conformity & the cult of personality

Thanks (again) to Shrillblog, which has condensed all wisdom everywhere in the world into one blog, for pointing me to yet another lovely blogger [chad orzel in uncertain principles] who has beautifully articulated a certain unease about the cult of personality and republicans. He writes about the cult of personality that allows bush supporters to suspend their critical thinking faculties.

I like the digs / insights about the current Republican fandom. But I also just like the piece because it captures one of those ways in which people self-deceive …

Friday, October 22, 2004

George and the Goths

(This is going to be shrill. I’ll talk about baseball next.)

There’s an interesting post over at Making Light, analzying the Bush Administration in terms of pointy-haired boss psychology and the motivational posters that are parodied so well at Despair.com. Before the comment thread mutated into a discussion of prep-school sadism, there was some discussion of the myth of the self-made man, and its importance in American political culture.

That, together with a College Republicans recruiting poster boasting a picture of George Bush in such soft focus it looked like it was shot through waxed paper, reminded me of the biggest puzzling thing about right wing politics: Why is it that a movement that relies so heavily on the rhetoric of individual achievement falls so easily into the cult of personality?

I mean, I look at this election, and the personal veneration of George Bush on the right is just profoundly creepy. It’s all about him— his personal faith, his moral clarity, his “doctrine” for foreign policy. The message is that you should vote for him because he is personally superior.

And yet, if you ask for reasons to support conservative policies independent of Bush personally, what you get is the rhetoric of individual achievement: conservatism is all about allowing individuals to take power over their own lives, and removing the heavy hand of the State from personal business (except where it’s needed to squash uppity homosexuals), to allow every American the chance to become a self-made man. And yet, with few exceptions, these rugged individualists fall into lock step behind anything the Bush administration proposes, no matter how badly they need to contort basic logic to do so.

Meanwhile, the Democrats, who are supposed to be a bunch of squishy collectivists, all about banding together and forming consensus and using the state to squash individuality– these fuzzy leftists can’t stop sniping at one another. The one time in my adult life that they lucked into a politician with some actual personal charisma, they tried to distance themselves from the man at every opportunity. Yes, he had personal issues, but the Democratic base absolutely adored the man in spite of his flaws, and neither Gore nor Kerry, let alone the Deomcrats in Congress seem to want anything to do with the man.

Meanwhile, Bush has the personal charm (to me) of boiled okra (“It’s a vegetable, with snot!”), and people on the right are fawning all over him.

Of course, you could argue that it’s always been this way– the Cult of Reagan makes Bush’s supporters almost look sane. It also extends to lower levels of discourse– the adulation heaped on right-wing bloggers like that gasbag Steven Den Beste by their fans is just creepy (though, to be fair, Den Beste and Reynolds may have lefty equivalents in Atrios and Kos), so it all fits together. But it’s puzzing to me, all the same.

I think this is part of why I’m so creeped out by right-wing politics (that, plus the theocratic social policies). I could sort of buy some of the individual responsibility stuff (I think they take it way too far, but it’s not all bad), but I find it hard to reconcile the rhetoric of individuality with the politics of personal veneration. I can’t help thinking that a real devotion to individual freedom and personal responsibility should lead to at least an occasional disagreement on a major policy issue, but they just keep falling in line.

They’re sort of like the tragic little Goth kiddies that I used to see waiting for the bus when I was in grad school: loudly proclaiming their unique individuality by the means of dressing and acting exactly like everyone else in their little group. They gave me the creeps, too, and not because of their valiant efforts to look like vampires.

Posted at 9:16 AM | link | 7 comments | follow-ups

emphasis in original.