PEARLS ON A DUNG HEAP
This week I have been reading a book, which I enthusiastically recommend to everyone. It's Allen Raymond's, How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative. The title is self-explanatory, and the author tells his story in a colorfully conversational manner, with the assistance of Ian Spiegelman, a former reporter for the New York Post and a current novelist.
Raymond attended graduate school in political management, where he was taught that politics is warfare and that a candidate's campaign manager is a mercenary. It is the same positivist (some might say "Rambo") mentality one learns as a student in law school. It is hardly astonishing, therefore, when Raymond explains that the only consideration in directing a political campaign is to win and to do so at any and all costs. Winning an election becomes an amoral pursuit. The candidate could care less how his hired-gun wins so long as he does!
Should anyone really be surprised by this? Probably not. Those who are not already brain-dead realize that politics is a nasty and ruthless blood sport. The only thing shocking about Raymond's portrayal of it is the matter-of-fact fashion in which he describes one dirty trick after another as if it amounts to merely one more day at the office.
He explains how, when plying his trade, he spent hours culling through an opposing candidate's personal and political history, trying to pinpoint the matters on which he could place a negative spin. Even if he realized that a statement or act were in the people's best interest, his goal was to present it to the public in a detractive light, either by buying serial television ads or by initiating a vigorous telephone campaign. The former, for Raymond, was analogous to carpet bombing, while the latter was comparable to a sniper attack.
Don't dismiss this guy too fast. Keep in mind that he made it to the highest reaches of professional campaign consultancy. He isn't some hack from Muleshoe, Texas. He worked for the Republican National Committee (RNC) under Haley Barbour and for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) under Mitch McConnell. He rubbed elbows with political operatives like Karl Rove and enjoyed a front row seat in senatorial and presidential campaigns. Finally, in early 2005, the sky fell down around him, when he was convicted of a felony in federal district court and sentenced to a term in prison. Raymond would later observe that "just about every Republican operative [of the time] was so dizzy with power that if you could find two of us who could still tell the difference between politics and crime, you could probably have rubbed us together for fire as well."
The man makes at least two additional statements, which are major attention-grabbers. The first is:
"Every election is rigged in one way or another. People have to pay attention to the way things are couched. They keep saying that voters are getting more sophisticated every year. They were probably saying the same thing two hundred years ago, yet voters are the same dupes they've always been. And what is a dupe except someone who lets himself be duped?"
The second is:
"The world looked expansive. I was truly beginning to understand how few metaphysical limitations a person is up against once he decides that the truth is what he makes it. From then on, two plus two would equal whatever sum I found most useful."
Raymond intends the first comment as one of fact. A political campaign is not about educating the citizenry on vital issues of the day. Who, or what cock-eyed idealist, ever thought that? It is about deceit and manipulation. Call me cynical, but I believe Raymond nails it-- voters are, in fact, "dupes." Exhibit "A" is the presidential campaign of 2008 (although dupes of the media appeared way before then).
I often appeal to the eighteenth century for inspiration. Before and after the American Revolution, Calvinist ministers in New England were preaching the need for an enlightened citizenry. Nathanael Emmons, in a sermon entitled "The Dignity of Man," which he delivered in 1787, emphasized that citizens should read, especially books, with discrimination, patience, confidence, and humility, because piety and knowledge will prepare one for a useful and honorable life. The overwhelming message from our forefathers is that the essential condition for liberty is enlightenment, which consists of both knowledge and virtue.
Raymond's second comment, highlighted above, demonstrates nothing so much as a total disregard for truth and virtue. It is a disregard that has become nearly pandemic in popular American culture. Think about it: moral truth, according to Raymond, consists of what anybody says it is; it is relative, right? When truth is conceived in this manner, then virtue becomes a subjective term. The fact that a megalomaniac like Donald Trump speaks to a crowd of men, women, and children and drops the F-Bomb, or that Congressman Anthony Weiner sends lewd photographs of himself from a government office building to women he is crassly using, is no longer a big deal to many. Why should it be? Who, after all, is to say that The Donald's manner of expressing himself is any better or worse than anyone else's or that Arrogant Anthony's antics are not a harmless way for him to manage excessive sexual energy?
Whether Raymond realizes it or not, his book highlights the main problem afflicting America today as a democratic republic. Democracies become dysfunctional when citizens are unenlightened and have little or no regard for knowledge and virtue.
Which of our institutions, in your opinion, are responsible for the dissemination of truth and knowledge? Our media and our schools for starters. Which are responsible for the promotion of virtue? Our families and our churches no doubt. Yet query: how healthy do you think these institutions are?
I happen to think they are in shambles. The media are corrupt, and schools imbue a secular, politically correct view of life on students. Families have broken down, and churches have lost their moral voice. This is why America needs a new public philosophy. It should be one that extols traditional American culture, with its emphasis upon knowledge and virtue, a culture in which government unflinchingly promotes foundational values. This is the way to pull in single harness, as a strong, indivisible, courageous nation. When we begin doing this, only then will we be able to address the problems now threatening to destroy us.
June 12, 2011