Monday, March 12, 2007

FOD (Friends of Darth)

Here was something sort of creepy-funny: in his L.A. Times column over the weekend, Jonathan Chait passes on a quote about the GOP presidential sweepstakes.

"THIS IS NOT Luke Skywalker here," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), discussing his friend and Senate colleague John McCain's second run for the presidency. "This is a totally different campaign."

Graham was looking for a way to reassure his fellow conservatives that they no longer had anything to fear from McCain. His choice of metaphor is one of those windows into the fundamental cultural gap that separates hard-core conservatives from the rest of humanity. To most people, who think of Luke Skywalker as a hero battling an evil and immensely powerful empire, Graham's implication would be seen as an unmitigated insult. In the world of the GOP elite, though, it's a form of praise: No, no, don't worry, McCain's with the empire now.

Interesting that Jonathan Chait is writing this way about McCain now. Once upon a time (spring 2002) he wrote a New Republic feature about why it would be a great thing and even plausible for John McCain to jump parties and run for President as a Democrat. I actually found that piece persuasive and talked up a McCain-jumping-parties scenario right up through 2004. I got carried away with that "maverick" business, just like most of the national media is still carried away. The specific thing I wanted McCain to revolt against was the dirty Rovian campaign politics that hold sway in the GOP now, and which McCain got the full brunt of in the 2000 South Carolina presidential primary. It took a while for me to see that McCain was determined to pander wherever and to whomever it took to get the inside track in the GOP presidential race. There's nothing very maverick about that. And McCain is in the process of finding out that the far right of his party is only interested in rooting out and punishing mavericks.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about. The startling implication that Republicans are people who root against Luke Skywalker and in favor of the Empire, actually dovetails with something I've been thinking about on the home front--something I encountered at church, actually. I'm in an adult Sunday school class where we are currently studying some of the parables of Jesus; yesterday it was the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18). The week before it was the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). Anyway, I am learning that many people in my class identify primarily with the figure of propriety in these stories: with the Pharisee, for instance. Or with the older brother of the Prodigal, who has always been a dutiful son, and who has to grin and bear it when the father welcomes the Prodigal home.

These people baffle me. Not on a spiritual but on a visceral psychological level, I just can't imagine identifying with the goody-two-shoes instead of the anti-hero. How can you not love the Prodigal Son--profligate, rebellious, scoundrelly--who has screwed up as big as life, ruined himself and shamed his family, and is in flight from the day of reckoning. Until he hits bottom, as the 12-step people would say, and the story pivots. The father might be the most appealing figure of all, granted, but that aside, how can you like the Stable Boring Son more than the Prodigal Son? Or prefer the smug hypocritical Pharisee over the Tax Collector, the chiseler and flim-flam man who, in the darkest hour of night, knows himself for exactly what he is? Have these people been sheltered from pop culture ever since the 1960s? Some of them are my age (40-ish, so somewhere on the cusp between Baby Boomers and Gen Xers), but it's as if they are part of the WW2 Generation. I'm not going to quit this church, but I might try out a different Sunday school class.

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