Monday, September 27, 2010

Chris Coons and the Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach

Guest post by T.W. Wilson

Ed. note: This is the pseudonymous Mr. Wilson's third guest post here at The Reaction. His first two were on Glenn Beck and the right's war on the poor (and Beck's war on Frances Fox Piven). -- MJWS


Chris Coons, the Democratic candidate for Senate running against Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, is currently being vilified by right-wing pundits for a little joke made by friends about his state of mind upon returning from studying abroad in Africa. The joke was in a characterization that he returned as a "bearded Marxist" because he was beginning to see imperfections in America that he had not previously examined. Since the boobs on the right are having a field day calling him a Marxist, it is worth quoting what he actually wrote: 

I spent the spring of my junior year in Africa on the St. Lawrence Kenya Study Program. Going to Kenya was one of the few real decisions I have made; my friends, family, and professors all advised against it, but I went anyway. My friends now joke that something about Kenya, maybe the strange diet, or the tropical sun, changed my personality; Africa to them seems a catalytic converter that takes in clean-shaven, clear-thinking Americans and sends back bearded Marxists. 

The point that others ignore is that I was ready to change. Experiences at Amherst my first two years made me skeptical and uncomfortable with Republicanism, enough so that I wanted to see the Third World for myself to get some perspective on my beliefs. 

When I returned last summer, I traveled all over the East Coast and saw in many ways a different America. Upon arriving at Amherst this fall, I felt like a freshman at an unfamiliar school all over again. Many of the questions raised by my experiences of the last year remain unanswered. I have spent my senior year re-examining my ideas and have returned to loving America, but in the way of one who has realized its faults and failures and still believes in its promise. The greatest value of Amherst for me, then, has been the role it played in allowing me to question, and to think. I had to see the slums of Nairobi before the slums of New York meant anything at all, but without the experiences of Amherst, I never would have seen either. 

Never mind that the usual suspects, including his half-witted opponent, O'Donnell, have been doing their usual schtick of misrepresenting the facts to support their warped worldview. I don't really think that calling someone a Marxist will have much resonance these days – at least not amongst those with functioning brains. In Coons' case, it's simply foolishness because he never called himself a Marxist and friends were just having some fun by the reference.

But increasingly I find the rhetoric from the right so outlandish that it is necessary to "unpack" it in order for it to make any sense at all.

Here's my theory: Since most people haven't a clue what Marxism is or what Marx actually wrote (which is particularly true on the right), a good enough proxy seems to be that Marxism is a term for those who don't love America enough or at least not enough to deny her faults.

No, what is not acceptable is Chris Coons' admission that upon returning home he still loved America but that it was now "in the way of one who has realized its faults and failures."

These days, at least in the eyes of the right, it is not possible to love America without whole-heartedly embracing some vaguely held, though frankly indefensible, idea of perfection.

And where does this idea reside? It resides in a hodgepodge of frequently contradictory impressions about how good things used to be. It lies in embracing an incoherent theory about the original intent of the Framers of the Constitution; in pretending our economy isn't tied to international forces beyond our control; in the idea that massive deregulation will work in everyone's best interests; in denying the historical injustices of racism and sexism; in keeping gays out of the military; in returning to a time when it was not possible for a black man to become president; and in so many other status quo ante fantasy nuggets too numerous to mention. That it consists of no coherent vision is clear, but that is the point -- it's not rational but rather about a feeling that things used to better.

Lest you think I contradict myself, the right has plenty of criticism of America to offer too, but their concerns are focused squarely on the problems created by those who have strayed from the perfection of America's design. For conservatives, fixing America is not about change, it is about restoration. 

What they are ever so vigilant to oppose are the thoughts and actions of those who they believe threaten the very concept of America, its special place in world history, its exceptionalism, the idea of the City on the Hill.

Conservatism has always been about making things the way they once were in some imagined past. Progressivism is about changing things to meet the demands of new challenges, as difficult as this usually is.

Conservatism is mostly about the belief that we can return to a time when we had more control over our circumstances based on the infantile wish that we can go home again, that the world of a perfect imagined past is real. We can't and it isn't, but for some I suppose it's nice to dream.

Its criticism of the current political landscape is of government actions that they believe stand in the way of such a return.

When Coons writes that he was beginning to see America's faults and failures, he likely meant that positive action would be required to right wrongs that make America less than perfect. And this would not be a matter of going back, but of going forward.

It should come as no surprise that the Republican Party is the "Party of No." Perhaps we should also call it the Party of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. The world out there is very frightening and there is no place like home, so let's close our eyes, do nothing, intone the same fervent wish over and over again, and hope that we can simply return to a time and place when everything was fine.

It's simple and bizarre, but if you want to improve your country by working together to tackle the challenges that arise by the inevitability of change, believing that there is no perfect past to which we can return, you may actually be some kind of radical, or perhaps even a Marxist. 

If that is not what right-wing pundits mean when they call Chris Coons a Marxist, I am out of explanations.

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