Synaptic Breakdown


My dear, departed father, a biologist to the core, loved the phrase ‘ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny‘, which is a perfectly deft but utterly inscrutable way of saying that the stages of growth of a fetus in the womb mimics the evolutionary history of the species itself *. (If that’s still not completely clear, see this.) But we also know, if not from science than from Science Fiction or at least Star Trek, that as organisms die they often cycle back through their own individual histories, tracking off their defining moments as they wind down into oblivion.

And yesterday I had an political epiphany. As the McCain campaign staggers toward its conclusion, with electoral columns and pediments standing since 1966 buckling under their weight, the party seems to be cycling back through its history of character assassination, McCarthyism and wedge politics flimflam, only now with an desperate and parodic impotence taking the place of punishing rhetorical violence.

Southern strategy race-baiting, check! Hyper 9/11ist ‘the Dems are terrorists’ character assassination, check! Rep. Michelle Bachmann’s neo-McCarthyite manifesto and call for a new HUAC, check! ‘The Democrats want to bring socialism to America’, check! Who lost Georgia? Aspirational neo-Cold Warism, check! Mix these in with a general stew of 70s-90s soft-on-crime, Dems are pedophile weirdo-freak-loser wedge politics and we’ve basically got the full ground covered.

I don’t doubt that anti-tax politics retains a potent, if diminished resonance. And perhaps I’m just naive. But does ‘socialism’, as a cudgel in the context of a national political campaign, not simply sound archaic? It is one more reason I sense the GOP’s and perhaps the conservative movement’s dying regression into its ideological infancy.

I’d started writing this post two days ago before setting it aside to work on other tasks and projects. But tonight I saw that the situation had become so farcical and grave that TPM Reader BH was moved to genuine concern for future Republican prospects …

I have been a long time reader, propably since sometime on 2001. Anyway I just wanted to pass a thought along that I have been having lately. I’m *concerned* that this McCain Campaign could cause some long term damage to the GOP in a few ways, but here is the most interesting angle to me.

I don’t why its happening right now but it seems like the long used divisive attacks from Republicans that declare some of us real Americans and others not are finally being widely exposed as the pathetic rhetoric it is. It seems like a lot of it might have to do with the position they are now in, ploys like these came off as tough and macho when the GOP was on top but now that they are on the ropes its starting to look pretty desperate instead. Part of me thinks the Republicans should just throw in the towel because as they step up their attacks its starting to look like a parody and they may never be able to effectively use some of these classic attacks in the future if they are too widely mocked during and after this election. In future elections democrats will be able to point to similar campaigns and compare them to the McCain campaign which conventional wisdom will likely soon be viewed as frenzied and pitiful. But I’m even more hopeful the sun is setting on this style of politics, dividing the country up into states that were truly part of the homeland and others that weren’t worked alright but as demographics shift their more nuanced arguments about real Virginia vs fake Virginia expose the true silliness of it all.

David raises the question: has the GOP bag of tricks simply lost political traction and resonance or does the audacious slime that is so bracing and outrageous from the politically powerful simply seem pitiful from the hapless and impotent? For me the two trends are too deeply woven together to distinguish. But I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.

* (ed.note: I believe that current biological science holds that ‘recapitulation’ theory is not true in the narrow sense, though there are broad visual similarities between the early morphology of a human embryo and other more ‘primitive’ animal life forms. My father told me this at one point. I think he just loved the phrase.)