Page Two: Altered States

The new right's ever-loosening grip on reality

Page Two
An area of agreement between some of the Chronicle's most vitriolic letter writers and many of those on our editorial staff is, perhaps surprisingly, that the idealists have taken over the U.S. government, driving the more practiced and practical realists out. These utopian dreamers have substituted knee-jerk beliefs and ideologically dictated reports and analysis, as well as from-the-heart passions, for ruthless, real-world logic and good business practices. Little could be more dangerous to this country, the principles for which it stands, and the world than to have a government strategically driven in service of pedestrian, emotional responses rather than a more reasoned and rational approach.

The difference in this agreement may be in where one locates the center of this more irrational faction. Clearly, the new American right, especially the ideological blamers ("there are no real problems, only other people's corrupt ideals") and the fanatically loyal Bush camp followers, has let its dream-visions determine "reality," and its moorings are getting looser all the time.

"We are winning the war of terror, both in Iraq and by fighting there," their argument begins. "We can cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans, shifting the tax burden from wealth to earnings, and the economy will forever blossom. It does not matter what we spend today; it will be covered tomorrow (somehow). In order not to be dependent on foreign oil, we need to drill in Alaska, damn the environmentalists. Although most experts agree that this will have little effect on overall supply in the face of U.S. consumption or have much impact on prices at the pump, let's deplete this finite resource now. This will show the tree-hugging Democratic socialists. When we have almost no oil reserves to drill, we will not be dependent on foreign oil. Although the Bush administration cut funding for alternative sources of energy, offered tax breaks for some of the largest gas guzzlers, and won't consider fuel efficiency restrictions, we will have enough energy, as well as new sources when we need them."

Please, pass the hallucinogens! It's not that I want to share these visions, but I don't want to be around as these often almost clinically insane perceptions destroy the world, either. Especially as those hosting them, swathed in self-righteous self-satisfaction as though they are messiahs returned, strut around, taking no responsibility but always finding new enemies to blame.

In many ways, hypocrisy, demagoguery, and uninformed self-interest have always been dominant modes of American political discourse. But we are living in a true golden age of political dishonesty. Ideology, fantasy, pandering, and just outright lying don't simply outmaneuver hard numbers, social issues, and economic problems every time, but have actually exiled them from the discussion. Not to mention the skillful negation of the legitimate concerns and perspectives of not only all Americans, but of the rest of the world's population as well.

"The world is the way I want it to be, not the way it is," according to this point of view. "The problem is the liberals, who are always negative, hate the U.S., despise capitalism, and are spinning all the news, both at home and abroad, in the most dishonest partisan way. That and their liberal politics, of course."

Amazingly, this visionary movement shuns history; basic and advanced economics; the U.S. Constitution; philosophy; science; common, written, and accepted law; the balance of power; an independent judiciary; and the separation of church and state. Detail, rational argument, and logic are all the tools of the devil and secular humanists, used by liberals to try and obscure the Truth: certainty based on knowing.

"It doesn't take understanding the law and how it works to attack the judiciary and accuse judges of judicial activism!" is the counterargument – though it almost always seems as if such attacks have little to do with law, established precedent, and the U.S. Constitution, but instead just reflect the personal beliefs of the person laying the charge.

This stance holds that it takes no understanding of the Constitution, nor even direct reference to the Constitution itself, to make constitutionally based arguments.

In general, the argument continues, citizens require neither study, learning, nor specialized knowledge. Those things just confuse the issue. The clear way is to follow one's own common sense, bolstered, one would hope, by strong, ideologically conservative and/or religious beliefs. These beliefs are in and of themselves enough; one does not have to actually live by them or even understand them.

I guess that here at the Chronicle, we should be grateful for this development. Forget actual poll numbers, what people believe, real information, or careful research and fact-checking; the new right has fashioned its argumentative strategies around the standards of our own "Mr. Smarty Pants," whose column we have run for many years: A fact is a fact if it meets the basis for verification as determined by the Pants. As each column notes, "Mr. Smarty Pants gets his information from books, magazines, newspapers, the Internet, radio, and television. He also includes facts he has overheard at parties."

Real numbers, figures, and facts just get in the way of the "truth." For the new right, there are no expressions of genuine and honest differences of opinion, but only outright lying or something damn close. Now, take this letter about my "Page Two" on toll roads:

"Does the Chron now support a reformulation of democracy wherein a couple hundred professional politicians should rule against the wishes of the millions of proles who pay their salaries? Our 'public servants' have become our slave masters."

Unless I'm missing something obvious (always possible), this is exactly the kind of situation the founding fathers had in mind when they made this country a constitutional republic and not a democracy. Clearly, some of the framers were concerned with mob rule, so they made crucial to the functioning of the government any number of systems of checks and balances: three branches of federal power, each with specific responsibilities and each kept in step by controls provided to the other two, designed to create a government where the people had a voice, but some of the guidance was provided by those removed from immediate consequences.

The reason Supreme Court judges are appointed for life is so they will be loyal to the Constitution and not to a party, ideology, president, or even popular sentiment. Any griping against a Supreme Court decision because "most people don't feel that way" demonstrates neither love nor respect for the guiding principles of American government.

Senators serve for six years to create a situation in which politicians could place principle and the best interests of the country, if necessary, above popular opinion. This is the very reason this country is not a democracy but a democratic constitutional republic.

Now, it is certainly not just legitimate, but required, to question issues and offer opinions, even when unpopular. But the way these questions are too often posed makes it clear they are supposed to be answering themselves. As with the one above, stepping back from emotional sway, the reality is that they too often do. end story

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

right-wing ideology, new right, right wing, George W. Bush, Constitution, Supreme Court, activist judges, activist judiciary, checks and balances, toll roads Austin, Iraq war, environment Bush, Alaska drilling

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