Active and passive nihilism

In the United States, the political options represented by the major parties are either active nihilism and passive nihilism, and the current crisis is pushing them both to more extreme versions of their respective options. The actions of the Tea Party freshmen are, as Tim Burke points out, very difficult for our political system to process because they are not open to being bought off: “It’s very true that the Tea Party and its cognate organizations are not by any means a majority of the electorate, but the point is that they’re a very coherent plurality that can win majorities in enough districts and localities to block votes and prevent business as usual, and that preventing business as usual is a political objective in its own right for them, not just a means to some other end.”

They hate the government and the Democrats and want to destroy them — hence the active nihilism — and there is a certain coherence to the combination of those two goals insofar as the Democrats have, at least since Clinton, been entirely devoted to the passive nihilism of simply presiding over the status quo. Insofar as the status quo appears to include some kind of necessary change, such as the need to “get entitlements under control,” they are happy to take care of that problem in their competent and even-handed way.

The Democratic Party is dominated by centrists, by those who are desperate for compromise for its own sake. I often ask myself why those people even care enough to be in politics in the first place, and it seems to me that they want to be the guy — they want to mediate the agreement, they want to be the one who makes sure everything comes out fair and satisfying for everyone. Any compromise is acceptable as long as it’s the centrist brokering it. We can see that in Obama’s utterly craven and despicable behavior during the negotiations, and in his case, the rationale behind his shift to the center-right is all but openly acknowledged: the sole goal is for him to remain in power. (What will he do if he’s reelected? I have no fucking idea, and I defy anyone else to come up with a plausible guess.)

The reason the Tea Partiers can’t accept a compromise with Obama is because it’s with Obama. The reason the Tea Partiers don’t want to do the necessary, sensible thing and raise the debt ceiling is that they’re tired of people in the government telling them what the necessary, sensible thing is. The reason they can’t be bought off is that they’re tired of being told what they should want — Obama’s constant preemptive compromises aren’t so much cowardly as tone-deaf and patronizing in this context.

It is truly appalling that the Tea Partiers are doing their best to destroy as much as possible through this debt ceiling issue — I’m willing to bet that the majority of the incoming Tea Party freshmen had no idea there was such a thing as a debt ceiling and were thrilled to learn there was a way to force the government into default. It’s also appalling, however, that all the establishment politicians are bending over backwards to try to accomodate nihilists.

The only compromise they’ll accept is to destroy the government so that, in John McCain’s wierdly hilarious words, “the Tea Party Hobbits can go back to Middle Earth.” And it’s appropriate that the words are coming from John McCain, who did so much to create this idiotic movement by nominating Sarah Palin for VP — the last in a long line of Republicans who thought they could run the old bait-and-switch with their resentful and brutally misinformed “base” forever.

So let’s spare a tear for those poor establishment Republicans who happened to be holding the hot potato when the music stopped and the Republican strategy of encouraging their supporters to inhabit an alternative reality bit them in the ass. Let’s lament the fate of John Boehner, soon to be the only one-term Speaker of the House in over seventy-five years. Let’s lament Mitt Romney, whose “turn” it is to get the nomination this time around and who will be torpedoed by Sarah Palin’s more ignorant clone, Michelle Bachmann. Let’s take a moment to pity the shattered careers of cynical opportunists who relied on their supporters to be just stupid enough to vote for them — but not stupid enough to run for office themselves.

3 thoughts on “Active and passive nihilism

  1. Watching Boehner at this point is really blackly comic. A man grimly compelled by circumstances to destroy his career by attempting to pass a bill that everyone knows will never become law.

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