you can read a blog written by that poor girl’s mother, in which she calls Barbara Boxer a “moronic twit.” The badge on the right side indicates that she’s made the list of “best conservative blogs on the net,” which is apparently determined by total word count.) That’s her boyfriend on the left, proving again that teenage boys will do anything under certain conditions. And what are these desperate youths and the ragtag band behind them protesting for? Lower taxes on the rich, reduced social services, deregulation of business and conservative fiscal policy.
To hear Frank Rich tell it, protests like these are harbingers of a new era of cultural and political upheaval. Last weekend was the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock, which television raised me to believe was the most important moment of the 20th century. It turns out that was all to promote The Wonder Years, though, because this year’s commemoration was overshadowed by the season premiere of Mad Men. First of all, if you don’t watch Mad Men, you should start immediately. It is the Cadillac of television shows, or the Combat! blog of television shows in that Frank Rich and I agree with it more than anyone else in America. Second of all, Frank Rich is right. The year that resonates with our present cultural moment isn’t 1969; it’s 1963.