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With No Regard: Using Political Paradox to Escape from Democratic Constraints
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 else thinks.

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 dear.

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 to anything.

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 it out.

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.

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