Dead Men Left

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Fries and predatory molluscs

Bionic Octopus here quibbles with my earlier disdain for the cultural explanations of Galloway's walkover at the Senate.

Elsewhere, she writes:

Beyond the obvious explanations of arrogance and turret-minded isolationism, the big reason Norm Coleworm and his boys didn't see GG coming is that American political discourse just doesn't work that way. There is a bizarre, pervasive doubleness to the rhetoric of public life in the States, a sense that public discourse is at a significant remove from, and operates according to different rules than, the discourse of everyday life.

There's a reason the House of Representatives, as the nation stood tiptoed on the rim of the Iraq invasion, took the time to invent Freedom Fries. It's the same reason that, having drafted perhaps the single most oppressive, race-baiting, civil-liberties-abrogating piece of legislation in modern American history, they then set their legislative minds to crafting it a name that would acronym up to 'USA PATRIOT'. And that reason is not, though it can hardly but seem so from outside, that most American people actually think in these terms.

Certain frightening (but smaller than you might imagine) segments of the population aside, regular Americans don't in their daily lives actually talk or think in the crudely jingoistic, 50s-vintage formalistic politois affected by their legislators. And I would lay you good money that our legislators don't talk like that when they're in mufti (witness, most spectacularly, the Oval Office tapes of Richard Nixon, and it's no coincidence that those pottymouthed revelations contributed mightily to his fall from public grace). Certainly they none of them seem ever to live up to the commensurate behavioral standards enshrined in that discourse.

Until, that is, the "preserved in amber relic" of McCarthyesque rhetoric is broken by the "decided British lack of Freedom-philia". Now, flattering as all this is, I can't really get too excited about "British political discourse", at least as it is conducted in the Westminster village. Remember the last time a prominent British politician, also intimately involved with Iraq, spoke in Washington? Blair's pieties, and the strange obsessions that too often pass for political debate, are still far removed from concerns of "regular" Britons. The same sleight of hand is being performed over here, in a slightly different style, to disguise real questions of power and wealth. With neoliberalism ascendant, even the semblance of meaningful debate that might once have occurred between social democratic and avowedly capitalist parties has been snuffed out.

Galloway is very much an exception. He and Respect have successfully opened up a space in which all sorts of dangerous ideas - that the Prime Minister lied, that we should tax the rich, that "socialism" is not a dirty word - can start to get a foothold. That's why the collision between him and the Senate was so spectacular; that's also why, for presumably hundreds of thousands, he spoke not just for himself, but for a whole mass of their usually concealed and otherwise excluded thoughts about politics.

(Onto the blogroll with the Bionic Octopus, whose site is very fine indeed. And funny. That's important. Also going on is Sonic, the blue hedgehog. Anthropomorphism, innit.)