Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Greetings from the Reality-Based Community
If you haven't read Ron Suskind's piece yet from this past Sunday's New York Times magazine, go do so now.

If you have, and are wondering if maybe this Suskind guy just has an axe to grind, may I recommend Nick Lemann's piece on Bush from last week's New Yorker--which starts from somewhere very different but essentially ends up in the same place. (Lemann, too, could have an axe to grind... but clearly it wasn't the same instrument he was wielding four years ago, when he first reported on the apparently likeable and moderate Texas governor.)

Of course, the right wing welcomes the condemnation of effete East Coast liberals, those of us who wave our pinky fingers in the air while sipping unpronounceable coffee variants. As Suskind details, they are positively counting on our scorn and disbelief:

And for those who don't get it? That was explained to me in late 2002 by Mark McKinnon, a longtime senior media adviser to Bush, who now runs his own consulting firm and helps the president. He started by challenging me. ''You think he's an idiot, don't you?'' I said, no, I didn't. ''No, you do, all of you do, up and down the West Coast, the East Coast, a few blocks in southern Manhattan called Wall Street. Let me clue you in. We don't care. You see, you're outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don't read The New York Times or Washington Post or The L.A. Times. And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it's good for us. Because you know what those folks don't like? They don't like you!'' In this instance, the final ''you,'' of course, meant the entire reality-based community.

This is certainly of a piece with Thomas Frank's findings in "What's the Matter With Kansas?", probably the best political book I've read this year. Frank's thesis is that social conservatives are endlessly prodded to "hit back" at those overeducated, moral relativist snobs on the coast by voting Republican--the surest way, I guess, to show that "they don't like you!"

Of course, "reality" has a funny way of biting back. A second Bush term is likely to see ever-greater budget deficits, spurred by a new parade of tax cuts and acquiesence in the porkish priorities of Tom DeLay's Republican Congress. Some economic chickens might come home to roost, as well: the ongoing housing bubble, the trade imbalance, and perhaps the long-dreaded day when we realize the oil will eventually run out. (Perhaps we're getting a taste of that now.) I'm actually dubious as to whether or not Bush really would reimpose a draft: nobody on the right thinks it's a good idea, and doing so would make it much harder for the administration to do anything else. Paul Krugman disagrees, but his thesis is only operative if you really believe that the neocons will ascend to Cabinet posts, which I think is an open question.

None of these educated guesses matter much to the bulk of Bush supporters, I suspect. Even if Suskind overstates the case as far as the religious factor in their choice, I don't think there's much doubt that those planning to back the incumbent are basing their decision more on his character, and that of his opponent, than on his record to date. They're looking into his heart, much as Bush himself claimed to have done with good old Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, I was canvassing for America Coming Together in Bucks County, PA, this past Saturday. More on that later on, along with hopefully some lighter stuff about the baseball playoffs and the improbably reunited Camper van Beethoven.

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