I read Studs Terkal's 'Hard Times' about five years ago. Lately I've been thinking of his interview therein with one Stanley Kell, who was a boy during the depression and a middle-aged suburbanite at the time the book was written at the turn between the 60's and seventies. Kell described seeing leftist protesters being beaten by police against jailhouse windows. He led a neighborhood assotiation whose chief purpose for being was to keep black people out. He fretted about the debts he was piling up buying a new color TV, a new stereo, a new washer, still he insisted that 'You have to keep up with the Joneses'. This he repeats several times, and it becomes clear that if one were to ask him why he has to keep up with the Joneses he wouldn't know. He had never asked himself why one needed to keep up with the Joneses, and would never dare to ask himself why. Because people who ask why are deviants. Deviants get beaten up against jailhouse windows, and to express any doubt that this is perfectly just and deserved will also make you a deviant.
To understand the Tea Party, the debt ceiling standoff, and the general behavior of movement conservatism over the past sixteen years or so, you must understand that there are millions of Stanley Kells still out there, and that behind the exagerrated displays of power and masculinity these people are motivated by an herbivoric, all-consuming terror.
This is why, as the US has grown more heterogenous and multi-traditional, the response of movement conservatism has been to dig in and grow more insistant. Low taxes and light regulation have gone from a generally good idea in the Reagan years to the indisputible answer to all economic questions today. A general support for a strong military and assertive foreign policy has grown into a belief that eternal crusade against evil is the only truly worthwhile and mature state endevour. And as religious belief declines more and more a brand of fundamentalist Christianity that demands perfect obedience to a God who is gleefully described as awesome, powerful, and triumphant has gained favor. And let us not forget the voodoo of origianalism, the idea that the founders wrote the Constitution as an unbreakable command for what the policies and philosophy of government must forever be, and that this philosophy just happens to coincide with modern conservatism.
The purpose of this increased absolutism is absolutism. It is an existential reaction, a claim to paternalistic ownership of society, the exclusive right to define what the United States is and must be, the exclusive fatherly perogative to define wisdom, impose punishment and discipline, to at the spiritual level be the cop instead of the protester. As America grows, and our perception of what is normal invaribly expands as a result, the right will only more and more loudly insist that everyone who is not a 'strong and true' conservative is unfathomably alien and radical; that it was only a short time ago in the hallowed past that some newly invented right-wing dogma was accepted as self-evident common sense by all.
It is only by securing a pemanent ownership of and right to define normality that they can be assured that they will never be forced to ask why, never be the deviants who must be put in their place.
When I saw stories of Sarah Palin attending her own cunnilating documentry and breaking down into tears during scenes showing the routine criticisms of her that all politicians must face, I could well believe them, though they probably are choir preaching rumors.. This is a woman who is wealthy, has a husband and kids, is loudly Christian, supports hunting and the great outdoors. She has acheived all of the checkmarks of normality in her own social environment and has been implicitly taught that to be perfectly normal places her perfect goodness beyond scrutiny. Didn't these mean Eastern elitists know that they were violating a sacred arraingement? Or think of the War on Christmas, of the various right-wing claims that to be subject to criticism is equivelant to the most brutal historical tyranny. A large part of this, to be sure, is calculation, an attempt to be treated with kid gloves by the media. But I also think there's some emotional sincerity here as well. There is no greater nightmare to these people than to be viewed as outsiders. And when they are subjected to public scrutiny they are reminded that there is a large segment of their own countrymen who already do, and that worse the people who see them as strange tend to live in the large media and economic centers, with power to influence the tastes and perceptions of everyone else.
This horrifies them. It fills them with a dread and helplessness that can only be expressed in the language of incoherent bigotry and cosmic struggle against unimaginable evil. The Tea Party and official GOP policy of sabotaging the state are the primal scream of people who have been taught that weirdos deserve to be tossed against the window and beaten and now face the prospect of being the weirdos.