Tim Pawlenty must be ready to hang himself. With Rick Santoruminejad defying the polls and pundits at every turn and stymieing Super PAC’s and Romneybots, surely this field would have been accepting of another milquetoast social conservative candidate like Pawlenty. Alas, this is now the Romney/Santorum show as the GOP accepts that its fate is linked to the enthusiasm of the evangelical Christian voter.
When then-Sen. Barack Obama proclaimed that “there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America” at the 2004 Democratic Convention, he couldn’t have been more wrong. But it sure sounded great. The 2012 GOP primary season has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are indeed two very distinct Americas. Having grown up as a Republican in a blue state, I can honestly say that the only thing I share in common with Republicans in red states is contiguous land because our idea of what constitutes democratic principles couldn’t be further apart.
The New Millennium has ushered in a resounding victory for democracy and with it the greatest placebo ever absorbed into the global body politic. Citizens of the world have bought into the hype that the American Dream is now available anywhere on the globe and is as attainable as a fake diamond necklace on a late-night infomercial.
For my money, it is the inimitable H.L. Mencken who best captured the folly of American democracy as the means to prosperity nearly a century ago saying, “Of all those ancient promises there is none more comforting than the one to the effect that the lowly shall inherit the earth. It is at the bottom of the dominant religious system of the modern world, and it is at the bottom of the dominant political system. Democracy gives it a certain appearance of objective and demonstrable truth.”
Even Mencken would be impressed by the effectiveness of today’s political hucksters who peddle faux versions of democracy. Modern-day snake oil salesmen dressed in suits adorned with flag pins on their lapels preach the gospel of the American Dream with the zeal of born-again evangelists. Their wide-eyed followers devour their every word believing that they too might someday reach the Promised Land.
Gone are the days of dreaming of white picket fences and a pension; this is the era of winning lottery tickets and gaining salvation through instant affluence. The most troubling phenomenon is the gospel of Jesus Christ as capitalist that has somehow tethered itself to our new collective interpretation of democracy. This mixing of religious and ideological metaphors has seeped into the consciousness of American politics and given life to a bizarre fundamentalist ideology that has inculcated the public with the notion that financial success is the product of divine right. According to this newly adopted testament of faith, Jesus Christ is a champion of corporate rights and free markets who offers his disciples unfettered VIP access to the pearly gates of the hereafter.
“All these forms of happiness, of course, are illusory. They don’t last,” warned Mencken. “The Democrat, leaping into the air to flap his wings and praise God, is forever coming down with a thump. The seeds of his disaster lie in his own stupidity; he can never get rid of the naïve delusion — so beautifully Christian! — that happiness is something to be got by taking it away from the other fellow.” It is the idea that only the uncompromising person in the self-righteous pursuit of wealth emerges triumphant in a life that has separated humans from their humanity. Community, environment and the welfare of others have been subjugated by a new dogma that places faith over reason, prosperity over compassion.
Capitalism and Christianity, mutually exclusive by design, are no longer distinct from one another under the all-encompassing umbrella of democracy. And who could argue? We credit democracy with ushering in the most technologically innovative century in recorded history. There have also been real victories along the way. America as it was originally conceived was a place where inalienable rights were intended exclusively for white, male property owners. But the system was intuitive and flexible enough to allow its citizens to battle one another and hammer out universal suffrage and civil rights. It is also our right to freely and openly criticize the government and protest perceived injustices. No system works perfectly for all of its inhabitants but liberties such as these that we often take for granted are glorious enough to make America’s democratic system enviable by most standards.
I am an insider, an avowed critic of the hand that feeds me. I’m not writing in exile or from behind a prison wall, but that is not to say we aren’t metaphorically imprisoned by the image we project of ourselves. Much of what we believe to be true about democracy is belied by our very real actions and circumstances.
Americans are trapped by the conviction that we live in a free society despite having the highest incarceration rate per capita of any nation in the world. We see ourselves as the purveyors of peace and democracy, having defeated the Communist menace and dethroned dictators, yet no other nation in modern times has initiated unprovoked foreign wars more than we have or dropped a nuclear bomb (twice) on its enemies. We believe in the theory of fair competition and the ability to achieve success through hard work and discipline but we exist within a system that discourages competitiveness and has consolidated 40 percent of the nation’s wealth into the hands of 1 percent of the population.
Our state of denial has caused us to drift far from the nation we believe ourselves to be while holding tightly to an image of the nation we wish to be. And whoever prevails on the GOP ticket will have no choice but to continue touting the conservative agenda and wooing the evangelical vote. I am a Republican living in a blue state; an American capitalist who was born in socialist Canada. I have Mohawk and Dutch roots. In short, I’m a walking contradiction. But I’m far from confused because this I know: Jesus Christ isn’t on the ballot and fundamentalism is the opposite of freedom.
Top Photo: Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum
Bottom Photo: H.L. Mencken