Saturday, January 05, 2008

We are all Oprah-ites now

Future historians may well cite the Iowa presidential caucus of 2008 as the beginning of the end for American civilization. They may write that it was the key reversal point, the moment when the forces that would lead America into decline crystallized out of the cultural solution and took form. That form has a name, and it is Oprah.

As we all know, Oprah Winfrey stumped for charismatic Democratic upstart Barack Obama, and led him to a stunning victory in the caucus last Thursday. But the Democratic party has long been the natural home for Oprah-itis, even before the spirit of Oprah took human form and began her gentle assault on American culture. But Iowa represented the triumph of Oprah-itis over both parties, as the once sober and sensible Republican caucus fell prey to the soothing charms of evangelical preacher and former disc-jockey Mike Huckabee, a man whose foreign policy vision is to make America into the popular kid in high school. Oh Oprah, what hath thou wrought?

Peggy Noonan sums up the method behind the Huckabee madness:
What we have learned about Mr. Huckabee the past few months is that he's an ace entertainer with a warm, witty and compelling persona. He won with no money and little formal organization, with an evangelical network, with a folksy manner, and with the best guileless pose in modern politics. From the mail I have received the past month after criticizing him in this space, I would say his great power, the thing really pushing his supporters, is that they believe that what ails America and threatens its continued existence is not economic collapse or jihad, it is our culture.

They have been bruised and offended by the rigid, almost militant secularism and multiculturalism of the public schools; they reject those schools' squalor, in all senses of the word. They believe in God and family and America. They are populist: They don't admire billionaire CEOs, they admire husbands with two jobs who hold the family together for the sake of the kids; they don't need to see the triumph of supply-side thinking, they want to see that suffering woman down the street get the help she needs.


Help? Like a NEW CAR!! Straight from the Oprah playbook. Opraism is the newest of the great religions, and like all things new it is as old as the hills. It is a cargo cult, pure and simple. For the last three decades one of the mantras of the Religious Right has been that leftist redistributionism and nanny-ism is a symptom of a secular populace bereft of a connection with God, and therefore dependent on the state to fill its spiritual void with a security blanket of material goods. Those who were right with God, we were told, do not need the security blanket of worldly materialism, because they were secure in their eternal relationship with God.

It was a lie, of course, a lie forced upon religious populists by their shotgun wedding to traditional free market, small government conservatives under the Reagan coalition, when southern religious "social" conservatives left the Democrat party, a party that rewarded them gladly with redistributed cargo via the New Deal, over the Democrat party's abandonment of traditional social conventions in the 1970s. It is a lie that has been exposed by Huckabee's victory in Iowa, due largely to the evangelical vote.

It should be no surprise that deeply religious people would prefer cargo cult statism over free market government minimalism. All religions are in a sense cargo cults. The evangelical faith puts special emphasis on salvation as a totally unearned gift from God, so the idea of getting something for nothing is psychologically ingrained in the faith.

The other important aspect of Oprah-ism that is evident in the Obama and Huckabee victories is the idea of "connecting" with the people. The devotees of Oprah don't want merely to be informed or entertained by their host; they want to be personally validated. They want to see a reflection of themselves, they want their pain to be felt, their insecurities acknowledged and shared publicly. They want to be hugged. For evangelicals, the Iowa vote for Huckabee was one big group hug. But Huckabee has shown a knack for connecting to people beyond the walls of the evangelical identity compound. He talks about being a former fattie who was addicted to french fries. He shares how he was the unpopular, unathletic kid in school who was ridiculed in gym class. He comes across as likeable and "real". On Jay Leno he said that people want to elect a person that reminds them of someone they worked with, instead of reminding them of someone who laid them off.

That's all well and good, but likeable schlubs don't have a good track record as national leaders. Jimmy Carter was likeable, once, and he was probably the worst American president of the 20th century. And Carter looks like Machiavelli compared to Huckabee. How much do we really want to pay for our personal validations? Isn't it enough that we have a whole industry devoted to that very need? Can't we be satisfied with our daily Oprah fix without needing to have our narcissism drive our decisions on governance and national security?

