There is an excellent piece in The Nation this week by Win McCormack titled "Deconstructing the Election."
His argument, in a nutshell, is: (1) French philosophers Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida say there are no fixed meanings, only spin, and those with the power control the spin. (2) Conservative writers such as Lynne Cheney and Dinesh D'Souza say these ideas are a threat to the Republic and our way of life. (3) By asserting, during the recent election standoff, that machine counts were superior to hand counts and that judges could not be trusted not to vote their party affiliation, James Baker essentially argued that there is no meaning, only spin. (4) Therefore, by the Republicans' own logic, Baker (and his boss) are a threat to the Republic and our way of life. Working within this framework, McCormack gives a good recap of the GOP's ruthless power-grab during the standoff.
as with the "rule of law" farce, the spin that conservatives dont spin is ludicrous and even more cynical than those who have been made cynical by the lure of subjectivity. conservatives say these things primarily because they are cynical and self serving but also because it fits nicely into their worldview. if there are no absolute truths, how can "my way" be the right way? as a wise man once said (ok, it was me and by wise, of course, i mean, wiseass) "i doubt, therefore, i am not." lynne cheney and her ilk are not filled with doubt, only a lust for power.
The term "spin" came into common parlance during the Reagan era: one of the Gipper's cabinet members or advisers (Weinberger? I can't recall) bragged about exercising "spin control" to give maximum effect to White House pronouncements. Of course, the Clintonistas were also masters of this. Manipulation of public opinion is pretty well ingrained in the political process these days; as you suggest, the difference between left-wing intellectuals and right-wing intellectuals is that the left worries out loud that spin might be lying, while the right characterizes its own bullshit as absolute truth.
In the end, I really don't care for this article much. I guess it's clever, but its insincerity is not much better than what it critiques. There are some philosophical arguments here of real import, but McCormack just uses deconstruction (for want of a better term for what is really a range of modern and post-modern thought) as a lash to whip the right with, and then says "well, I don't really believe in it either". Any time someone says the other guy is a big hypocrite, but my side's aim is true, it raises a red flag with me. We don't need high fallutin' philosophy to reveal the venality of politicians. There's a perfectly good populist understanding of the problem, and it goes back a lot farther than modernism. To flog someone with a theory you don't believe in is irresponsible. I'd rather hear him stick up for the "truth" that both sides supposedly embrace. I really don't believe that the Republicans "cheated", or "stole" anything: they just acted the way politicians will act, (albeit in a more extreme situation than we usually get to see them in), and they had certain logistical advantages that allowed them to outflank the enemy. Notice how we've moved into military terminology, just as the decon critique suggests?
Thanks for your post, Alex. You make some very good arguments, and I agree with much of what you say. My lingering "issues" are as follows:
1. I do believe the Republicans cheated and stole the election. The race was essentially a tie, and, as you suggest, the votes that would tip the scale one way or the other were smaller than the margin of error. While the left retreated into navel-gazing over this mind-boggling improbability, the right yelled and shoved its way into office.
2. McCormack could be
"flogg[ing the right] with a theory he doesn't believe in," or demonstrating precisely why he doesn't agree with the theory: as applied by the left, it lets the right off the hook for lying.
3. I'm sure Lynne Cheney and Dinesh D'Souza think Werner Heisenberg is a decadent commie, too.
Me mum mailed me the following clipping from from The Dallas Morning News 3/16/01 by Washington Post writer E.J.Dionne. (Not a new notion, but still a sound one.)
This writer seems to be saying that Bush is smart. I think Bush, like Reagan, is basically an animatronics puppet for the right, and as such, only has to be "smart enough." With a 70 million dollar war chest and plenty of bright schemers behind him, the main thing he had to do to get elected was hold his head properly and look deeply into the camera, convincing Mr. and Mrs. Average American that he was a Nice Guy (and not fuck up too much, like Quayle did). Now that's he in, the people behind him are working the levers like mad--paying off his rich backers, jump-starting the oil industry, getting women back in the kitchen, and delivering homeless drug abusers into the arms of Jesus. It's people who believed he was a moderate who are the real "dumbskulls."
Yes, "only as smart as he needs to be" and "pay no attention to those men behind the curtain." The writer only casts his net on underestimating "W", not "TEAM BUSH."
i dont see what difference the recount numbers make at this point. [Please note that as you were writing this, I revised my last post to take out that optimistic reference --Tom]. both sides will spin their povs but the shrub still has the nuclear codes and the rest of the power. maybe it will motivate the democratic base for the mid-term elections in 2002 but otherwise it will have no other effect than to encourage democrats to shake their fists at the wind. speaking of demos, they are still bashing ralph nader. on abcs "this week" george "stuffin envelopes" couldnt help but admonish nader voters by claiming all these nasty bush programs actually prove that there is a discernable difference between repugs and demos. well duh? ralph nader is not an idiot. he knows theres a difference and so do his supporters but the point is that the party was shifting rightward and being overrun by corporate interests. and somehow this ties in with something said early about the effectiveness of the rights shocktroops versus the irresolute left. the right has embraced its radical wing whereas the left has ostracized its more far reaching bretheren. now this may have been a consequence of who was in power. will the right become divided if bush, in an effort to get reelected, must appease his more centrist allies, while the left pulls together as their desire to obtain control overrides their individual disagreements? that remains to be seen. as for ej dionne, i think he has too many deadlines to reach. the problem with getting paid to write a column is that you have to have something to write about. anyone is an idiot that thinks someone can get through yale and harvard without a degree of intelligence. sure we like to make fun of his "syntactical" errors but anyone on camera for so much of the day is bound to trip up a fair amount. and although public speaking is vital to the job of president, ive never held that skill it high esteem. i too would prefer someone who wrestles with derrida, which would preclude myself, but what bush lacks is intellectual curiosity discipline and a facile mind. he is not worthy of being president except that of his deke chapter at yale. ok, this is becoming disjointed. onward...
You guys are jammin,' each and every one.