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    « How to Create a Whole New Reality, Right-Wing Style | Main | Meghan McCain, Mitt Romney and the Difficult Realization »

    Can the GOP Overcome its Electile Dysfunction?


    You only hurt the one you love. That’s what I keep telling myself as I wonder whether or not the Republican Party can overcome an incredibly virulent strain of Electile Dysfunction.

    We moderate Republicans are living oxymorons—and some people I know would emphasize the last two syllables over the first two. I fight with people inside the party (who call me a RINO—Republican in Name Only) and with people outside (who wonder what meds I’m taking). Both marvel that I keep going back to a Party that long ago rescinded its invitation.   But still—and I believe this strongly—there remains a trace of the original Republican soul somewhere under that rapidly shrinking tent, and if we can just wrench our conversation from the extremists there might still yet be hope for the party of Lincoln, of Eisenhower, of Ford.

    What is this condition I call Electile Dysfunction? I define it as the propensity to spin belief as fact, cover it with a smooth coating of tenor-inflected gravitas, tie it through innuendo to emotional hot buttons, and then whip it across media of all types with such echoing speed that the innocent believe it before they even get a chance to think about it.  It’s Beck with his dusty chalkboard and Limbaugh with his rage-filled spittle.  It’s Hannity with his casual smirk and O’Reilly with his insincere sincerity.  Nowhere, though, is it you or me.

    Somewhere between twenty and thirty million people listen to these pundits every day. We listen as they spread the germs of disinformation, misinformation, false logic, and fear. 

    How did we get here? First, I blame Aristotle.

    In Aristotle’s view of logic, things are or are not. He scaffolded his thinking with syllogisms, the simplest of which are sets of factual premises that are then used to deduce appropriate conclusions. The problem with Aristotelian logic, however, is that it is limited by a very important yet oft-ignored subtlety: premises must be facts.  Beliefs, when presented as facts, gum up the works, as in this example:

    A—All Democrats are libtards.

    B—James Carville is a Democrat.

    Therefore, C—James Carville is a libtard.

    Set aside for a moment how you feel about James Carville and his potential for libtardiness and look only at the construct; the problem should be obvious.  Premise “A” is not a fact at all.  It’s a belief. 

    Second, I blame the 24-hour news cycle.  There are (last I checked) twelve U.S.-based 24-hour news channels.  Even if you discount The Weather Channel and ESPN, that’s still leaves ten—240 hours every day to fill—and that doesn’t include international channels like the BBC, SkyNews or RTL. That’s a LOT of hours, more hours than we have news, and so we get news snippets followed by pundits, followed by pundits arguing over what other pundits said, followed by opinions about pundits, followed, eventually and inevitably it seems, by Nancy Grace.  And they’re all doing that belief-as-fact sleight of hand that now totally numbs us.  It’s all become so familiar that for many it’s actually becoming comfortable, sort of like humming along to “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” just before you remember that it’s the worst song in the history of the world.

    And, finally, I blame evolution. Evolution built us to react emotionally just a few nanoseconds before we actually think about anything.  Apparently, running away from that noise in the brush was a better idea than wondering what the noise might be—and becoming, quite possibly, something’s lunch. (Fear, having survival advantages, wound its way down through the generations.)  What all this means is that those pundits can amplify all those repetitively factless facts with just a twinge of alarm or danger, knowing full well that we’ll react even more strongly because of it. 

    Electile Dysfunction. Let me remind you yet again that somewhere between twenty and thirty million people tune in to this extremist crap every single day.

    Ahh… but, as it turns out, that’s also the good news.  It means that there are about 100 million registered voters in this country who are NOT listening. And it’s those people with whom we can have real conversations. These people are a new silent majority.  They’re NOT interested in extremism, and they’re ready—I firmly believe—to be a little less silent….

    Who are they? A member of this new silent majority is just an average person working hard to get through the day, worrying mostly about kids and jobs and mortgages. He listens to the news on the way to work, or maybe some retro rock from the eighties or nineties.  She rides a crowded train into the city, one hand holding the back of a seat and the other holding a folded newspaper that she half-reads while thinking about her tweenage daughter and the upcoming and inevitable rebellion.  He wakes before dawn to tend the farm animals and the fields while hoping for a ground-drenching rain that’s long overdue. These are not people who care all that much about Michael Savage’s conspiracy theories, Rush Limbaugh’s apoplexy, or Glenn Beck’s revisionist history. They care about the price of food, the health of their parents, and the cost of a decent education.  They care about culture and values and raising responsible kids. It’s not that they’re disengaged from the political landscape but rather that they’re engaged in life: struggles and pleasures, likes and dislikes, days and nights.

