Pardon me for writing a linkless post. This is the world that we live in, at least for the time being. Apropos of recent Lawlerian and Kenneallian comments on the allure of History and the trouble with health care, has anyone else been struck dumb walking across their living rooms by footage of these town halls? Here are figures straight out of the nightmares of refined public opinion: funny-looking, funny-talking rubes, gesticulating, utterly unable to couch a statement or ironize a put-down, so dreadfully serious about their importance as citizens . Citizens! In the mouths of refined public opinion today that word, formerly associated with revolutionary utopia, now tastes atavistic, like a bad flashback or a vow of revenge. In a wild inversion of Aristotle, politics is now thought of as an activity for lower life forms.
Politics is for Dummies: a motto for an era, of ‘Historic’ moral and social crisis: Neither the American people nor their bumbling, petty representatives in Congress can be trusted to orchestrate and execute a national health care system worthy of the name. Not that we wouldn’t trust them if we could. It’s just that neither citizen politics nor legislative policymaking are able to produce what the very idea of a national health care system leads us to envision. Politics is as disgustingly natural as sausage-making — something which, if it cannot be eliminated, must be kept from getting naked.
‘Real America’ turns out, in a horrible reversal of irony, to be all too real, triggering the mythical liberal disgust reflex as no Reality TV marathon could do. It’s not that refined public opinion doesn’t believe in ‘Real America’. Rather, that so many ‘Real Americans’ still exist is cause for great loathing, and that they want to seize control of policy by practicing politics is cause for great fear. ‘Real Americans’ are shockingly, dismayingly real in their uncouth natural being, in the way they let their nature show. Their dress, their bodies, their speech all undermine the type of nobility cultivated by the culture of the bouffant and the pantsuit and the eye lift and the catchphrase and the parsed statement and the consultant and the expert: Their lust for political participation is an unnerving reminder that we still have not done enough to beat ‘Real America’ back into the past and lock the door . . .
This is the narrative that’s emerging from our national health care debate, which as of right now is going extremely badly. The battles over bioethics are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the painful conflict between liberal nobility and conservative nature. Conservatives can prevent themselves from being overwhelmed by fear and loathing for nature because they can live — sometimes, despite appearances to the contrary — with dignity. But consider the conflict between liberal nature and conservative nobility. The same situation now appears reversed: liberals accuse conservatives of denying human dignity in pursuit of a silly, illusory, and harmful vision of noble independence. Liberals are disgusted by conservatives who think the ideal society is rooted in good conservative folk of a lower class than they would ever want to be a part of. And conservatives are disgusted by liberals whose ideal society is planted on a democratic vista of good, but hopelessly lower-class, liberal folk. And the disgust rubs off on those multitudes, who, each side believes, are being kept in an all-too-natural condition. Both politics and the absence of politics can appear grotesquely natural. These two visions invite two possible conclusions: either adjudicating between them shall or shall not be a political undertaking. But in each case, the deeper question is: political because of our inescapable species nature, or political because of something else?