Saturday, September 20, 2008

What Side Are You On?

(News-Herald, September 18) We’ve reached hard days in topsy-turvy land. It used to be that certain positions on the issues lined up with certain parts of the political spectrum, but it becomes increasingly confusing to figure who’s sitting in which cheering section.

This isn’t new. Being a political conservative used to mean that you believed in keeping government out of various aspects of American life while spending a minimum of tax dollars. But for the past eight years, the ranking conservatives in DC have not supported either of those things.

The nomination of Sara Palin has prompted such an epidemic of ideological whiplash that one begins to worry about political mental health. Conservatives like Phyllis Schafly, previously vocal in their opposition to working moms (“the flight from the home is a flight from yourself, from responsibility, from the nature of woman, in pursuit of false hopes and fading illusions”), suddenly think Mom should hire a sitter and get a job running the country. Liberals who previously opined that having children in no way obligates a woman to change her life a whit are suddenly shocked—shocked!!—that Palin would try to be VP when there are children at home who need her.

And at this point some people have changed their position on the matter of experience so many times that I’m surprised they can remember where they stand.

Of course, for all these people, the major problem is principles—they don’t appear to have any. One of the most insightful observations made by the old John McCain was that the Republican Party had lost its way by valuing power over principle. I do miss that guy.

It’s backwards, but it’s not unusual. Many people like Palin or Obama and want them to win (or dislike them and want them to lose). That judgment comes first, from the gut. After it’s made, political leaders and followers alike will twist their principles into any shape that supports the judgment they’ve already made. Yeah, you can insist that you’ve chosen your candidate because s/he so well represents your principles. Just excuse me if I start to laugh because I can remember what you used to claim your principles were.

That’s one of the great advances of modern politics. A politician can say one thing on Monday, reverse himself on Tuesday, even denying that he ever said any such thing, even though we have it on video. And nobody seems to much care.

Even if one has principles, sorting them out can be difficult. Take McDonalds. The home of the Big Mac used to be an easy target for left-wingers— low paid workers slinging beef that was harvested under non-PETA-approved conditions while making lots of money (never popular with the left) and peppering the American landscape with plastic cookie-cutter arch-laden temples.

Except that now the Golden Arches have crossed the political watchdog group AFA, who have accused Ronald McDonald of making too many friends with The Gays. Actually, the AFA, ever-improving their skills at press-release construction, has accused Micky D’s of “not remaining neutral in the culture wars.” This is a bit disingenuous as the AFA is not exactly noted for the clarion call to neutrality about the “homosexual agenda.”

But the AFA has deployed its political weapon of choice—a call for boycott, which means that tree-hugging vegan PETA fans are now stuck. Do they continue to avoid McD’s for all its alleged sins of the past, or do they break out some “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” bumper stickers and eat at McDonalds as a gesture of support?

At the very least, people who choose to eat or not eat at McD’s should probably fill out a form so that the poor corporate bigwigs have some idea of what kind of pressure each order of fries is meant to exert. Otherwise all of this economic posturing will be wasted. I picture some confused marketing suit poring over figures and emails and scratching his head. “I’m not sure, boss. I think the public wants us to set free all the gay cows.”

The pretzelicious twisting of principle creates many of these challenges. Will voters choose Palin because she has a uterus, will they run from Obama because he’s black, or will some stop to examine candidates’ policies and history? Will they do it with an open mind, or just look for justification for decisions already made? Do you want to make a statement, or are you just hungry for fries?


Dittman said...

You lost me at the end - why would PETA care about the "homosexual agenda"? You're not positing some sort of vast left wing conspiracy are you? :)

Peter A. Greene said...

As it turns out, I had accidentally posted a partial draft, and not the final one. Perhaps the whole thing will now make more sense (or perhaps not, but at least this is the version I meant to post).

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