January 13, 2012 Leave a comment
So, the New Hampshire Primary turned out more or less as predicted; Romney consolidated his position as front-runner without landing a knock-out blow, Paul maintained his momentum but still isn’t looking like a serious contender, and Santorum did just enough to keep his hopes alive heading into the more conservative territory of South Carolina.
There were a couple of interesting points in the campaign though; the decisive role played by secretive Super PACs, which confirmed that election results are controlled by big money, and the somewhat surprising revelation that Newt Gingrich has discovered that capitalism is evil.
There is a lot of interest in the GOP nomination process on this side of the Atlantic, though much of it stems from the fact that observing the process allows us smug Europeans to feel superior to our dull American cousins; even the Daily Telegraph had a piece this week suggesting that the only way to get elected in the US was by pandering to the stupid vote.
It’s easy to laugh at the likes of Santorum, Gingrich, Perry and Bachmann, because they are clowns, but it may be unwise. Matt Taibbi made a good point in his profile of Michele Bachmann for Rolling Stone:
Snickering readers in New York or Los Angeles might be tempted by all of this to conclude that Bachmann is uniquely crazy. But in fact, such tales by Bachmann work precisely because there are a great many people in America just like Bachmann, people who believe that God tells them what condiments to put on their hamburgers, who can’t tell the difference between Soviet Communism and a Stafford loan, but can certainly tell the difference between being mocked and being taken seriously. When you laugh at Michele Bachmann for going on MSNBC and blurting out that the moon is made of red communist cheese, these people don’t learn that she is wrong. What they learn is that you’re a dick, that they hate you more than ever, and that they’re even more determined now to support anyone who promises not to laugh at their own visions and fantasies.
I come from that school of left-wing thought that tends to view politics as a coldly rational business, and I am generally sceptical of any analysis that focuses on individual psychology, rather than impersonal class forces, as an explanation for world events. I believe this approach is broadly correct, but it can perhaps lead to an underestimation of the emotional power of right-wing rhetoric, which can be a dangerous blind-spot. It’s always worth re-reading Richard Hofstadter’s 1964 essay The Paranoid Style in American Politics, written at the time of Barry Goldwater but equally applicable to the likes of Ron Paul, to remind oneself of the threat that reactionary irrationality can pose.