America has reached the point where its politics are conformist and polarized at the same time. That’s maybe not such a paradox: when there’s little substantive disagreement between the party of Obamacare and the party of Romneycare, the party of foreign intervention and the other party of foreign intervention, what’s left to draw voters to the polls other than appeals to myth and resentment? Thus Obama, a civil-liberties wrecking corporatist of exactly the same mold as George W. Bush, has to be believed to be an Alinskyite radical, a Third World communist; while anyone who doesn’t want to pay for other people’s contraceptives must be a blazing misogynist and would-be theocrat. It’s not that the cultural differences between the gangs aren’t real — though they arguably aren’t cultural — but that the acrimony masks a fundamental consensus over the shape of the economy, the power of the state, the servility of the citizen, and hegemony over the globe.
The few figures who defy this manic conformism are to be cherished, even when the alternatives they offer aren’t always things you want to support, and even when their “cultural” complexion is far from what you’d like. I’m therefore sorry to see Dennis Kucinich lose his primary fight to stay in Congress. Mostly because of what he stood for, above all his strong antiwar convictions, but also because Congress will be a flatter, duller place without him, one more easily managed by the fungus-like leadership in both parties. As a story in the Washington Post notes:
“The one thing that’s being tamped down here is, we’re losing characters. When I got here, you had Jim Traficant, you had Barney, and then Dennis came,” said Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio), a nine-term veteran, referring to Frank and former congressman James Traficant, who ended up in prison on corruption charges.
“The place needs character, and characters.”
The more bizarre representatives aren’t always the ones most likely to defy the leadership. But the decline in eccentricty and the greater ideological discipline the parties have displayed over the past decade spring from a common source, the streamlining of political management.