wanted: the end of the world

Reading the new Wired-like magazine Arc 1.1, (download it for roughly $7, get the limited edition print run for a lot more) I came across this thought from Vinay Gupta, who appears to be the thinking man’s dystopian.

(Mind you, there’s a lot of competition on that front.)

“That’s what we’re buying at the mall: little unitized packets of the death of the world, packaged into products, and enjoyed not in spite of, but because of, the worldeath they represent.”  He writes people want to end the world because they’re pursuing ‘something better than life.’ To my ear, this is standard issue doom n’ gloom, early 21st century variety, but it does make me think about Mitt Romney.

More exactly, Romney’s nasty case of voterus interruptus, his inability to close the deal in the Republican primaries. As of this writing, it looks like Romney could lose Michigan, and if that happens it will be terrible for him, given that Romney is more or less a native son. Out on the mojo wire, there’s much talk of Santorum maybe, just maybe, being electable.

Romney’s problem is commonly held to be that he’s only pretending, that he’s not really the conservative he says he is and that the base knows it, so they keep peeling off for more conservative picks like Santorum and Gingrich.

In this model, conservatives want a candidate who reflects their values and beliefs, and in the way that people without good choices are wont to do, keep trying out alternatives. In this model, Gingrich or Santorum are more competent candidates, because they better understand the way the world really works, so they must be better equipped to do something about it.

Or not. Here’s an alternate explanation, influenced by the quote at the top: the Republican base doesn’t want Romney because they are afraid things will continue more or less as they have, that life will go on, that we will muddle through. They want to buy a little death at the political store in the mall. They don’t want Romney precisely because he is competent. (Whether Romney’s competence is true or not, I have no idea, but my guess is he’d run a country that would in many ways resemble the one headed by President Obama.)

It seems to me that a deep strain of voters, one that has existed for many, many years but which has been given new voice over the last decade or so, wants the opposite, more this year than ever before. There is a desperation out there, fueled by events of the real world but distorted, manipulated into a kind of purism.  They want the cleansing fire, the driving out of the bad ‘other,’ the clean slate for the worthy. It’s not a new argument; nor are those impulses new in American politics. What may be new this year is the level at which such ideas become mainstream.

Fr’instance, an old quote of Rick Santorum’s has surfaced in which he allegedly says (I haven’t seen it) Satan is attacking the United States. This is a completely unremarkable thought among many evangelicals and fundamentalists; it’s a ‘lay of the land’ thing in which the everyday presence of Satan is as much a fact of life as car payments and trips to the dentist. But it’s the sort of comment best kept away from polite company in previous Presidential campaigns. You could be described as…strange… by your political enemies, and you would discomfit some people who might otherwise be inclined to vote for you but who don’t take their religion as literally as you do.

This year, Santorum runs not away but straight toward such things,  and he’s doing ok with it. Newt Gingrich did a secular version of the same dance a couple of days ago, proclaiming President Obama ‘the mot dangerous President in American history.’ It’s tough sell, even for Newt, given Obama’s track record – killing bin Laden and whole lot of his lieutenants, upping the pressure on Iran in an unprecedented fashion, and because you just don’t talk that way about the President of the United States. But among the base, it’s stone cold truth because Obama isn’t moving the ball, isn’t getting us closer to the holy fire. It’s the deep disappointment of some of President Bush’s supporters: here they thought they were getting the apocalypse, and all they ended up with were a couple of lousy wars.

And it’s why Fox News is full of talk favoring a pre-emptive strike against Iran, though no one out in the fact-based world thinks this is a good idea, and why Fox is running hard with the ‘crippling gas prices’ meme. Sure, those stories may accomplish the immediate goal of rendering Obama more vulnerable than he otherwise would be, but the real prize – the other message being communicated – is the end of days, at least for some of us.

And again, this strain of American thought is not new, but it is easier to follow now than ever before, the batshit insane in full flight, in public, and just another fact of life, like the dentist, the car payment and Satan.

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