Web Search nikon coolpix digital cameras The Miserable Annals of the Earth: Taboos

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Taboos

Over here, the Carpetbagger Report provides a partial list of all the Republicans and conservatives currently piling on Speaker of the House Denny Hastert over the Foley Pretty Pages scandal.

Over here, a commenter on Roy Edroso’s blog named KPatrick laments:

”What's sick is that this -- not stealing an election in 2000, not fucking up pre-9/11, not fucking up post-9/11, not the colossal waste of life and limb entialed in the War To Re-Elect The President (sometimes called Operation Iraqi Freedom), not needless abrogations of civil rights, not the manipulation of science, not the bullying of weaker kids that we see on cultural issues -- THIS might be what finally persuades the moderates, or Reagan Democrats or soccer moms or security moms or whoeverthefuck that the Republican party isn't helping right now. Thank God we finally caught one with his pants down, even if only metaphorically; experience has shown that however great overt mendacity and incompetence might be as issues in an election, you can't really persuade America against someone until they do something untoward with their wing-wang.

KPatrick, like most people regardless of their position on the political spectrum, misses the point. Yeah, to one of his tribe (my tribe, too) it does seem ‘sick’ that the conservative base has pretty consistently ignored the current Administration’s ongoing assault on American civil liberties, their persecution of science and aggrandizement of superstitious ignorance in its place, and a completely unnecessary and immoral war of aggression.

What he is failing to grasp, however, is that those conservatives are all in a different tribe from him (and me). And tribes only get upset when they catch someone violating the taboos of their tribe. They couldn’t care less about violations of another’s tribes’ taboos.

This is one of the biggest disconnects between right and left wing. And it works both ways. The left wing honestly does not understand the very real, very sincere, very vehement outrage that their opposite numbers felt when Bill Clinton was caught having sex with an intern in the Oval Office, lied about it under oath, and somehow, managed to remain President despite all that. As far as the conservatives in our country were concerned, this was an egregious violation of the trust of office, and, yes, certainly, the leadership of the opposing party pushed the issue as far as they possibly could for political gain, but, still… the firestorm of outrage on the right over Clinton’s misbehavior, and especially, at the lack of outrage on the left over a President being caught committing adultery in the Oval Office, was very real.

What I said at the time is still true – had Clinton been a Republican President, the Lewinsky scandal would have destroyed him. But as Clinton was (nominally) a Democrat, and therefore, of the left, he managed to survive, because a sex scandal did not alienate his base.

In a country as exactly divided as America is between left and right, the only way an elected incumbent will lose their job over a scandal is if the scandal infuriates or enrages their base in such a way as to cause that base to withdraw their support.

Or, to put it another way, a politician in our country has to do something that violates the taboos of his or her tribe. If he or she loses the support of their tribe, they are done, because certainly, they aren’t going to get any support from the opposing tribe.

This is what most people just don’t get – that behavior which offends one ‘tribe’ will not necessarily offend another. For example, Republican politicians can pretty much be as authoritarian as they want to, as long as they say they have a reason for doing so that is acceptable to their conservative base. Conservative people strongly believe in duty and sacrifice and that the good of the many (in this case, the nation) outweighs the good of the few (or the one). Tell them that you’re creating free speech zones and setting up detainment camps on American soil for the indefinite incarceration and vigorous interrogation of terrorists and enemy combatants, and they’re fine with it, because they’ve been told that this is wartime, and in times of war, you have to do things you wouldn’t do in peacetime. Conservatives want to trust their leaders at all times, and tend to let ‘political’ issues pass on over them. Politics is something for wiser heads to worry about.

The liberal tribe, on the other hand, tends to care deeply about political issues and regard moral transgressions as being private and personal, as long as those transgressions do not effect the surrounding social matrix.

This essential dichotomy derives from a difference in the basis of the two tribes’ morality. Where liberals tend to be, for the most part, secular humanists, conservatives regard codes of right and wrong to be something handed down from on high. Or, to put it another way, liberals tend to judge actions by the consequences that those actions have on other human beings. Conservatives, on the other hand, judge individual behavior on the basis of whether or not they believe this behavior offends the Deity they worship.

Obviously, this is an essential difference in cultural viewpoints that is largely irreconcilable. Actions that will seem completely unacceptable to a liberal, due to their consequent price in human misery, may seem perfectly proper to a conservative, if they are convinced that God either doesn’t care, or, in fact, approves of these actions. Similarly, behavior which will mortally offend a conservative, such as a politician committing adultery and then lying about it when confronted on the issue, may well get little more than a collective shrug from a liberal.

So it is that while one ‘tribe’ looks at what the Bush Administration has done to date in the last four years and sees an unending authoritarian nightmare of corruption and ineptness, the other tribe sees an earnest campaign to restore honor to a badly besmirched Presidential office, and to place the United States back amongst the forefront of nations on Earth using military force, while restoring America’s status as a decent God fearing nation of basic, eternal Christian values.

Once again, for an American politician in today’s very polarized political climate to be in danger of losing his job, he or she has to alienate his base. Pretty much anyone elected to office in America today will, by necessity, be disliked by the opposite voter base; as long as he or she keeps their core supporters intact, though, they can ride out any scandals they may get involved in. When they lose their base, though, they’re in trouble.

This is why left wing politicians have to largely avoid breaking the law and committing acts that do great harm to others for no valid reason that their left wing base can accept. Right wing politicians largely have to adhere to the strict, Old Testament codes of right and wrong, and especially, sexual propriety, that their supporters believe are mandated by God.

And this is why the Foley Pretty Pages scandal is something that the Republicans are desperately trying to distance themselves from. It’s a catastrophe of epic proportion for them, a Biblical cataclysm, if you will, because it is exactly the kind of truly horrific sexual scandal that offends the conservative core support base the most – in fact, it’s hard to sort out just what is going to offend the hard core Republican rank and file more; the fact that Foley was a sexual predator targeting teenagers under his supervision, or that the teenagers he targeted were male. Either is repugnant to his support base, though.

Worse than this, though, is that this is a scandal that offends everyone; nobody can simply shrug off the idea that a powerful member of the House of Representatives has been using his position to stalk and seduce teenagers, regardless of what gender they are, for over a decade. Worst of all, it’s simply inconceivable that such a person could operate for so long without the knowing connivance of his own party’s leadership, and in fact, given that it’s now known that succeeding classes of pages have been explicitly but selectively warned about Foley’s predations for the past ten years by that leadership, well, it’s simply impossible to cover this up. For a decade, the Republican Party has known about a sexual predator stalking teenagers while actively serving in Congress, and has done nothing about it, for fear of the scandal that might lessen their own political power.

This isn’t acceptable to anyone – in fact, it’s horrifying – but it is especially disgusting to the core conservative base the Republican Party relies on for its continuing mandate.

This is why now, finally and at long last, a scandal has emerged that threatens to actually take down this strongly entrenched Republican political machine. This is a scandal that their base deeply cares about, that they cannot somehow spin to blame the Democrats for (although they’re trying desperately). This is a spectacular failure on the part of their leadership to safeguard the children of America, which is something that conservatives not only claim to care about, but that they actually do care about, deeply. In fact, it’s something that everybody cares about, so, again, it’s not something that can be played off against the Democrats. There is simply no way this can be spun as anything but a Republican scandal, and it’s one that involves the entire Republican leadership of the House of Representatives.

Now, what I’m worried about is, having handed the Democrats this kind of gift, exactly what sort of October Surprise are Rove and Cheney, et al, going to have to come up with to push this off the national political radar scope?

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