    That’s who they are.

    And, very possibly, they are you.

    It’s time to make a little noise, people, time to value civility and logic and decent conversation. Time to take our country back from the insane extremes filled with people who think that repeating something over and over again at a Spinal Tap “eleven” is all that’s required to make it true. Remember: noise is only as loud as the silence it breaks.

    Personally, I want to do that from within the Republican Party because I fear its loss forever, and I don’t like the idea of a body politic sans an organized, recognized moderate conservative voice.  Others may choose to do it as independents, or as Democrats, or as Libertarians, or as Greens.  But one thing is for sure:  if we keep letting the fringes polarize us, then they win. 

    So whose country is it?  Yours? Or Theirs?  And, if it’s yours, what will you do to take it back?


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    Reader Comments (10)

    Thank you for this post - hope it gets wide distribution. I'm a liberal Democrat, and I wish you luck retrieving your party from the wilderness. Media saturation is certainly one cause of political polarization, but my favorite bogeyman is money in politics. If campaigns were publicly financed, completely, and we didn't confuse "corruption-inducing cash" with "speech," politicians wouldn't worry as much about satisfying anybody other than the voters. Then we could have an honest debate about issues, rather than the faux spin we have now.

    September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

    Bravo once again Michael! You could not have hit the nail any more squarely on the head. However, I would kindly ask that you widen your search for an alternative home to include an upstart, grassroots movement intent on being a player by 2016. I know we have not yet gathered the momentum of other third parties, but those who have visited the Party Recon website have found a unique, inclusive approach to government not offered by any of the more divisive political organizations.

    By way of a guided tour, I suggest that readers start with our Code of Conduct -- something they will not find on any other political party's website ( We call for civility, mutual respect, government for the people, and perhaps most importantly, the immediate removal of all profit motive for serving as an elected official. Breaking the unholy alliance that has formed between Washington and Wall Street is our primary mission; one that can only be accomplished from within. So, whether you agree or disagree with our positions, policy stances, and principles, I will guarantee you this; you will not find one other party who has, at its very core the concept that "all boats must have the OPPORTUNITY (<-- and there is your conservative voice, Michael) to rise with the tide. Come help us fashion a better tomorrow for everyone. We welcome your conservative voice as we welcome all voices.

    September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDan Aronson

    I'm afraid you've already left your former party and become an independent (not capped because you're not really IN a party - just thinking along those lines). Nonetheless, you've done a superb job of putting the state of the union into a well put, succinct statement. Keep it up; we'll be making a democrat out of you yet!

    September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterT. Evangelista

    Thank you both for your comments. It's a little lonely out here and it's nice to know I'm not just one hand clapping....

    September 25, 2012 | Registered CommenterMichael Charney

    I greatly appreciate this articulate, beautifully-written piece of good old English prose and the kind of conversation I used to have with a classmate --he generally Republican, me generally Democrat-- that filled hundreds of pages of common-sense e-mails over the years. My centrist conservative friend is now gone and I miss those reasoned reasonable talks. Thank you, Mr. Charney: I haven't seen your work before but I'll be back and will enjoy the visits, both before and after I vote for Barack Obama. Maybe you can help find a Republican candidate for 2016 who is an honest man with an IQ above body temperature and a whole lot of badly-needed integrity.

    September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBill Warriner

    Thanks for the VERY kind words, Mr. Warriner. Even more important to me than my politics is my writing.... ;-)

    September 25, 2012 | Registered CommenterMichael Charney

    Thanks for the article, Mr. Charney. I agree with your sentiments. I'm registered as a Republican, but only because the GOP is more likely here to have contested primaries, and I want to vote in such a way as to get the most say-so over things. In actual fact, I'm independent. I wonder sometimes if I should change my registration to independent, just because I don't think the Republican Party is going to change unless they see that they are losing ground, and that it's because they are becoming too radical. In 2008, I was all set to vote for McCain until he signed Palin, but the GOP reckons they lost because their candidate was too moderate. The people running the show in the GOP just don't get it. There are valuable things in the conservative point of view, but the current party has lost all sight of all of them. The Democratic Party holds all the middle ground now; its tent is expanding toward the middle.

    September 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterS. Ferguson

    If two people come together, each waiving one hand, the result is a high five. And that is how movements begin.

    September 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDan Aronson

    Thank you for your presentation tonight. I very much enjoyed it.

    September 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher

    Thanks for coming out to see me, Christopher. I enjoyed the evening as well.

    September 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterMichael Charney

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