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Con Games: The Apocalyptic Style in American Politics

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"Every day another apocalypse," David Byrne once sang.

The former Talking Head must have been listening to the talking heads on the Near Right. Disappointed that the financial meltdown is getting no worse, the blink tanks of conservatism and their talkative avatars know better than anyone that there's nothing like the politics of catastrophe to get the masses moving en masse.

So-called conservatives were aided and abetted after the fact by the legalized gambling known as the sub-prime mortgage crisis--an actual financial catastrophe that stopped just short of Depression and Armageddon.

For a minute there it did indeed look as if the capitalist juggernaut might come asunder--before socialism with a human face rode to the rescue.

But there's more to it than that. Thanks to Dana Milbank's new book, we know Glenn Beck has been speaking in code about the White Horse theory of Mormonism, whereby the elders of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints come riding in on white horses to save a Constitution "hanging by a thread." The details are sketchy and we are probably safe from a polygamous cataclysm should the horses arrive at the White House gate. But you get the picture.

The rhetoric of the Tea Party, stoked by the squawking heads of talk radio, has kept this kind of dope alive. In the raging conflation of this world, President Barack Obama--a centrist--is portrayed as a wild-eyed Muslim running the land that we love into the ground like yesterday. Sharon Angle, Republican Tea Party nominee for United States Senate in Nevada, preys on the apocalyptic every time she calls for "Second Amendment remedies"--i.e., the taking up of arms against the federal government. So did the militia in Michigan before they were arrested on suspicion of imminent cop-killing.

Violence, hysteria, racism, and doom are the Four Horseman of this near-and-present apocalypse, but it would be a mistake not to see a pattern on the Right that extends bassackwards to the Bush-Cheney administration. What was the nucleic run-up to the invasion of Iraq--with its references to mushroom clouds over Manhattan and the incredible vanishing weapons of mass destruction--but a primer in the power of apocalyptic politics?

So why does the Right go there over and over again?

For conservatives, it's all about winning elections, let the nasty details be damned. As the quality of Republicans candidates has fallen off the cliff, the movement's need for emotions devoid of actual ideas has become dire. To survive and advance, the former party of ideas has nothing to fall back upon save our most naked fears.

For the Right, always obsessed with the next victory at any cost, the apocalyptic style in American politics has never sounded better. There's always another day--and another apocalypse right around the corner.