No Regard: Using Political Paradox to Escape from Democratic
March 4, 2003
By Tom Pain
In what seems a major irony of the current situation, W and
his advisors truly don't care what anybody thinks about their
plans, and yet they go about their cynical political manipulations
just as though public opinion still mattered deeply to them.
Nor are they troubled in the slightest by this apparent inconsistency,
because for them it doesn't exist.
After all, they're expected to act as though traditional
politics still matter. And they will play hardball, and play
the game to win, whether it really matters or not. Good form,
you know. Appearances and all that.
And they are going to govern, just as they choose,
no matter what anyone thinks about it, for as long as possible,
with or without the support of anybody whatsoever (except,
of course, the ruling families, whom they represent). Obviously,
with support is easier than without, so if they have public
support, so much the better from where they sit. If not, well
there are other ways: after all, W wasn't actually elected
in 2000, but he's governing anyway, isn't he?
So maybe the appearance of inconsistency inheres in the perspective
of the beholder. Still, it's good to note that these folks
have become more than comfortable with paradox. In fact, it
seems they're intent upon the rest of America becoming more
and more familiar with the concept, as time goes by. This
familiarity may come at quite a cost. If, as Lord Acton observed,
consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, is political
paradox the medium through which those minds are anesthetized?
As we will continue to learn, political paradox can take
many forms. What has been revealed so far will undoubtedly
seem rudimentary on down the road somewhere. Still, let's
take a quick look at three current incarnations of political
paradox, to help understand the mechanisms inherent in the
phenomenon, and their practical uses.
The first of these political paradoxes consists of the cynical,
self-mocking sense of humor (of which outrageous malapropisms
and mangled language are only small parts) consistently displayed
in one form or another by virtually all the spokesmen of the
administration, coupled with their deadly seriousness. This
paradox is central to the way the entire group communicates,
and they will continue to cling to it. And what a range of
uses! The paradox is adaptable to many situations because
of its very subtlety. It's a great way to communicate that
an issue is not open for discussion, without having
to actually say so. It's an incredibly effective foil. It
has the potential to carry an implicit threat in a relatively
gentle way. It's also a clever way to deny responsibility
for the results of anything, while admitting - even justifying
- the behavior that caused the results. Keep watching: more
uses will soon be on display!
The second example of political paradox is more obvious.
It is the vicious single-mindedness with which the W gang
pursues "our" enemies in the Islamic world, while at the same
time maintaining their "no-questions-asked" alliance with
Saudi Arabia. After all, Saudi Arabia is the country that
so far has provided not only many of the big-time terrorists
(bin Laden, for one), but also a large majority of the funding
for terrorism, as well. Tellingly, this apparently paradoxical
approach is being pursued with no regard for American or world
opinion, with no regard for the cost in money or lives to
America or her allies, and with no regard for the innocents
who will die. How can they do this, you ask? Simple.
Basically, we're instructed by this second paradox that
it "makes sense" only from the inside. You have to understand
the "facts" in order to understand the goals of those wielding
the power. Of course, your security clearance won't allow
you to know what those "facts" are, much less the real goals
behind our country's apparently nonsensical "strategy." This
paradox promotes the idea that we're always too uninformed
to do anything but trust the good intentions of those in power.
According to this teaching, to do otherwise is anti-American:
i.e. having an opinion contrary to the goals of the W gang
has become, by definition, anti-American. They reinforce this
stance with "religious posturing," similar to that
employed by clerics in the Muslim world, against whose political
ideology the administration is squared off.
The third political paradox is, at the end of the day, even
more insidious. It's the twisted wisdom of proclaiming that
we're fighting for America, and for freedom, and at the same
time fighting on every front to erode the freedoms of Americans,
in the name of that very fight. Just another of those little
paradoxes we're going to have to get used to. Many of our
once "inalienable rights," with which we were "endowed by
our creator," seem to have been "alienated" without much trouble
at all, and without our consent.
