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2008: A Turning Point In Political Absolutism?

I have no problem with other people’s marriages. In fact, I’m in favor of expanding the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. All too often, those who venture into the topic, do so with a religious construct and no doubt the associated bias…the morality mindset, if you will. In that regard, recent elections (the George W. Bush era) have had the notion of marriage as a central issue…one used to motivate voters…one that was arguably successful; at least until the 2006 election.

Every now and again, real life events serve to illuminate some of the inconsistenc y that exists in morality…a n inevitabilit y which I attribute to the fact that the absolute nature of religious doctrine and the even more absolute need for it to remain unchallenged is undoubtedly in conflict with the human condition. When such circumstance s arise, I’m always fascinated to watch the dance of the doctrinaires …the process whereby inconsistenc y must be explained and/or extinguished . How that takes place, in my opinion, simply highlights the fact that politics is integral to doctrine…m eaning doctrine is frequently manipulated to fit the reality of our flawed and fragile human identity.

The 2008 presidential election appears to possess many of the elements mentioned above…part icularly with regard to the GOP candidates (though by no means exclusively) . Keep in mind that Karl Rove, in conjunction with his long-time political pony, George Bush, upon which the GOP brain trust sought to complete its journey to insurmountab le power and dominance, believed that a coalition built on morally charged ideology…b lack and white…good versus evil…was the political equivalent of the Holy Grail (no pun intended).

The 2006 midterm election exposed the numerous weak links in the strategy…d espite Rove’s assertion that “his” numbers would prevail and that speculation of a GOP defeat wouldn’t materialize. As we know, Rove was wrong and now less than two years before the election of our next president; the GOP must build a strategy…o ne that for the most part will have to be built from scratch. The coalition that brought George Bush and the GOP to power in 2000 is nary a shell of its former self.

Jumping forward to the current stable of GOP candidates, one can begin to expound on the inconsistenc y that exists, that may have to be explained or extinguished  , and that may well force those predisposed to absolutist rhetoric into morally challenged contortions.

I contend that this quandary was inevitable. Group-think is powerful so long as the group has power and they needn’t employ that much thinking. See religion for a time-tested historical example. See the actions of followers of the Catholic Church with regard to its position on contraceptio n for an understandin g of how time and thought undermine power and authority. Further, if religious doctrine isn’t strong enough to keep the flock in tow, why would anyone think that any one political strategy could hope to exert as much or more sustained influence over voters?

In other words, the GOP mantra of god, guns, and gays could not and will not suffice in 2008 in light of the changing terrain and the proof can be found in the candidates vying for the GOP nomination. Not only have voter priorities diverged, the attributes found in the candidates are far different from that which was found in the successful marketing of a malleable George W. Bush.

Unfortunatel y for George Bush and the GOP, six and a half years into the Rove advertising campaign, the least common denominators approach has left the vast majority of GOP voters wanting more…and it leaves them struggling to identify a candidate that they can support. The glisten of a manufactured candidate with a tight message aimed to mollify the moral imperatives of the matching mindset masses (the group-think gang) has lost its luster. Even if one assumes that a “canned” successor candidate could be created, the sales job would have to be far more intensive and able to overcome a skepticism that may be all too severe.

Additional reasons for doubt are abundant. There exists a very unpopular war in Iraq; the GOP is divided on how to handle the immigration issue; the fiscal standards of conservatism have seemingly evaporated, and the sting of 2006 is far too fresh in the minds of GOP voters. In other words, the dynamics necessary for an overarching coalition premised on moral platitudes is unlikely attainable; other factors have sullied and overwhelmed the equation.

The miscalculati on of absolutism arises when the group-think strategy wins over those in the center…ind ependent minded individuals which have an affinity for the moral message and few other issues upon which they are focused. When this happens, the absolutist (in this case the GOP hierarchy), ever looking for absolute reinforcemen t presumes that the moral imperative has been affirmed and therefore stands now and forever head and shoulders above all other issues. The assumption is that power has been attained and its nature is absolute. Ironically, the assumption by the absolutists is therefore flawed.

In the rush to identify and promote the moral equation for victory, the equal or more relevant realities that may have waned for the moment still exist; lying dormant but poised to resurface under changing circumstance s. When they do resurface, the absolutist equation becomes irrelevant.

Look at who was anticipated to be the GOP frontrunners prior to the 2006 election and then look at the GOP candidates for 2008. The list has been repopulated by candidates that meet a changing dynamic and that no longer fit the moral absolutist model of candidate selection. Gone are George Allen, Bill Frist, and Rick Santorum…m oralists by most measures and in keeping with the Rove/Bush model.

In their place are Mitt Romney, Rudi, Giuliani, John McCain, and Fred Thompson…a ll hybrids of one form or another…al l relatively insufficient for the absolutists within the party yet more appealing to the independents that had previously embraced the ascension of more extreme ideologues in the absence of other issues.

Romney, a Mormon with the Massachusett s Governorship in his resume, has sought to recast some of his more liberal positions to hold the absolutists while still maintaining appeal with the centrists. At the same time, he likely possesses more of the moral components that are frequently espoused by the ideologues one marriage, devoutly religious, and now opposed to gay marriage and abortion. Unfortunatel y, a number of Christians have questioned his religious credentials based upon his Mormonism… suggesting it may not actually be a Christian faith. He’s a mixed bag at best.

Rudi Giuliani is perhaps the least congruent with the prior equation. He is currently on his third marriage with a history of infidelity, supportive of gay rights and pro-choice with regards to abortion and a Catholic from the liberal Northeast. In his favor are his history with 9/11 and the perception that he would be strong on defense and the war on terror. Nonetheless, he would be a real stretch for the absolutists.

