It’s Sunday, December 30th 2012, and this is my last post of the year.
We’ve just had another bucket of snow here in New Hampshire, bringing our two-storm total to nearly a foot-and-a-half. Much of that powder now swirls around in the high wind, making it feel like the temperature has dropped to well below zero. It was all quite beautiful at first, but now my middle-aged lower back aches from shoveling, and I’m tired of clearing the clumps of ice out from between the toes of my standard poodle. “Beautiful,” it turns out, isn’t in the eye of the beholder, but resides instead in the soreness of strained muscles; the result is that my mood has soured a bit.
On top of that, I’m wondering if the things I’ve been writing all year have had any impact at all.
I don’t write just for fun, you know. Most of the time it isn’t even that enjoyable. A compulsion, the need to lay words linearly nags every day, often elbowing more important tasks out of the way.
I’m lucky to have had pretty consistent readership over the year, and the blog’s popularity was high enough to warrant collecting many of the pieces into a book, Tea With The Mad Hatter. Two posts, however, simply soared off the charts, garnering thousands upon thousands upon thousands of views, making me (if only for one or two days) one of the more popular political sites on the web. The first of these was a post about Oprah Winfrey and her decision to donate a chunk o’ money to the campaign of a Stockton city council candidate, and the other was a satirical jab at the NRA in which I accused them of planning to reintroduce polygamy, an argument I built exclusively on the rhetorical techniques of the NRA’s EVP, Wayne LaPierre.
Both of these posts, it seems, hit some buttons, ones deeply planted in the emotional centers of many, many people. Meanwhile, other posts I wrote—ones that I thought were much more important but apparently a lot less sexy—struggled to find a thousand readers. Ones on education. On military spending. On how we define democracy.
So now, as 2012 ends, I have this interesting conundrum: I want to say something that gives the year a sense of closure, that is (perhaps) profound. I want it to creep up behind you and slap you across the back of the head just hard enough to startle you. I want the words I use to sparkle and blind, to amaze you to the point where you feel compelled to leap from the bath and scream “Eureka!” while running naked down the street.
And yet, how do I get you here at all? It’s obvious by now, I’m sure: I use Oprah and Wayne to lure you to me.
Still with me? Thanks, and here goes:
Throughout the entire year there are really only two things I’ve been saying, two underlying themes that inform nearly all of my writings. These themes I hope everyone will hear, will think about.
One: Republicans and Democrats are not enemies; they are yin and yang, sharing a desire for common outcomes: a peaceful country; safe, healthy, and self-reliant people; a robust and growing economy; earned pride as leaders on the world’s stage; and an always brighter future for the next generation. There are varied definitions for those outcomes, and disagreements on the best methods, but still there is a common push for good and for strong and for better. The enemy, the common enemy of both Republicans and Democrats, are those who have become so steeped in dogma that they’ve decided to wage war on us, from the inside. They are always around—fifty years ago (and more) we called them the Birchers or the Klan, while today they’ve parasited the originally noble aims of the Tea Party—but they have always worked toward overthrow, toward revolution. They invade from the right, it’s true, but they are neither right nor left; they hold no responsible place on any line or spectrum. Both Republicans—real, traditional Republicans—and their Democratic counterparts, would do well to set aside their labels for a time to fight that common enemy, to expose its greed and racism and religious righteousness to the bright light of logic and reason, but with just enough anger to make them realize that we don’t like what they’re trying to do—and that we’re serious about stopping them.
Two: There is a marketing machine beyond imagination that has only one goal: controlling what you believe. It is constructed from bullets and talking points and out-of-context quotes, a house of cards built purely from deuces and knaves, yet one we seem unwilling to topple. It comes at us from all sides, spurred by the need to fill news cycle after news cycle with the apparently meaningful and the seemingly important. And whether it comes from someone you agree with or not, whether from Rachel or Sean or Al or Rush or Chris or Bill, it’s all about getting you to believe what they want you to believe because, when you do, you watch, and when you watch, they sell, and those who pull their strings for their own purposes need puppets, and those puppets need puppets….
When I first decided on the title for this post, I was hoping to create a recursivity that proved my point. If people were triggered by names I chose and visited my site in the kinds of numbers that I hoped, then I would be using the very technique I’m railing against in order to get people to understand why I’m railing against it. So maybe Oprah Winfrey and Wayne LaPierre really have a lot in common after all. They both have the ability to hypnotize us, however briefly, to bring us out of our best selves so that we respond with emotion first and with reasons already justified. But think instead, just for a minute, about the strings that are continually pulled to make you care about what those two polarizing figures might say. Think about what you’ll believe about them because of what you already believe about them, and then wonder where those beliefs came from. And as you do, think also, about how you’re being trained to focus on the trivial instead of what’s really important: how to make this country great again, and how to retake it from those who would push us to extremes.