George Will points out the dark underside of the politics of likeability:

Huckabee told heavily subsidized Iowa -- Washington's ethanol enthusiasm has farm values and incomes soaring -- that Americans striving to rise are "pushed down every time they try by their own government." Edwards, synthetic candidate of theatrical bitterness on behalf of America's crushed, groaning majority, says the rich have an "iron-fisted grip" on democracy and a "stranglehold" on the economy. Strangely, these fists have imposed a tax code that makes the top 1 percent of earners pay 39 percent of all income tax revenues, the top 5 percent pay 60 percent, and the bottom 50 percent pay only 3 percent.

According to Edwards, the North Carolina of his youth resembled Chechnya today -- "I had to fight to survive. I mean really. Literally." Huckabee, a compound of Uriah Heep, Elmer Gantry and Richard Nixon, preens about his humble background: "In my family, 'summer' was never a verb." Nixon, who maundered about his parents' privations and wife's cloth coat, followed Lyndon Johnson, another miscast president whose festering resentments and status anxieties colored his conduct of office. Here we go again?

Huckabee fancies himself persecuted by the Republican "establishment," a creature already negligible by 1964, when it failed to stop Barry Goldwater's nomination. The establishment's voice, the New York Herald Tribune, expired in 1966. Huckabee says "only one explanation" fits his Iowa success "and it's not a human one. It's the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people." God so loves Huckabee's politics that He worked a Midwest miracle on his behalf? Should someone so delusional control nuclear weapons?

...

Although Huckabee and Edwards profess to loathe and vow to change Washington's culture, each would aggravate its toxicity. Each overflows with and wallows in the pugnacity of the self-righteous who discern contemptible motives behind all disagreements with them, and who therefore think opponents are enemies and differences are unsplittable.


Lets leave our fantasies with Hollywood and elect adults to look after our business in Washington.

30 Comments:

Blogger Bret said...

"They have been bruised and offended by the rigid, almost militant secularism and multiculturalism of the public schools; they reject those schools' squalor, in all senses of the word. They believe in God and family and America."

How do we know they're not right?

January 05, 2008 10:21 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

If so, then why are they voting for Huckabee, who was endorsed by the NEA? This is all just paranoid identity politics. There is no militant secularism running amok in America. This is all one with the worldwide jewish conspiracy in collusion with east coast banks and multinational corporations. Typical hillbilly paranoia. Just a moment to feel good about feeling bad, and having a politician pander to your pet dystopian fantasies.

January 05, 2008 10:33 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

duck wrote: "There is no militant secularism running amok in America."

I figured that you wouldn't think so. The Iowa "hillbillies" seem to disagree.

January 05, 2008 11:28 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

90% of Americans don't watch Oprah.

In fact, name just about anything, and 80 to 90% of Americans don't do it.

I haven't followed the campaign at all, because for me there is only one issue, and therefore only one candidate (Romney). But I lived in Ioway for a long time.

The Christian bigot vote won't carry Huckabee much further.

Harder to say about Obama. I expect the Dems to start ganging up on him, and he seems brittle enough to crack, but I could be wrong about that.

I don't see Oprahism as any different from 'Queen for a Day-ism' 50 years ago.

Anyhow, it's pretty funny to see people like Bret finding commies under every bed.

Our real problem is that we don't have a real problem, except Islam, but people have to experience about the same amount of political angst no matter what level of actual problems they face, so obviously the fuss seems disproportionate.

January 05, 2008 11:29 AM  
Blogger Ali said...

"How do we know they're not right?"

Every indicator of societal dysfunction in America is trending downwards.

http://tinyurl.com/2e43hd

I think Oprah's less to blame than the fact that since 9/11 there haven't been any terrorist acts in the US. Since the end of the Cold War and Democrats\Republicans more or less converging on the same policies, the electorate may as well decide to give the presidency to whoever they want a beer with.

Besides that Huckabee stands out as being genuine and likeable and Obama does have charisma. My youngest brother barely pays any attention to politics and he loves the guy, although he was a little ticked off by the bombing Pakistan remarks.

January 05, 2008 11:32 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

The Iowa "hillbillies" seem to disagree.

Of course they do. They're paranoid.

January 05, 2008 11:33 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

harry eagar wrote: "...it's pretty funny to see people like Bret finding commies under every bed."

Which beds am I finding commies under?

