Tuesday, April 8, 2008


So a while ago I read the novel "Empire" by Orson Scott Card. I'm a fan of his fiction, less so of his political writing -- frankly, I think he's off his rocker most of the time, and obnoxiously dismissive of anyone who disagrees with him, although he will occasionally startle me with a well-reasoned and fairly-argued point about a controversial issue. So I was looking forward to this one, not least because its premise -- a civil war breaking out in the contemporary United States -- is an interesting one to me.

It's appallingly bad.

Leaving its politics aside, its literary qualities are pure camp, played with an absolutely unironic intensity. Its heroes are all unflinching, steely-eyed, square-jawed military men; its villains cringing, conniving academics plotting the overthrow of the free world. The prose is riddled with intrusive editorials from his blog. It's almost impossible to believe that this emerged from the same mind that created the tales of Alvin Maker -- stories about a group of men and women trying to stop a civil war that are thoughtful, layered, and inventive. Seriously. This reads like one of Stephen Colbert's Tek Jansen novels, only it's not a parody.

I suspect that all of these issues are symptomatic of an underlying conceptual problem. The basic argument of the book is as follows: that all of the moderates need to get together and stop arguing, or the extremist wackos will break us apart. On its face, this seems like a reasonable position, and echoes one that I've been hearing in political discourse for a while. The problem is that it's bullshit. Read his work closely, and his definitions become a bit less opaque. Do you support homosexual marriage? Then you're a wacko! Do you oppose the occupation of Iraq? Then you're a wacko! And pretty soon, it becomes clear that the real argument of the book reads thus: that all of the moderates (people who think what I do) need to get together and stop arguing, or the extremist wackos (everyone who disagrees with me) will break us apart.

It's a rhetorical trick -- six of one, half a dozen of the other. For that matter, I have a hard time seeing the virtue of moderation as a guiding moral principle, period. Sure, you can look around you and draw up an average of the opinions of everyone within your political boundaries -- and I guess that would make you a moderate, if such a thing is to be desired -- but in nearly every other place and time in human history, you'll be a raving extremist. You believe in representative government? Guess what? In the context of most other civilizations throughout time, you're a wacko. I know that it's an extreme example. but if you were a moderate in Nazi Germany, I wouldn't want to know you. What's to be gained by seeking a middle position between two morally untenable ones? The founding fathers weren't seeking a reasonable middle position, and they were quite openly contemptuous of those who did. This guy sure as hell wasn't a moderate about anything.

After I spoke at my Republican caucus, I was followed by a man who stood up and asserted that "an election is not the time to assume a moral position." Buh? Then when is the appropriate time? When there's nothing at stake? When there's nothing to be either gained or lost by espousing a principle?

I'm annoyed with myself, because I've been so hesitant to support Ron Paul. For a number of reasons. He seems too good to be true, for one thing, and I've been burned by politicians before -- the last time I was this enthusiastic about a politician was Bill Clinton in 1996. (Which, I suppose, demonstrates how far my politics have swung in the past decade.) For another, I'm embarrassed to be playing to type, to be so utterly predictable. A fellow playwright asked me who I was supporting a couple of weeks back, then cut me off before I could respond: "Oh, you're a libertarian. You're just going to be supporting Ron Paul."

So yeah, I'm annoyed with myself. Not because I haven't been shoving my opinions down people's throats (like, I'm afraid, so many other Ron Paul supporters have been doing), but because I've been squatting over my enthusiasm for him, stammering and changing the subject even when people ask me point blank who I like in the race -- when I'm faced with the most exciting political candidate I've seen in my lifetime. In a way, that's why I'm pleased to see the success of Obama's candidacy, despite my profound dislike for his policies -- that someone has the opportunity to support a candidate that they can believe in. Lord knows the Republicans don't. When presented with the options, they chose the path of political expediency.

And if that's the voice of moderation, then I'll none of it. If there's a basic argument to what I'm trying to say, it reads thus: that all of the extremists need to keep arguing...

...before the self-styled moderates find a way to pull us together.

1 comment:

Lee said...

Sorry I didn't catch you at the Convention--the dame was sick and we stayed in all day. Thanks for the drink at Stanhope, and try to get ahold of me one of these weekends for a St Paul drink!