George Orwell Watch: Far Rightists Decide That They’re the True Inheritors of the 60s Left!

Crazy. Way out. Orwellian.

Politico reports today on the evidence that the Far Right is self-consciously appropriating the slogans, artistic styles, and general political tactics of the 1960s Left! Obviously, conservatives perceive (correctly) that Americans are, in general, so unevenly educated, and so confused about history and politics, that they can hear historically successful slogans and artistic motifs and not be quite sure, well, where they come from. Is Medicare, for example, a government program? Is a raised fist a sign of conservative defiance—or Black Power? A lot of people don’t know. And there lies an opportunity for conservative obfuscation:  

At tea parties and town halls, conservative demonstrators oppose health care reform with signs bearing the abortion-rights slogan “Keep your laws off my body” or the line “Obama lies, Grandma dies” — an echo of the “Bush lied, they died” T-shirts worn to protest the Iraq war. Conservative activists are yelling “Nazi!” and “Big Brother!” where they used to shout “Nanny state!” and “Big Government!” And the 1971 agitator’s handbook “Rules for Radicals” — written by Saul Alinsky, the Chicago community organizer who was the subject of Hillary Clinton’s senior thesis, and whose teachings helped shape Barack Obama’s work on Chicago’s South Side — has been among Amazon’s top 100 sellers for the past month, put there in part by people who “also bought” books by Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck, and South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint.

In many ways, this is a symptom of the cultural victory of American liberalism. Republicans can’t get traction without at least appearing culturally leftist. It’s kind of like putting Sarah Palin out front as a female candidate who (presumably) was going to attract Hillary Clinton’s voters in the general election. But we all know how that turned out. I suspect this current ridiculous form of appropriation and mimicry will fail as well. The Far Right’s problem isn’t one of activism, its demographics and its inability to adjust to a fast changing world (both culturally and technologically). No amount of aping the tactics in Saul Alinsky’s most famous book is going to change the larger factors at work. The times are still “a-changin”. You’ve got to keep up for real. Not just pretend to keep up.

Of course, in one sense, the Far Right of today is the inheritor of two things characteristic of the 60s Left: establishment paranoia and conspiracy thinking. But that’s not exactly the best parts of the 60s inheritance. I do admit that the Right today is the chief flag bearer of these forms of protest against bureaucratic dehumanization and conformity, and there’s something moving about these styles of contrarity that I sympathize with. Eccentricity is an important form of self assertion. But discover you’re own eccentricities, don’t steal them from a movement that you have (historically) resisted. One of the Ten Commandments is “don’t steal.” I thought conservatives liked the Ten Commandments.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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