January 05, 2008 12:33 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

ali wrote: "Every indicator of societal dysfunction in America is trending downwards."

Over the last fairly short period. Will that momentum carry through a few generations? How do you know?

January 05, 2008 12:35 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Depends when you start your trend line.

In the 1870s, there were 10,000 homeless beggar children in Manhattan.

Today, there are hardly 10,000 orphans in the whole country.

The number of slaves is way down too.

Homicide would be a social trend, too.

Down by about 75% over 20 years.

Etc. Etc.

January 05, 2008 12:44 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

The devotees of Oprah don't want merely to be informed or entertained by their host; they want to be personally validated. They want to see a reflection of themselves, they want their pain to be felt, their insecurities acknowledged and shared publicly. They want to be hugged.

Pretty much sums up why I hang around The Daily Duck.

Actually Duck, if you talk to the beautiful people of New England or mainstream academics about George W. Bush and his plans, you might conclude they would beat those Iowa hillbillies hands down in a paranoia contest. And speaking of paranoia contests, here's a pretty respectable entry:

All religions are in a sense cargo cults. The evangelical faith puts special emphasis on salvation as a totally unearned gift from God, so the idea of getting something for nothing is psychologically ingrained in the faith.

January 05, 2008 12:44 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

harry eagar wrote: "Depends when you start your trend line."

I agree that the trends are good at the present time.

There are many possible reasons for it. For example, perhaps a religious society coming into a modern secular period during a time a technological advancement might be conducive for trends like those. If so, the underlying conditions will change (since we can't be religious and becoming more secular forever), and the effect on the trends is unknown.

January 05, 2008 3:27 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter,
That's not paranoia. If I said that religious people were after me because my disbelief upsets the cargo god, then it would be paranoia. But I didn't say that.

January 05, 2008 4:59 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

The more religious the society, the poorer, sicker and more violent its inhabitants.

There's a trend good for all starting points.

As for commies under the bed, Bret found 'em under the beds in Bali even.

January 05, 2008 9:45 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

harry,

The relatively religious U.S. is poorer than most relatively non-religious European countries? We're clearly looking at different data.

I didn't necessarily find commies under the bed in Bali, I found collectivists who would like nothing better than to oppress people like me. That they would've loved to be commies in a different day and age is a different point. The one thing they all have in common is that they are true believers.

January 05, 2008 11:05 PM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

They don't call them watermelons for nothing, Harry. And I doubt that there's any need to look under the bed for them at a global warming conference; try the bar at any of the 5-star hotels instead.

January 06, 2008 1:04 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

This is Europe's golden age. The less religious, the more golden, too.

Pretty much the same in the USA. Georgia is the American Spain.

January 06, 2008 1:29 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

Isn't that a little like saying "Paranoid? Not me. Sure there are Reds under my bed, but I didn't say they were going to do anything."

However, your theory that unearned giveaways on the Oprah Winfrey show stem from Luther's doctrine of Grace is fascinating and worthy of multiple posts. To get us all started, do you think that the Catholic notion one must earn the way to Heaven inspired "Deal or No Deal"?

No problem, though, with your overall thesis. In fact, the triumph of Oprah-speak is a lot more pervasive than most of us realize. A few years ago I acted for a woman on a charitable basis who was involved in a custody dispute with a former partner. Not bad folks, but both on welfare and both suffering from a long list of dysfunctions, starting with over-attractions to the grain and grape. She summed up the whole picture beautifully when she said to me: "I don't know why he is being so difficult. None of the fathers of my other children caused me this trouble."

Anyway, as is typical, the court ordered a report from a social worker employed in a government office well-known for employing womyn who--how shall I put this?--are unlikely to experience traditional marriage. When we all gathered in a boardroom to hear her torturously detailed conclusions, I was absolutely astounded at how comfortable these two were with the gobbledegook and how adept they were at shovelling it back. Neither could remember to pay the phone bill half the time, but they could talk self-esteem, positive re-enforement, co-parenting, etc. as if they each had a doctorate in psychology. It all ended with a group hug and a settlement that started to unravel the moment each got home and left the enchanted kingdom behind.

January 07, 2008 5:38 AM  
Blogger David said...

I still don't quite get why I'm expected to be contemptuous of a black woman who, solely by the sweat of her brow, started out with nothing and became a billionaire.