The process leading up to all this actually began when we
swallowed the idea that we'd been soft on crime (which really
means soft on criminals), when in fact we were incarcerating
about seven times as many of our people as other industrialized
nations. We came to believe that, in order to deal with the
grave threat these criminals supposedly posed, we needed to
take some of their rights away. After all, their rights were
letting some of them get away with what they did! Of course,
when they started losing their rights, so did you and I. This
has been going on for some three decades now. Did you notice?
What did you do to stop them from taking away the rights
our forefathers fought and died to secure? Oh, same as me.
Nada. Zip. Zilch. Bitched a little, maybe. But this process
is what set the stage for the real assault on our rights:
the one that has shredded our Constitution ever since we began
to feel the real political wake of 9-11.
Now the newest assault on our rights rears its head. A hidden
proposal, recently leaked, created by the "Justice" Department
(at whose behest?) is coming: Son of Patriot Act, a
naked attempt to further eviscerate our once-sacred constitutional
protections. "But, friends," they say, "it's
going to make perfect sense to you, if you'll just perpetually
fix your mind on this one concept: terrorism. And don't think
about anything else, no matter what. We'll take care of everything."
Indeed, your rights are being "taken care of," and most expeditiously,
to boot! This third political paradox allows the formation
of a police state in order to protect "freedom."
Newer and more sophisticated paradoxes are on the way.
Let's review what we've learned so far.
For the W gang, "making sense," in any traditional understanding
of what that means, is for those who have to explain themselves.
That certainly doesn't apply to our current administration.
Explanations are for those who actually care what somebody
What they do care about is simply doing what they
want to do.
Political paradox aids them in this:
One of its forms gives them "cynical distance"
from the "democratic" processes we're used to, and even from
their own pronouncements. They achieve this cynical distance
from democratic processes, even as they're fully engaged in
operating the machinery those processes were designed to control.
Another form of political paradox, as the administration
has begun to demonstrate, is an invaluable tool for undermining
those very democratic processes (from which they've already
distanced themselves), by defining all opposition as anti-American.
Yet another form of political paradox has provided a cloak
under which a constant attack has been launched against the
freedoms we poor, little weak defenseless Americans once held
From where I sit, the "democratic process," as we used to
know it, is a thing of the past.
But before we begin to lament our loss too loudly, it should
be remembered that, for most of our history, the United States
Senate was appointed. For most of our history, women didn't
get to vote. For almost all of our history, presidential candidates
have been handpicked in "smoke-filled rooms" by
power brokers (aka members of the ruling elite) - a process
which continues unabated in these days of presidential primaries.
Are we surprised that there are impediments to democratic
rule today? Would it be unusual to have an administration
of the ruling families, by any means whatsoever, and for the
benefit of the elite?
Please also note: the "new" communication methods, and certainly
the political paradigms employed by the Bushistas as well,
are quite entertaining, if somewhat terrifying. Americans
will forgive a lot for entertainment value. And, as Aleksandr
Solzhenitsyn demonstrated in One Day in the Life of Ivan
Denisovich, among others, human beings can become acclimated
But consider this: our current situation, the direction
we're headed, where it's going to end up - nobody can make
sense of it for you. Do you even feel a need to try to make
sense of it at all, at this point? If so, with lots of folks
trying to blow smoke up your various orifices, you figure
Then, if what's happening still doesn't make any sense to
you, find something that does, and make it happen.
Author's note: Thanks to the "Plaid Adder" for these insights:
1) the administration doesn't care what anybody thinks about
what it's doing; and 2) they use irony and cynical, self-mocking
humor to create "cynical distance" from their own ideology.
These ideas (with which "Tom Pain" is certainly
in agreement) are implicit in the above.
Thanks also to Tom Hendron for his comments to the effect
that we in the U.S. have never had a democracy, and his examples
to back it up. "Tom Pain" incorporated these comments
and examples above, but it is Tom Hendron who deserves the
credit or blame for them.
"Tom Pain" is a starving writer working underground somewhere
in Central Oklahoma.