Sunday, November 14, 2004

Lipman on Bush, pt. 2

The phenomenon of the traditionalist America helps explain the Republicans' success at this election (besides Bush's victory, they also improved their standing in both chambers of Congress) but America's success and its dominating position in the world are secured by other forces, of course.

Apart from the "Red Zone," there exist powerful centers of modern civilization on both coasts where the majority votes Democrat; let us not forget that Republican advantage on Nov. 2 was convincing but still not so great. Also, the pool of republican voters is not limited to those who believe the Devil really exists and "sodomites" will end up on the frying-pan. Big business is for Bush as before, and likely cares about tax breaks far more than fundamentalism Christian values.

Reproaching the Democrats for the loss, their critics point out how skillfully Republicans managed to attract to their cause the little "forgotten man" from provincial backwaters without losing the party's key support – the powerful corporate America, the efficient, globalized managerial elite; the top of the rich, with twice as many Republicans as Democrats; the educated class, among which Bush leads, too, except the most educated – those prompted by a wealth of knowledge and a breadth of worldview to turn to humanitarian issues and liberalism.

While Bush is smiling his silly-ish smile and talks to simple, provincial folks like one of their own, a huge machine and hordes of sophisticated, highly professional political pros are working for his campaign. They may reckon their souls cleaner than those of their Democratic counterparts, but their methods are far from simple-heartedness.

To compare our presidents, a simplified worldview and a straightforward idea of good and evil are the Russian one's way, too – although his looks are not at all silly-ish, and the lack of clear-eyed serenity (where could it come from in Russia?) suggests that Putin may be more capable of reflection than Bush.

But the principal difference lies elsewhere, of course. The Russian authorities place their bets not only on a simple worldview but on primitive methods of government.

Remove political pluralism; abolish political competition; get rid of unneeded elections; lock up charismatic persons – crude management techniques like these won't just fail to improve efficiency: the object of management can simply fall apart.

Democracy makes [the government] adjust itself to the voter, who often turns out stupid and fretful and absolutely refuses to put herself into the ruler's place and turns away from him at the slightest provocation. You can simply try to shove him into the corner and rule, paying no attention to the voter's silly preferences and wishes. But then the voter will pay back the ruler with distrust, disrespect – and the more insolent, with direct disobedience. But you can also proceed from the assumption that the human stock is certainly not of prime quality yet if one finds the right approach, select the right candidate for them and persuade them to make a choice you prefer – you may find the country easier to manage, even without reaching for the Gospel every minute but checking your actions with complicated calculations and deep analysis.

Modern methods of government – it goes without saying – are beyond the understanding of the mentally undeveloped minority [majority?] but it nonetheless feels that its rulers share its values and don't hold it for mere cattle, and that one can earn a decent life for oneself if one tries hard and lives by the law.

This is how the American political system works; both parties equally build on that. As the next election approaches, the Democrats will certainly fight the Republicans for this traditionalist voter. It's no problem that today, enlightened liberals upset by the electoral fiasco call traditionalists "the other America." The Democratic Party will do everything to make them recognize it as their own: they may quote Scriptures like mad or, with doubled assiduity, expose the hypocricy of Republicans who, deep in corporate scandals, keep harping about values while cutting taxes for moneybags. Or, perhaps, Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate will be more attractive than all these tricks. The first female President in US history is a simple and powerful argument both for both a New York liberal living in a same-sex marriage and a common church-going woman from Ohio.

Can people with these attitudes -- however excellent political values they proclaim to hold -- hope to win the hearts and minds of common Russians? Even though I have to agree with some -- perhaps most -- of the piece's claims when taken one by one, they all sum up to caricature and spin.

No use commenting much; the piece is self-explanatory. Just one side note: I respect Anatol Lieven and his opinions, and I am ready to accept as a working hypothesis that Americans are a bit naive philosophically (Americans last went through a war that was a national tragedy 150 years ago.) But what follows from this -- is there really room for ethical labeling? There is nothing wrong about innocence -- political, American or other -- and there is no proof that, in the long run, the solutions Europe chose will work.

4 comments:

Matt F said...

"Or, perhaps, Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate will be more attractive than all these tricks. "

Right. Of course. And Putin's successor will be an enormous, foppishly dressed tomcat named Behemoth.

When and if democracy flourishes in Russia, I hope Ms. Lipman is around to see it happen. She will certainly denounce the "false consciousness" of the Russian voter once she can no longer blame "primitive methods of government."

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