Laura Rozen was asking yesterday over at Warandpiece “what does the right want?” Her almost anguished musings in reaction to the rising hysteria of the right-wing base must be echoing across the normal political universe in one form or another. After all, Obama has done nothing but be a competent campaigner. It is the behavior of the Republican ticket which is veering dramatically toward the bizarre. It would be funny to think that McCain and Palin might have pulled on their Halloween costumes a little early this year, except that there’s nothing particularly amusing about inciting crowds to racial epithets, literal media-bashing, or assassination.
It has been noted that McCain has a history of demonizing his opponents, which is not surprising, given what he’s been through. Addressing a rally as “my fellow prisoners” is a small but incredibly public window into a personality holding itself together by persona. The mask of McCain is avuncular (Laura compared his affect in the Nashville debate to a doddering elder relative who has to reach back to the days of Reagan and the occupation of Beirut for relevant facts). But it seems he’s never stopped standing up to his enemies as if it were a matter of life or death.
Some of us experience our views of politics as a contingent relationship with the world, where we constantly reframe our questions and responses as we move through a series of events so we can derive an understanding of why things happen that is most personally compatible. I don’t mean we are rational; rather, we can tolerate a contingent relationship, in which our understanding is merely possibly correct.
For wingnuts, understanding is not personally contingent, but global and eternal—sub specie aeternitatis, as Spinoza says:
We conceive of things as actual in two ways: either in so far as we conceive them as related to a fixed time and place [contingent], or in so far as we conceive them to be contained in God and to follow from the necessity of divine nature. Now the things that are conceived as true or real in this second way, we conceive under a form of eternity, and their ideas involve the eternal and infinite essence of God.
You could not survive as Ann Coulter, or Michelle Malkin, or Jonah Goldberg, or any of the rest of the Townhall tribe, without believing that what you see is the true world, partaking of the essence of God, as opposed to a personal interpretation of a contingent here and now. So, bested simply by greater clarity, consistency, common sense, more basic and demonstrable understanding of what people are really worried about, more inclusive concern with where America is going—all that undramatic but fundamental Obama stuff—part of the reason that the wingnuts take leave on flights of obnoxious paranoic effusion is this: when things conceived sub specie aeternitatis appear to shatter, it is God who is deserting them, and the eternal which is collapsing. In such a case it is no wonder Obama must be the antichrist.
Thus all the dark mutterings about the never yet uncovered corruption of Obama in Chicago, the secret cabal he is part of that will foist a far-left agenda on us all (or worse yet, one built around the “view that black assimilation [is] a form of self-enslavement to an irredeemably racist system…thus has he become “that one”. I expected McCain to begin the Ritual of Exorcism then and there at the debate (no doubt with Tom Brokaw’s able assistance).
Laura wants to know who would be the wingnuts’ perfect candidate. The perfect candidate for them is one that can win, since it is by God’s grace rather than any quality of the candidate that winning comes to pass. Conversely, when politics fails these believers, they cannot examine themselves and their position in any contingent way, but must blame the false conservatives, the conniving media, the infested immigrants, the Gigantic Left-wing Conspiracy that so inconveniently votes from time to time in the majority, and all the rest of the the stabs-in-the-back.
Laura’s avuncular model for McCain is apt but superficial (and, of course, rhetorical). It is superficial because he is really a nasty piece of work, far nastier than Bush. It is deeply fulfilling to watch the Obama campaign slowly but surely crush his ticket flat. After all, he’s the only major republican candidate who even stood a chance against Obama, since he was the only one who could also conjure up any mavericky outsiderness. It is looking more and more like the republican party itself, not just its presidential candidate, is getting crushed flat.
They will lose power, and this they fear greatly, not least because some of the most prominent of their number will now be subject to criminal prosecution. But what we shouldn’t underestimate is the powerless rage of those who have seen their Gods destroyed.