Posted in Rants on September 29th, 2010 by Ed

Don't ask me how, but I managed to get my hands on a copy of the first draft of the much-publicized and wildly popular GOP Pledge to America. I know, I know, you've already read the final draft dozens, perhaps hundreds of times. But I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the raw ideas straight from the mouths of revolutionaries and before the slick marketing people polished off all of the rough edges (Some of this stuff is too real for the American people to handle, obviously). Since the actual Pledge is almost 50 pages long, I can't go through the whole draft here but I can share the overview. Pretty interesting stuff:

We Pledge…to write a document so long that you will not actually read it. At 48 pages we fully understand that this is 47 pages beyond the attention span of our target audience. Hell, the average Family Circus panel is a little overwhelming to the kind of voter we expect to be persuaded by this cloying, viscous garbage. We will gin up the introduction with the most insipid fluff** we can copy from Mitch McConnell's campaign brochures so that the rare person who decides to try reading this will be glazed over and daydreaming by the third paragraph. Our goal is to get our base to treat this the same way they treat the Bible and the Constitution – don't read it, just agree with it vociferously.

We Pledge…to continue fighting the Cold War until it is over and victory has been achieved. Missile defense? It's in there. We won't let Ivan slip one past our radar. We're relying pretty heavily on the 55-and-over crowd this November, so it was either Missile Defense (which doesn't even work) or something about Matlock. This made more sense because, I guess, conceivably in 20 or 30 years Iran could build an ICBM.

We Pledge…to take advantage of your short memories to cover our naked hypocrisy. You people are like fruit flies, so we can say things like "We promise to read every bill before voting" and rest assured that you won't remember the Patriot Act and stuff like that. Ditto "We will adhere to the Constitution" which will make good use of that black hole in your memories between 2000 and 2008. On that note…

We Pledge…to re-hash a bunch old, stale ideas and hope you won't notice. Tax cuts! Reducing spending! Smaller government! Yeah, it's pretty much the Contract with America. Or our talking points for the last 75 years. Or the same shit we said for the 12 years we were in power. Which dovetails nicely into our next point…

We Pledge…to make a bunch of promises we haven't the slightest intention of keeping. We're gonna reduce the size of the Federal government this time, we swear! We're totally going to cut the budget, honest Injun! We're going to respect the rules and procedures of Congress and treat the minority party respectfully.

We Pledge…to slip in a few of our donors' pet causes even though they have nothing to do with the goals we lay out in the document. If we promise like 50 different things, what are the odds anyone will notice "malpractice reform" and "prohibit taxpayer funding of abortion" (which doesn't even exist! But don't tell our base!) among all the nonsense? I think "card check" is in there somewhere too, but it was like 5:45 AM when we finished so I don't remember. Seriously, the sun was coming up and I was all like "Let's go get some IHOP" to Jim DeMint and Bob Corker.

We Pledge…to strain credulity to the breaking point and beyond. We will say things like "We will fight efforts to use a national crisis for political gain" with a straight face so that every sentient person who reads this thing will be like "Holy balls. Are they fucking serious? I mean, is this like a real thing or The Onion?" Honestly we're just having some fun with you in the last few pages. But it all sounds enough like stuff we might say in earnest that the media will be perplexed. Is this satire? We won't tell!!

We Pledge…to get a week's worth of free advertising out of this mind-blowingly uninteresting shit. There's not a single new idea here, but what is the media going to do, ignore it and let us go into hysterics about "liberal bias"? Despite the fact that the uncritical media coverage will essentially be free advertising for our candidates, we know that the networks will run with this stale nonsense in the interest of "fairness" and objectivity.

And most of all…We Pledge…to laugh our asses off it this works. Come on, people! We're not even trying anymore! This took about six hours and zero dollars to put together, and most of the six hours was waiting while Dick Armey made the cover – He was all like "Dude I know Photoshop" but it was obvious that he had never really used it, and then we wasted about an hour looking for that Olde Tyme Constitution-lookin' font. But it was totally worth it, because the cover looks sweet…and that's the most important part.

**"America is more than a country. America is an idea – an idea that free people can govern themselves…America is the belief that any man or woman can – given economic, political, and religious liberty – advance themselves, their families, and the common good. America is an inspiration to those who yearn to be free and have the ability and the dignity to determine their own destiny."


