All’s Quiet on the Election Front

One of the many blessings of living in a reliably Republican state is that every four years we’re spared the constant barrage of political advertising that afflicts those poor souls living in the so-called “swing states.” The commercial advertising that fills the void is the usual irritating noise, but at least none of the spots we’ve been subjected to have been approved by Barack Obama.
Momentous though it is, the presidential election is so barely detectable around here that a determinedly apolitical sort could almost manage to convince himself that it’s not happening at all. Plenty of yard signs shout at anyone who attempts a walk around our neighborhood, but most are for local races that inspire only mild passions. We have a Facebook friend we’re not sure we know who has lately been filling our e-mail with several missives a day extolling the wonder of Obama, but she’s the only one, and her enthusiasm seems a minor annoyance compared to the mass hysteria that swept through the social media last time around. Only the most politically avid of our actually friends and acquaintances even bring up the presidential election, and even those conversations are lately truncated by a lack of something new to say.
A local referendum to fluoridate the water supply seems to be the hottest issue in the city, judging by the proliferation of yard signs and the actual mail filling our actual mail box. There’s an unusually rancorous judicial race underway, with both incumbent and challenger airing nasty accusations during the talk radio schedule. A few other Republicans are also hitting the airwaves with regular advertisements, including the sure bet incumbent congressman who’s been touting his conservative bona fides and doesn’t even mention the sacrificial lamb challenger that not one voter in 100 in this district could even name.
These issues are important, of course, and we’ve given them what we consider the due diligence of a responsible. We’re all in for the incumbent congressman, who truly is a solid conservative and whose undistinguished and wildly liberal opponent is quite deserving of his anonymity. We’re inclined to the challenger in that judicial race, not because we believe her accusations but rather because the worst the incumbent has on her is that she only moved to Kansas five years ago and a poll of local lawyers gives him a higher approval rating; the newcomer thing is ordinarily a problem for us but because she’s a Republican we figure she’s more Kansan that the native, and the approval of local lawyers does not sway us. After some deliberation we’ve decided to vote against fluoridation, not because we believe that it poses a threat to our precious bodily fluids but because some of our fellow citizens clearly do not wish to drink fluoridated water and we require an extraordinarily good reason to force anybody to do something they don’t want to do.
Still, such nonchalance about the presidential race is disquieting. It can be dismissed as a result of the fact that all the campaigning is occurring elsewhere, or the near-certainty of how the state’s few electoral votes will be cast, or even the nervousness that both sides seem to feel, but it can’t be because the election isn’t of the gravest importance. The most comforting explanation is that people have already made up their minds, having given the matter four years of consideration already, and are simply too polite to roil a friendly conversation with serious politics, but we suspect that there’s a widespread apathy out there. Those who wish to divine some happy omen for Obama from this lack of fervor should know that it’s not complacency, not by a long shot, and at best it’s a very grudging acceptance of a desultory status quo and a resignation to a future of decline no matter the outcome of an election.
One can only imagine what this election season must be like in such targeted states as Ohio, and one shudders to do so. Surely there are people there who can look through all the ads and speeches and nakedly partisan press coverage to see the nation’s current sorry state, however, and here in the deep red territory we can only hope they make it to the polls in time.

— Bud Norman

Left Goes Right, Right Goes Left

At some point in the last fifty years or so everyone in America seems to have switched sides.

The notion occurred to us during a recent conversation with an old friend about fluoridating the local water supply. Fluoridation of the water supply has lately been a hot topic here in Wichita because this is one of the biggest cities in America that doesn’t do it, and a couple of public advocacy groups have recently launched a well-financed public relations campaign to rectify that oversight. So far as we can tell the pro-fluoridation forces are the usual gang of high-minded public health do-gooders, but we’ve been surprised to notice that most of the opposition to fluoridation, once a cause associated exclusively with far right wackos, seems to be coming from far left wackos such as our friend. We have no strong opinions regarding the issue, and will continue to drink from the taps regardless of the outcome of the debate, but we couldn’t restrain ourselves from teasing our friend about how she’s gone all John Birch Society on us and then taunting her with our best imitation of Sterling Hayden’s “precious bodily fluids” monologue from “Dr. Strangelove.”