And Duck, just because you're not paranoid, doesn't mean that we're not out to get you.

As for presidential politics, I think Obama has a legitimate shot at the election. We would really like to elect a black president -- I feel that pull and I bet most of you do, too. The fact that he's a socialist is problematic, the fact that he was a Illinois state senator three years ago is very problematic and the fact that he's not reliable on national defense (i.e., he's a Democrat) is, in the middle of a war, very, very problematic. I note that he's never won a real election, so he might implode.

January 07, 2008 7:14 AM  
Blogger David said...

Also, the fact that we're constantly talking about the fact that Hillary is a woman, Obama is black, Romney is a Morman and McCain is old is endlessly amusing to me. For almost any other job, those considerations are not only deemed irrelevant, but even to consider them is illegal.

January 07, 2008 7:18 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Yeah, I hate that kind of stereotyping, although personally I wouldn't support any of them on the grounds they are all far too American.

You are right about Oprah, though. Looking down our noses at her has the feel of rich liberal snobs or Europeans whining about the havoc wrecked by Walt Disney. Hey, David, want to get together to feel our common pain, share a few tears and hugs and maybe reconcile Judaism and Christianity? If it works we can then move on to Harry.

January 07, 2008 8:25 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Sorry, this is completely off topic, but I thought you should all know that as we dissemble, science is hard at work challenging traditional beliefs and uncovering hard, objective truths we never could have guessed.

January 07, 2008 9:41 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I'm not any more contemptuous of Oprah than of, say, Limbaugh.

Being a rich idiot is truly a non-racial accomplishment.

Why is it, that no matter how much food you give them, food banks are always short of food?

BTW, my physics adviser has been curious about post-Bhutto Pakistan and visited here for some thoughts and was disappointed not to find any.

January 07, 2008 12:02 PM  
Blogger David said...

I am reluctant to call attention to the secret blog -- if nothing else, too much attention and I'll have to change the name -- but Ali posted some actual reporting on Pakistan.

January 07, 2008 3:58 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Who is this mysterious "physics advisor"? And what does he think this is, some high volume clipping mill?

January 07, 2008 5:21 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

I don't buy into the notion that someone should be admired merely for being a self-made millionaire. That describes Hugh Hefner and Donald Trump, are we expected to admire them as well?

Contempt is too strong a word. I don't find Oprah offensive personally, I just think that its a mistake to apply her feel good, therapeutic religion of self esteem to politics. Not that she invented it, just that she's the most visible modern day exemplar of it.

January 07, 2008 5:33 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Isn't that a little like saying "Paranoid? Not me. Sure there are Reds under my bed, but I didn't say they were going to do anything."

The "doing something" is the key qualifier for paranoia. If they're not out to get you, then it doesn't fit the bill.

And what chimera am I accused of concocting? Religious people who expect material rewards for their faith? You don't have to look under the bed to find them, just tune into Sunday morning TV.

I know I've written on the likeness between Christian theology and the language of financial transactions before, so "Deal or No Deal" is a perfect analogy. Christ's title as the Redeemer should give you a clue. When the same word applies to souls and coupons, it's not by accident.

January 07, 2008 5:47 PM  
Blogger David said...

On the other hand, at the moment there's a Mike Huckabee 2008 ad at the top of the site.

January 07, 2008 6:06 PM  
Blogger David said...

Donald Trump inherited 40 square blocks of Manhattan. Whatever he is, his is not self-made.

January 07, 2008 6:07 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I'll have to make a visit, David.

Seems like I've been awfully busy lately, though I cannot show any accomplishments for it.

I don't despise Winfrey for being rich or even for having a silly show. I do think it is contemptible for someone who doesn't know what she's talking about to use her fame to peddle crackpottery, especially since some of it is, very likely, harmful.

She is not a benign or even a neutral figure.

January 08, 2008 12:19 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I'll have to make a visit, David.

Seems like I've been awfully busy lately, though I cannot show any accomplishments for it.

I don't despise Winfrey for being rich or even for having a silly show. I do think it is contemptible for someone who doesn't know what she's talking about to use her fame to peddle crackpottery, especially since some of it is, very likely, harmful.

She is not a benign or even a neutral figure.

January 08, 2008 12:19 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home