Posted in Rants on September 29th, 2010 by Ed

I once heard Noam Chomsky make a funny and somewhat prescient point during a radio show – it may also appear in his books, but I'm not sure – about American intelligence. He said that he firmly believed that Americans have the mental capacity to understand politics, inequality, the media, and all of the various and sundry problems of contemporary America. His evidence, he noted half-humorously, was AM radio sports talk call-in shows. He noted that people who probably cannot name their Congressman or describe what the 1st Amendment says can easily rattle off facts with amazing detail about the 1985 Bears or the batting averages of the 1961 Yankees. In other words, we are not dumb but our priorities are badly out of whack. We know a lot about things that are irrelevant and we spend our available time educating ourselves about frivolous things – sports, TV shows, celebrity gossip, and so on.

For many years I felt like this anecdote summed up our problems quite nicely, so much so that I referenced it in class more than once. We have a world of information at our fingertips and we choose to spend hours on Facebook or staring at LOLcats. We have libraries full of free books and we would rather watch TV. We could watch the news but instead we watch When Animals Attack 5. Over time, though, the more I thought about his quote the less true it sounded. As a devoted sports fan and one-time writer for an online sports forum, I have more than enough direct experience to contradict his suggestion about sports fans. Go ahead and browse an online comment section for your favorite sport, especially if it is something low-brow like soccer or football. The overwhelming majority of what is said makes absolutely no sense. Most of it is worse than YouTube comments. Likewise, those sports call-in shows do not prove anything like what ol' Noam suggests. Facts are either recited incorrectly, distorted, or ignored altogether. Arguments are incoherent, childish, and bilious. In short, it isn't a bunch of people devoting their non-negligible intellectual skills to a topic of little relevance. It's just a bunch of retards screaming, fueled by anger and entirely uninterested in making sense. It would be bad enough if Chomsky was right and we all understood sports but not politics; the sad reality is that we don't know jack shit about either. That guy who can't explain why he hates Barack Obama is not the slightest bit better able to explain why he hates Brett Favre or the commissioner of Major League Baseball.

It is highly likely that in the past few days you have been forwarded a link to a Pew survey establishing how little Americans know about religion. The media and smug types like us love these surveys because they make us feel superior and they confirm what we already believe about the world around us. "Ha ha! Can you believe that 35% of adults can't name (the Vice President / which party controls Congress / the religion of the Pope or Dalai Lama / etc)!" In the recent Pew survey, people who claim to be Catholics can't explain basic dogma – like, the kind of stuff 8 year-olds learn in Sunday School – and Protestants can't pick Martin Luther out of three choices when asked to identify the leader of the Reformation. So that person you know at work or in the neighborhood who can't make a rational argument about anything social or political but is obviously quite religious…well, there's a decent chance that he or she sounds every bit as stupid talking about religion.

Concurrently, Matt Taibbi dropped his Tea Party piece over at Rolling Stone, focusing heavily on how his subjects are utterly incapable of processing the most basic information that contradicts their rage- and fear-driven worldview. You can't explain to them that there are no Death Panels, that white Christian men are not an oppressed minority, and that a person who works for the government and has a wife on Medicare should not be publicly protesting "the out of control welfare state." They stare back as though they have been bonked over the head by a cartoon mallet, the glass-eyed, empty look of a person who, at the most basic and insurmountable level, simply does not get it. It is the look of a person totally incapable of processing the notion that something he or she believes might be incorrect.

The real issue, and I mean the real, honest-to-god Problem With The World Today, is that Americans as a nation are dumb. Really fucking dumb. The Pew survey, the Tea Party, or the afternoon baseball call-in show on WFAN underscore the point that Americans will fail a quiz about any topic you can throw at them. Americans will make crappy, emotional, illogical arguments about whatever subject holds their interest, from the Supreme Court to the World Cup. We have systematically devalued and dismantled education in this country to the point that the Japanese, Europeans, and so on aren't just beating us at math and science. They can beat us at essentially anything, because most of us can't comprehend things we read, retain simple facts, or construct an argument that adheres to the basic rules of logic. We are ignorant of the past, the present, and even our own professed belief systems. We often bemoan apathy, our national lack of desire to understand the government, law, economy, or politics. But the problem is not simply that we don't want to know; if our slipshod grasp of the few things in which we do profess an interest are any indication, we wouldn't get it even if we tried.