Fluoridation is by no means the only issue where the right and left seem to have simultaneously crossed over to a new position. We’re also old enough to remember a time when the defense of Israel was a cause dear only to the hearts of liberals, with Hollywood’s lefties churning out such pro-Israel fare as “Exodus” and “Cast a Giant Shadow,” while conservatives were skeptical of the chances that a Jewish state could ever flourish in the Middle East. The young lefties of our acquaintance are largely unaware that this was ever the case, and indeed most have been surprised to learn that a liberal icon such as Robert Kennedy was killed by a Palestinian assassin because of his staunch support of Israel, while even the rare young conservative typically assumes that his side has been supporting Israel all along.

The liberal enthusiasm for Israel seems to have begun to wane around the same time that nation realized its survival depended on the sort of high-tech military that only a modern and capitalist economy can sustain, and gave up its fantasy of an agrarian socialist kibbutz society. We also suspect that one casualty of the war of ’67 was Israel’s status as an underdog, and that ever since the bomb-throwing Palestinians have had a more compelling claim to the all-important status of victim. The growing conservative support for Israel is likely a consequence of the Catholic Church’s sincere efforts to atone for its past anti-Semitism and the evangelicals’ increasing philo-Semitism, both positive developments as far as we’re concerned, as well as the common sense observation that Judaism is by no means the most troublesome of the religions that have come out of the Middle East.

Anyone old enough to have witnessed the hippie era will recall the left’s former aversion to law enforcement, better known by such slang as “pigs” and “the fuzz,” and will therefore be surprised to note that it is now conservative organizations that most outspokenly oppose “no knock raids” and efforts to outlaw self-defense against rogue police officers. Free speech was once a rallying cry of the left, which now spends its energy crafting campus speech codes and efforts to outlaw anything that might be construed as hateful, but the now the First Amendment absolutists are found almost exclusively on the right. The “individual mandate” requirement that Americans purchase health insurance originated in such conservative think tanks as The Heritage Foundation but become a conviction of the left, which has lately stopped trying to argue that the uninsured are hapless victims and has reverted to the conservative’s more persuasive argument that the uninsured are lazy freeloaders, while conservatives have now adopted the view that they simply want to be left alone to deal with the consequences of their own decisions.

Even such fundamental concepts as individualism and the common good seem to have found new homes along the ideological spectrum. The counter-cultural left once preached the gospel of doing one’s own thing and rebelling against the stifling conformity of conventional wisdom, but now it cheers on a president who explicitly argues that the credit for an individual’s success belong entirely to the collective and that the fruits of that success belong mostly to his government, while the right is waving Gadsden flags and arguing for the primacy of the individual no matter how crude he might seem to respectable opinion.

Such shifts can be expected every time there is a change of party in the White House and Congress, of course. The liberals who were once so ashamed by a war in Afghanistan, a detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, and drone strikes in Pakistan are now predictably silent about the same moral offenses, while conservatives remain ideologically consistent but not nearly so proud and enthusiastic as they were during a previous administration. The legal validity of executive privilege has similarly changed with a change of party in the White House. Since Obama’s inauguration we have noticed that the “Question Authority” bumper stickers have disappeared from the Volvos and VWs and started to appear on pickups.

Such inconsistencies are a normal and thus far tolerable feature of democracy, but the recent realignments seem to represent a more permanent tectonic shift in the cultural and political landscape of the country. The “long march through the institutions” that ‘60s radical Antonio Gramsci envisioned to take control of academia, the entertainment media, seminaries, and other key opinion-making institutions has largely succeeded, and the liberals are obliged to defend it no matter the consequences. Liberals are also in the position of defending the political structures that have been erected since the New Deal, no matter the unsustainable costs of their entitlements, and the unionized police forces seem willing to help in the cause.

So liberalism is now the ideology of the status quo, the conservatives are the anti-establishment iconoclasts, and the lefty peaceniks are the ones worried about their precious bodily fluids. It’s all quite discombobulating, but that’s what we get for living so long.

— Bud Norman