The misalignment of politics and reality threatens to scuttle both major parties, but it's especially gratifying to see the Republicans sail off the edge of their own flat earth on the winds of religious idiocy. For forty years it has not been enough for them to just be a conservative party. They had to enlist the worst elements of ignorance and reaction, and they found an endless supply of it in the boom regions of the Sunbelt with its brotherhood of TV evangelist con-artists and a population fretful with suburban angst.
Now, in the last hours of the cheap oil economy, the forty year miracle of the Sunbelt boom dwindles and a fear of approaching darkness grips the people there like a rumor of Satan. The long boom that took them from an agricultural backwater of barefoot peasantry to a miracle world of Sonic Drive-ins, perpetual air-conditioning, WalMarts, and creation museums is turning back in the other direction and they fear losing all that comfort, convenience, and spectacle. Since they don't understand where it came from, they conclude that it was all a God-given endowment conferred upon them for their exceptional specialness as Americans, and so only the forces of evil could conspire to take it all away.
Hence, the rise of a sanctimonious, hyper-patriotic putz such as Rick Santorum and his take-back-the-night appeal to those who sense the gathering twilight. And the awful ordeal of convictionless pander and former front-runner Mitt Romney drowning in his own bullshit as he struggles to extrude one whopper after another just to keep up with the others in this race to the bottom of the political mud-flow.
There is an obvious dither backstage now among those who cynically thought they could manipulate and control these dark impulses of the frightened masses as the candidates all pile into a train wreck of super-PAC obloquy. Won't some level-headed adult like the governors of New Jersey and Indiana step up and volunteer? Is this finally its Whig Moment - the point where the Republican Party has offended history so gravely that it goes up in a vapor of its own absurdity? I hope so. The conservative impulse is hardly all bad. We need it in civilization. But it can't be vested in the sheer and constant repudiation of reality.
The opposing Democrats have their own problem with reality, which is that they don't tell the truth about so many things despite knowing better, and, under Obama, they act contrary to their stated intentions often enough, and in matters of extreme importance, that they deserve to go down in flames, too. Just as there is a place for conservatism in civilized life, there is also a place for the progressive impulse, let's call it - for making bold advance in step with the mandates of reality and an interest in justice for all those along on the journey.
The Democrats under Obama don't want to go to that place. They want to really go to the same place as the fretful Sunbelt fundamentalists, but by a different route - and that place is yesterday, by means of a campaign to sustain the unsustainable. Mr. Obama is pretending that an economic "recovery" is underway when he knows damn well that the banking system is just blowing smoke up the shredded ass of what's left of that economy. He pretends to an interest in the rule of law in money matters but he's done everything possible to prevent the Department of Justice, the SEC, and a dozen other regulatory authorities from functioning the way they were designed. He has never suggested resurrecting the Glass-Steagall act, which kept banking close to being honest for forty years. He never issued a peep of objection about the Citizens United case where the Supreme Court tossed the election process into a crocodile pit of corporate turpitude (he could have proposed a constitutional amendment redefining corporate "personhood."). He declared he'd never permit a super-PAC to be created in his name, and now he's got one. Mr. Obama represents a lot of things to a lot of people. He is mainly Progressivism's bowling trophy, its symbol of its own triumphant wonderfulness in overcoming the age old phantoms of race prejudice. Alas, that's not enough. Where exactly is the boundary between telling "folks" what they want to hear and just flat-out lying?
Neither party can articulate the current reality, which is that we have to reorganize civilization pretty drastically. I've reviewed that agenda many times in this space and it largely amounts to rebuilding local economies at a smaller and finer scale. That is just not on the table for all current leadership, or even in the room. If neither party can frame an agenda consistent with that reality, then we'll have to get there without them, probably after a very rough period when the pretending still lingers in the air like a bad odor and no reality-based consensus is able to form, no agreement about what we should do. That's the period when a lot of things fall apart and people get hurt. These are the choices we're making right now.