John McCain, a maverick by description, attempted to position himself as the Bush successor by shifting to the right and making nice with evangelicals . Notwithstand ing, his two marriages and his nuanced positions on abortion and gay rights make him suspect for the absolutists. Factor in his strong support for the Iraq war and his ability to attract the independents virtually evaporates. He’s undoubtedly a tough sell.

Alas we come to the darling of the moment, Fred Thompson. Thompson, whether by design or happenstance  , has avoided the intense scrutiny that comes with an actual candidacy. If one concludes it is by design, consider the calculations . Let’s assume that Thompson has identified the very shift I’ve noted along with the realization that the GOP needs to build a strategy from the ground up.

First, allowing the GOP voter the opportunity to cut their proverbial teeth on the crop of existing candidates candidates who all posses a number of handicapping attributes that hurt their appeal with the intense partisans (generally made up of the absolutists) …provides a subsequent opening for the next best alternative. A late entrance with hopefully fewer negatives… or at least less vetted ones…would be a prudent demonstratio n of political acumen. In our new is better society, Thompson stands to appeal to a GOP voting block that will potentially, by the time he is fully in, have grown weary with unsatisfying candidates who are far too weak on the absolute quotient.

Notwithstand ing, Thompson is by no means a shoo-in. If the recently accelerating scrutiny is indicative of what is to come, the road to the nomination will be a bumpy ride. The most recent assertion that Thompson worked for a pro-life organization certainly throws a few more stones in the road. Further, Thompson, like McCain and Giuliani has been divorced and his much younger “trophy wife” has begun to raise some morally engaged eyebrows.

Nonetheless, one might be safe to view Thompson as the nearest thing to an acceptably manufactured commodity… cut out of the actor’s mold that served Ronald Reagan and possessing the same affable, though perhaps more measured charm…whic h leads me to some relevant observations .

When one thinks of the conservative evangelical movement that has come to prominence under the direction of Karl Rove and George Bush, one can’t help but recall a few key events which demonstrated the absolutist mindset. Two stand out for me.

One was the Terri Schiavo matter wherein evangelicals made her situation a touchstone event and demanded and received the highest order of intervention by Congress and the President.

The second was the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court…a nomination that originated with all the certainty expected of a George Bush decision and ended miserably when the fully flagellated candidate fled with her tail between her legs under the intense pressure of establishmen t conservative s’ intent on shifting the courts disposition hard right.

In retrospect, moral relevance was routinely rejected in favor of absolutist adherence. As we approach 2008, I can’t help but grin at the prospect that many of these dogmatic ideologues may well be forced to cast a corrupted vote…a lesser evil selection as opposed to the much preferred take no prisoners mentality…if you will.

In the ultimate irony, should Fred Thompson be the selection, it will, in my opinion, affirm my belief that moral absolutists when pressed to the wall…aband on principle in a demonstratio n that they too share the very trait that they so often assail…the one that suggests that little in the lives of we humans is absolute.

While they frequently seek to impose absolute beliefs upon the remainder of us…and scornfully judge the worthiness and moral turpitude of those who resist their strict interpretati ons (frequently driven by their requirement for a literal Biblical interpretati on)…they may well grant themselves an exception to their high minded dogma in 2008 when they deem it appropriate or necessary… despite their endless protestation s when others have suggested the relevant reasonabilit y of such actions.

While many in the GOP have called Thompson the newest iteration of Ronald Reagan, I would suggest that should that characteriza tion facilitate his nomination it would be more about packaging than about substance. Then again, in the absence of authenticity …coupled with a suspension of all or nothing etiquette, an accomplished actor may be the next best thing for the compromised absolutist psyche.

Call me a critical cynic, but in my thinking, nothing undermines dogma and invalidates the rhetoric of absolutism better than run of the mill hypocrisy. My antennae are keenly adjusted for an abomination an arbitrary event of ethical relativism. I’m still debating if that eventuality would make for an acceptable marriage?

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

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One Response to “2008: A Turning Point In Political Absolutism?”

  1. In our covert investigatio n conducted at Victory Christian Center (VCC) in Austin, TX, we collected mounting evidence of how the Republican political strategy is employed from the Bush/Rove White House on down to their base of conservative Evangelical churches.

    David Barton, Vice-chairma n of the Texas GOP and founder of an organization called Wallbuilders  , was invited to be the guest speaker at both of VCC’s Sunday morning worship services on August 20, 2006. According to Pastor Lee Boss’ introduction of David Barton to the congregation  , he’s “been used by God to touch more elected officials in this nation over any other organization .” Armed with old-time bibles, a swanky PowerPoint presentation  , and much jibber-jabbe r, Barton mobilizes the Evangelical Christians to the polls by replacing the word “voting” with “stewardship ”. He concludes by telling us that Republican political candidates are the obvious choice in our stewardship if we are concerned with biblical issues.

    Karl Rove understands the conservative Evangelical voices are a powerful and very well organized tax exempt, money making machine for the Republican party. As long as these Evangelical church leaders have an insatiable appetite for power and influence, Rove will continue to use them to succeed on his mission of establishing a permanent Republican majority. Watch how all the Republican Presidential candidates are scrambling in a tizzy to court the Evangelical  / Religious Right vote. It’s funny to see the conservative s salivating at the bit, waiting for the next self-righteo us politician with the right outside package that they can rally behind. Ever notice how the GOP have to beat up on a minority group of people in order to rally their base? How Christian or Christ-like is that?

    FaithoftheAb m

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