Friday, November 24, 2006


Returning to Reality-Based America.

I left the US on the Friday before the election, during the last gasp of Bizarro World reality. Sometime that week, in a final death rattle, Karl Rove lied to Peter Segal on NPR that, while NPR could look at their own math, he had access to "the math"--which said that the GOP would retain both houses. But maybe it wasn't a lie, or a traditional lie. The Republican Party had sold America a bill of goods, but no one was as big a buyer as ... the GOP.

I am reminded of a short story by Salman Rushdie called "The Free Radio," in which a bicycle rickshaw driver (among the poorest of India's poor), had voluntarily submitted to sterilization so that he could get the story title's thank-you gift. In poor India in the 70s, a transistor radio was inducement enough to get some men to voluntarily submit to this procedure (though not enough--eventually Indira Gandhi moved to more drastic methods). Except in this story, the lead character doesn't even get a free radio--he is left to vainly hope:
"Ram always had the rare quality of total belief in his dreams, and there were times when his faith in the imaginary radio almost took us in, so that we half-believed it was really on its way, or even that it was already there, cupped invisibly against his ear as he rode his rickshaw around the streets of the town."
But Ramani the rickshaw wallah finds it more and more difficult to keep up the fiction and nurture his own belief in the radio's imminent arrival:
"But when I saw him now, there was a new thing in his face, a strained thing, as if he were having to make a phenominal effort, which was much more tiring than driving a rickshaw ... as if all the energy of his young body was being poured into that fictional space between his ear and his hand, and he was trying to bring the radio into existence by a mighty, and possibly fatal, act of will."
That week before the election, Rove had become the rickshaw wallah, desperately trying to believe in one more fiction and make it stick. All of his boss's Congressionally-aided tenure has been this kind of conjuring: the booming economy, the successful war, the defeat of terrorists, the triump of Democracy, the belief that the people also really believed these things.

Funny thing about power. When you have it, you have the power of spin. When you also have your own media opposed my only a slightly living, slack-jawed "independent" media, you can also control the radio playlist. Payolla from top to bottom, perfect reconciliation between your policies and the triumph of your policies. For six years, the answer to this Zen koan has uniformly been "no": if a political failure happens to a Republican and people only watch Fox, has the politician really failed?

But now, three weeks after the fact, the fictions have evaporated. Maybe Karl Rove still believes his polls and thinks the GOP won, but his delusions no longer have the potency to guide public policy. Proof? The final results weren't even in before Rummy's head was rolling on the floor. Whereas two years ago, gleeful Republicans had worked their razor win into a "permanent majority" (and a number of gun-shy liberals, myself included, sick to think that it may be true), now they're looking at their isolated, hard-core membership and wondering if they'll constitute a permanent minority. They know that with Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid drafting legislation, the jig is up on bullshit lies about the glory of their policies.

I regret to have missed the fun of the aftermath of the election, but I am enjoying watching the aftermath. It is a comfort to return to a country and think that sanity may finally have returned.

[Update: Apparently my use of Rove was apt--he was delusional. Last week's Newsweek:

"He believed his "metrics" were far superior to plain old polls. Two weeks before the elections, Rove showed NEWSWEEK his magic numbers: a series of graphs and bar charts that tallied early voting and voter outreach. Both were running far higher than in 2004. In fact, Rove thought the polls were obsolete because they relied on home telephones in an age of do-not-call lists and cell phones. Based on his models, he forecast a loss of 12 to 14 seats in the House—enough to hang on to the majority. Rove placed so much faith in his figures that, after the elections, he planned to convene a panel of Republican political scientists—to study just how wrong the polls were."]


Anonymous said...

I love the allusion to the story by Rushdie. Thanks :-) And how was the time at the monastery?

A little bird said...

"...if a political failure happens to a Republican and people only watch Fox, has the politician really failed?"

I love that line! :0